Nature-lovers, history buffs, country-tickers and adventure junkies should love the range of day trip options on offer from Durban, South Africa. But if you have to narrow it down to just a few options, these five should be on your list…
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi rightfully has a reputation as one of the best game reserves in Africa, and is particularly renowned for its efforts in conserving the white rhino. But the rest of the ‘Big Five’ are there, too.
On my game drive, we’d barely got through the gates when we came across a bull elephant. Unfortunately, it had no intention of moving, and our guide started sensing that Dumbo was becoming agitated. A quick reverse back up the hill was in order – these male elephants can be very dangerous.
We watched him slowly trudge away from a safe distance and then continued. It was pretty hot, so a lot of creatures were undercover, but we did see warthogs, buffalo, zebras, rhinos and giraffes before sightings dried up.
After lunch, it was a different story. We were treated to rhinos wallowing in mud, giraffes up incredibly close, wildebeest sauntering around and seemingly hundreds of impalas. The highlight came towards the end, though. At the other side of a watering hole from our vehicle sat four lions, just waiting for something to come their way and have a drink.
When Hluhluwe’s wildlife isn’t impressing, its hilly bush scenery is. It makes for an awesome day out – just don’t get out of the vehicle when those not-so-friendly creatures are around. Viator’s Hluhluwe game reserve tour spends most of the day in the reserve and includes lunch.
The Sani Pass
The Sani Pass is one of the roads that links South Africa with the landlocked nation of Lesotho – but don’t expect to pootle along it in your average rental car. This is one of the world’s highest, toughest and most awe-inspiring roads. And most of the action takes place in no man’s land.
The 53km jaunt from Underberg in the Drakensberg foothills to Sani Top in Lesotho involves climbing from an elevation of 1,540m above sea level to 2,873m. The vast percentage of this is done in the last 8km stretch between the South African and Lesotho border posts. The road is horrendously rough, and should only be attempted by skilled 4WD drivers. It painstakingly zig-zags its way up the mountains past waterfalls, antelopes, baboons and giant rock formations.
The views are staggering (although it’s advisable to not look down too often), and the slow climb is a thrill ride that can’t be replicated in a theme park. The final stretch is the most exciting/ terrifying bit; it’s a series of tight hairpins with little room for error, but looking down the escarpment to see the route unfolding below gives you a phenomenal sense of achievement.
Lesotho and Sani Top
Of course, when you finally reach Sani Top, you’ve got a whole new country to explore. Lesotho is Southern Africa’s mountain kingdom, and for fans of useless trivia, it’s the only country in the world that is entirely above 1,000m in height. As soon as your passport is stamped, you’ll notice the difference in landscape. It’s a barren, steppe-like scene, with thin air and a jagged frame. On the horizon, blanket clad shepherds ride horses across the scrubby pastures, while a few basic round huts pass for villages.
Viator’s Kingdom of Lesotho tour goes into one of those huts, where the guide gives an impressively detailed history of Lesotho and the BaSotho people. A villager hands out some seriously tasty traditionally baked bread and some less tasty traditional beer.
From there, it’s a short drive to the Sani Top Chalets, which proudly boasts of being Africa’s highest pub. At an elevation of 2,874m, any contenders to the throne have got some serious climbing to do. Inside the pub are heartening tales of dramatic rescue attempts and Maluti, Lesotho’s national beer.
Outside is a terrace, from where you can peer right back down the Sani Pass before you head down it on the way back down to Durban. It’s only a brief visit to Lesotho, but the real fun is in getting there.
Durban is the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, and the heartlands of the Zulu people are nearby. There are plenty of Zulu-related tourist attractions but a fun way of getting an overview on Zulu culture is to head to Shakaland.
This ‘traditional’ village was created for a popular TV programme called Shaka Zulu, and when the show came to the end of its run, the set was transformed into a hotel and cultural village. Proceedings kick off with a twelve minute video that shows how King Shaka united the Zulu people – seemingly via a series of elaborate dances rather than brutal violence and subjugation – and then it’s on to the village.
Here, the ‘villagers’ give demonstrations of grinding maize, making traditional beer and preparing food amongst other things. But it’s the dancing and drumming show that is most spectacular. The dancers really go for it, staring the audience in the eye as they launch into the Zulu War Dance, and by the end it’s a free-for-all multi-dancer melée.
How much you enjoy Shakaland will depend entirely on how much you like this sort of thing. Take the history lessons with a large pinch of salt, ignore the fact that the traditional Zulu villagers will revert back to jeans and mobile phones post-performance and take things in the spirit intended… then it’s all jolly good fun. Lunch is included in Viator’s full day Shakaland trip.
A rather bloodier interpretation of Zulu history can be found in the Natal Battlefields. Key points from the Anglo-Boer and Anglo-Zulu wars can be found in fairly close proximity. Amongst the most famous spots are Isandlwana, where the British army suffered its worst ever defeat at the hands of a native force. The Zulus – with only with spears and shields – totally overran the heavily armed British.
Rorke’s Drift – where 139 British soldiers managed to hold off four to five thousand Zulus – has also become the stuff of legend.
A third key spot is Spioenkop, where British forces were defeated by the Boers during a nine day battle. Winston Churchill was there as a reporter and Mohandas Gandhi as a stretcher bearer. The Battlefields are excellent places to head to for those who want to know more about South Africa’s history, as well as hear tales of courage and derring-do.