A tropical paradise in KwaZulu Natal South Africa

December 15th 2023  |   South Africa  |  by   Francis Naumann
A tropical paradise in KwaZulu Natal South Africa

“This was my first visit to KwaZulu Natal South Africa since 1990”

I might be a bit unusual, but I love trees, and according to Keith Coates-Palgrave’s definitive guide, there are more than 1,200 species of them south of the Zambezi River alone. Spring in South Africa is a wonderful time to see many of them flowering as they get ready for the summer rains.  Knob thorns, camel thorns, river thorns, buffalo thorns, fever trees, weeping boer beans, sausage trees, wild pears, and Lebombo wattles are some of many deciduous trees that produce abundant and colourful flowers each year and come into leaf soon after if not at the same time. It’s a wonderful expression of optimism for the season to come and birds, insects and mammals love it too. This was my first visit to KwaZulu Natal South Africa since 1990, shortly after the announcement of Nelson Mandela’s imminent release from years of incarceration, and being able to return in spring was amazing.

My daughter finished school in July and this was a wonderful chance to spend time just with her and for us to see and do some great things together. We arrived in Durban one sunny afternoon, collected a Toyota RAV4 from Avis at the airport, and drove a few miles up the coast to stay at Sala Beach House. It was a windy afternoon, and the surf was crashing onto the shore – cue one annoyed teenager! It was naturally my fault she couldn’t swim in the sea. Over the following two weeks we explored a part of this remarkably diverse region of Africa enjoying a wonderful mix of scenery, wildlife, people, history, and activities and the Drakensberg mountains, forests, the largest protected wetland in Southern Africa, a beautiful and mostly wild coast. We shared the driving too, which for an 18 year old was a good responsibility and for dad, an enjoyable bit of relaxation time.

Drakensberg Mountains, Kwazu Natal - South Africa

Drakensberg Mountains

One thing I had not appreciated about this lesser known corner of South Africa was how varied it is, and how much excellent wildlife habitat it has – fertile soils, a decent rainfall, and a generally generous climate allow vegetation to flourish and support a big population of herbivores and predators. Further south, KwaZulu Natal is covered in sugar cane, dairy farms, and eucalyptus plantations, whereas this region was mostly pineapples, cotton, and cattle. A large amount of Maputaland’s farmland has been rewilded to create a good number of private wildlife reserves including Manyoni, Thanda, Mkuze, and the daddy of them all Phinda.  

South Africa Phinda Rock, Kwazu Natal - South Africa

View from Phinda Rock

 The Lebombo Mountains are a major factor in the quality of the wildlife habitat; a 500 mile chain of weathered volcanic rock running pretty much due north from Hluhluwe town to Punda Maria in the Kruger region, weathered to provide deep fertile soils which hold water reasonably well and support plenty of plant life, and a landscape of gently rolling hills with streams and rivers flowing through them. It’s beautiful country and varied too.  

Another feature of KwaZulu Natal is the astonishing biodiversity. We saw rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalos, giraffes, nyalas, kudus, impalas, cheetah, leopard, hippos, bush babies, baboons, vervet monkeys and samango monkeys on land, a staggering number of birds, and bottle nose dolphins, a lion fish, a small octopus, flying fish, and humpback whales in the sea. Did I mention trees? Lebombo wattles, false tamboti, torchwood, raffia palms, yellow wood, Natal mahogany, milkwood, sycamore figs, strangler figs, and marula trees are all to be seen in this region, as well as the ones listed earlier.    

We stayed in tented camps, farmhouses, smart boutique hotels, luxurious lodges, a remote thatched beach lodge, and met the most wonderful people everywhere. This is another part of KwaZulu Natal that is also often overlooked – the Zulu people, who are nothing like their warlike reputation would suggest. We encountered dignified, respectful gentle people with a love of life and a great sense of humour. The Zulu people have a long history and have developed an ancient and rich culture from living in this part of South Africa for 1,000 years or more, and their traditions are a big part of daily life. Cattle are a big part of Zulu tradition and life, and a vast amount of the land in KwaZulu Natal is perfect for them, temperate grasslands around 4,000 feet above sea level, and it was this land the Zulus were trying to protect when they were provoked into war by the British in the 19th century.    

This is a multifaceted and truly fascinating part of Africa, and visitors can enjoy so much more than they might have expected.   

Manyoni Private Game Reserve

22,000 hectares of former farmland in northern KwaZulu Natal, with just a handful of safari lodges, Manyoni is a beautiful reserve with fertile habitat of a classic savannah of grassland with scattered trees, and beautiful riverine forest, and gently undulating topography rising to hills on the southwest side. Lion, elephant, buffalo, wild dog, black and white rhino, giraffe, nyala, and loads more.

Private Game Reserve

29,000 hectares of rewilded farmland at the southern tip of the Lebombo Mountains which has 6 up-market lodges and a wealth of habitats and wildlife. The land is a really good mix of hilly, open, wooded, and marshy land, and forest, with 1,000 hectares of endangered sand forest in the northeast. The wildlife population is superb, and the guides are too. 
Phinda Mountain, Phinda Forest, Phinda Vlei, Phinda Zuka, Phinda Rock and Phinda Homestead 

Fugitive's Drift Lodge

Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park

One of the oldest wildlife reserves in Africa, established to save the white rhino from extinction, and it is 96,000 hectares of fertile hilly grassland, with several rivers crossing it, and a good supply of wildlife including white rhino. 
Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge 

Rhino at Rhino Ridge

Rhino at Rhino Ridge

iSimangaliso Wetlands

Once called the Elephant Coast, it’s a vast expanse of coastal wetlands, forested dunes, lakes, and wildlife-rich wilderness.  Although most of the water is fresh, including Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest freshwater lake, there are places where the ocean mingles with the flow from rivers, creating a profile of aquatic habitats. With forests, fertile soils, sand dunes, lakes, channels, and the Indian Ocean it’s a compelling place for a visit. Where else in the world can you see rhinos, whales, lions, dolphins, elephants, coral, cheetah, and flamingos so near to each other? 
Kosi Forest Lodge, Thonga Beach Lodge, Makakatana Bay Lodge 

Kosi Forest Lodge Wetlands

Kosi Forest Lodge Wetlands

Zulu war Battlefields

KwaZulu Natal is a land of contrast with the lush semi-tropical coastal plain being the best known part. Away from the coast and parallel to it, there’s a big escarpment on top of which begins the vast plateau that extends far north into Botswana and Zambia. Up here, in the hills and plains, the climate is more temperate, with cool, dry winters, and warm summers with some rain. It’s fantastic grassland, and perfect for grazing the Zulus’ beloved cattle. English eyes looked greedily on this pastoral paradise in the 19th Century and the colonial authorities concocted a plan to provoke the Zulu people into war and take their land. 
Fugitives’ Drift 

Fugitive's Drift Lodge, Kwazu Natal - - South Africa

Fugitive’s Drift Lodge


Seen from the KwaZulu Natal plateau, the Drakensberg is a massive wall along its western edge, rising to more than 10,000 feet in places, and isolating the tiny nation of Lesotho from the rest of South Africa. With some fantastic walks and hikes, stunning scenery, crystal clear mountain streams, and a generally benign climate in the gorgeous valleys, it’s a super region for outdoor activities and R&R, and a bit of history too.
Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Three Tree Hill 

Three Tree Hill, Kwazu Natal - South Africa

Three Tree Hill

What next?

We would be delighted to help you plan a safari encompassing any of the exclusive stays and trips mentioned here. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally, we make suggestions. If this is your first time in Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.

10 responses to “A tropical paradise in KwaZulu Natal South Africa”

  1. Godfrey says:

    Good to explore nature of all corners of the Province or if not whole Country experience.

    • Amelia says:

      Glad you enjoyed the read. Definitely a vast selection of stunning landscapes and wildlife to explore in this corner of the world.

  2. Reanolda Ndwandwe says:

    Wow!!! I’m also in a mission to explore my beautiful MOTHERLAND South Africa… Mzanzi
    I’m more motivated thank you

    • Katy Duncan says:

      Hi Reanolda, thank you for your comments. We do hope that the blogs we write spark a little interest. Please get in touch if you have any questions, we would be deighted to help you plan your trip. All the best, Katy

  3. Kevin Harvey says:

    A. wonderful experience and an interesting read.
    It is unfortunate that a lot of people here do not know of or do not realize the beauty and diversity in, not only the fauna and flora and breathtaking topography we have here, but in the people and cultures as well.
    In my line of work I get to do a far amount of travel in this province and in some other parts of the country as well, and it always amazes to see and experience what we do have here.
    Thank you for you article.

    • Katy Duncan says:

      Dear Kevin, thank you for your comments. The passion and love Francis holds for this particular part of South Africa is clear and it’s great to shine a light on the lesser-known corners of Africa. All the best, Katy

  4. Perumal Naidoo says:

    I would like to visit ur place and spend 3 nights for 2 what is the price fot self catering

    • Katy Duncan says:

      Dear Perumal, thanks for getting in touch. I will pass your details onto our expert sales team and they will be able to assist. Many thanks, Katy

  5. Philip Monckton says:

    ♥️⚘️⚘️Awesome..devine..im in UK.
    I grew up in Zululand..lived.Hluhluwe,,St Lucia,,Matuba..I’ve still got the bushfire in my blood..hope one day I get out there on a holiday..I the days I was part of building a tar road from St Lucia Cape Videl..but nice to see the NATURE..GODBLESS YOU ALL( I knew ROB DEAN bushland.. shame..I think his daughter runs it..and Dumazulu

    • Katy Duncan says:

      Hi Philip, it really is an incredible part of Africa and it’s always nice to hear the passion and love others share for this amazing continent.

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