Discover Northern KZN

By Dane Forman

Northern KwaZulu-Natal really is a place of wonder. World class game reserves spill into endless untouched beaches. A UNESCO World Heritage site that commands the interest and respect of international travelers and locals alike. A rich natural heritage interwoven in a tapestry of strong Zulu culture. This was our destination for our #WanderMore weekend.

It’s a Friday afternoon. A close friend and I pack the car and head north from our coastal city home of Durban. Our destination: Protea Hotel by Marriott Umfolozi River. Centrally located between two of Zululand’s biggest attractions, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, this hotel proved to be a perfect base camp for the weekend’s activities.

Friendly staff welcomes us and get us settled in for the weekend. A few cold beers around the hotel pool and it’s time for an early retirement.

An early start on Saturday morning sees us heading through St Lucia, a small town at the mouth of the St Lucia estuary.

The coastal retreat of Cape Vidal in the iSimagaliso Wetland Park is our morning mission. The drive takes us through the sprawling plains of the UNESCO world Heritage Site and descends into the coastal forests around Lake Bhangazi. A morning trail run through indigenous shrubland and cool coastal dune forest is the first order of the day. A beach swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean gets us ready for the rest of the day’s activities. Cape Vidal is a haven for fisherman, divers and their families. Good laughs, friendly smiles and wildly exaggerated fishing stories make up the vibe around camp.

Back in St Lucia it is time to explore the estuary for the afternoon. There is no better way to get close to the action than with a croc and hippo viewing boat cruise. Advantage Tours operates out of St Lucia and guarantees hippo sightings with each cruise.

We definitely got our fair share of sightings. Nile crocodile and hippos line the shores as our double deck viewing boat makes its way up the river and into the setting sun. The area is rich and bird and reptile life. The sighting of a 3 metre long Forest Cobra in the nearby trees was fantastic but also had a lot of people’s skin crawling.

With the day behind us it’s time to settle into our own watering hole. The town of St Lucia is a vibrant mix of locals and international travellers, most of which arrive on safari or come to explore the fantastic diving and fishing available in the area. This also means nightlife in St Lucia can get exciting, especially when people from all walks of life and parts of the globe converge on one of the local fisherman bars.

Sunday morning is all about game viewing. The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve has the full African safari experience right on your doorstep. Get your binoculars out and make sure you see some of Africa’s Big 5.

Just outside the reserve is the Zamimpilo Market. It’s a traditional market that offers fresh produce and a wide array of traditional Zulu curios. Grab a snack for the road and chat with the friendly locals. You’re always guaranteed of meeting some interesting characters and sharing a few good laughs. Just a heads up: the market operates on a cash only basis.

With the weekend behind us it’s a 2 hour drive back to the hustle and bustle of the Durban city. A perfect weekend away to explore and soak in a beautiful part of the world that is often overlooked by city dwellers but never forgotten by those who take the time to #WanderMore.

What to do in the area:

Hippo & Croc Tours: A numbers of tour operate out of St Lucia. This is a must for any first timers into the area. Sightings of these river dwellers are commonplace as well as a host of other bird and fish life.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park: This big 5 reserve is one of the oldest game reserves in Africa. A 30 minute drive from the hotel and you are in the heart of the African savannah. Personal vehicles are allowed but the park is no zoo. Visitors are encouraged to be respectful of all animals within the park. Especially the elephant!

St Lucia: The small coastal town is a good base point to link up with safari & fishing operators. There are a couple of good eateries and some great backpackers and coffee shops to visit as well.

Where to stay:

Protea Hotel by Marriott Umfolozi River

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