The East, including KwaZulu/Natal, northern Eastern Cape, and the Kingdom of Swaziland
(Drakensberg Mountains, Anglo battlefields, wildlife safaris, Indian Ocean coastline)
The Eastern Cape, home to the Xhosa people and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, is an area of the country which is largely ignored by many travellers. The rural way of life here is largely traditional, and the coastline heading north rugged and wild until the sub-tropical beaches of southern KwaZulu/Natal are reached. This region is also the holy grail for any golf enthusiast with many spectacular courses waiting to claim another scalp.
Inland, the mighty Drakensberg mountains rise up to form a impressive boundary with the tiny Kingdom of Lesotho (which is entirely surrounded by South Africa). It is the same range which forms the escarpment area in Mpumalanga, but is significantly more impressive in this locality. It was recently gazetted as the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Hiking and horse trails lead through spectacular country to ancient San dwellings which reveal a multitude of rock art, whilst the mountain rivers are packed with trout and even the rare bearded vulture is at home! Country gourmet lodges offer inventive cuisine amongst rich pastures.
North of the cosmopolitan port of Durban, the rolling hills of Zululand are covered with sugar and pine plantations, wildlife parks and the vast wetlands of St Lucia. Historically, the Anglo Zulu wars were fought on the battlefields around the Buffalo River (Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift), and many strategic Anglo Boer battles around iconic towns such as Ladysmith and Bergville (Spioenkop).
The Hluhluwe and Imfolozi game reserves are amongst the oldest reserves in Africa, having been established in the late 1800’s, and are considered to be at the forefront of Nature Conservation. Hluhluwe occupies the lower hills of the first escarpment rising from the coastal plain, and with a higher rainfall than adjoining Imfolozi, has the greater density of vegetation – forest, woodland and thickets being more common than savannah. The diverse habitat allows 47 species of larger mammals to co-exist, and in particular, both black and white rhino of which there are significant numbers. As with most of Zululand, the birdlife too is spectacular with over 300 species recorded including the bald ibis.
Other gazetted game reserves such as Ithala and Mkuze are complimented with an array of private reserves such as Phinda, Mkuzi Falls and Thanda. For variety and quality of big game viewing, coupled with exclusivity and luxury accommodation, the Phinda Resource Reserve is marginally the most productive reserve to visit.
The northern Maputoland coastline, which stretches from Lake St. Lucia (now incorporated into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site) northwards to the Mozambique border, is a remote part of the country with little development. Endless golden beaches give way to diverse habitats which are home to over half the total species of birdlife found in the country. Offshore, this area is the only part of South Africa where good snorkelling and reef diving is available. Diving is challenging but very rewarding.
The Kingdom of Swaziland is the only absolute monarchy in Africa and lies between South Africa and Mozambique. It is a delightful, friendly country and certainly worth a visit if you are travelling between KwaZulu/Natal and the Kruger area of Mpumalanga. The country has a fine handcraft reputation. The attractive countryside of mountains, rivers, rolling hills and forests is home to a small number of wildlife reserves but nothing to really compare to those found in South Africa.