KZN – a province full of gems

Visitors to the Nelson Mandela capture site in Howick enjoy the exhibits.

Visitors to the Nelson Mandela capture site in Howick enjoy the exhibits.

Refilwe Modise finds that Kwa-Zulu Natal offers far more than sun, sand and sea.

There aren’t a great deal of things that make up for a 4am start only for your 7am flight to be cancelled, but being bumped to business class and served with a warm towel while sitting next to a New Zealand rugby legend sure does.

Side note: A lot happens behind the curtain that us regular economy class carpoolers should perhaps never be exposed to. If you are superstitious, one could call this a good omen for things to come.

Flying into King Shaka international Airport has always been my portal to an all-time favourite that is the city of Durban, with its sandy beaches and ever-friendly people. However, this arrival would not be like any other as my seat, 1C, was unlike any I’d had in the backseat of the flight. I would discover that, in fact, Durban is not KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and that there is more than meets the eye in in KZN, the enchanting Kingdom of the Zulu.

Hosted by Tourism KZN (TKZN) we took off on a journey to #DoKZN and experience the richness in heritage, beauty and adventure the region offers visitors. Fresh off the plane we headed to KwaDukuza township of Groutville where the late ANC leader Inkosi Albert John Luthuli’s legacy is memorialised with a well-kept museum.

A religious man, Luthuli is attributed with saying, “To remain neutral in a situation where the laws of the land virtually criticised God for having created men of colour was the sort of thing I could, as a Christian, not tolerate.”

And the museum is a symbol of that defiance. The complex is anchored by the only remaining building, Luthuli’s home that he shared with his wife Nokukhanya “Mabhengu” Luthuli and their seven children. The pair first met in 1923 at Adams College where Luthuli taught Mabhengu Zulu and School Organisation. They would later, in 1925, begin a courtship that lasted two years until they wed in 1927.

As an accomplished fruit and sugarcane farmer and community organiser, Mabhengu became an instrumental part, alongside her husband, in the struggle for liberation.

Luthuli in his 1961 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech expressed his respect for her and the values she believed in. She is hailed as one of the icons of their generation because of her resilience, even well after Inkosi Albert Luthuli died mysteriously in 1967.

Walking through the front door of the museum one is welcomed with a life-sized stature of Luthuli sitting at his desk holding a telephone to his ear – I imagine he is conversing and debating with a young Nelson Mandela about the tragedy of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre and the transition to armed struggle. The Museum is a remarkable piece of South African history that every citizen should experience.

Not far from the museum, past the sugarcane fields of KwaDukuza, is the site where Nelson Mandela cast his first democratic vote in 1994 at Ohlange Secondary School in Inanda. Founded by the ANC’s first president, John Langalibalele Dube and his first wife Nokutela, perhaps there was no better place for Mandela to come and report that “Mr President, the country is free”.

Visitors to the Nelson Mandela capture site in Howick enjoy the exhibits. Pictures: Refilwe Modise Ohlange was the first school to be founded by a black person and has an illustrious alumni class including former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka and late jazz musician Busi Mhlongo.

At the end of the school grounds is the home of John Dube – where he and several family members are buried – as well as a sanctum and the hall and ballot box that Madiba used on April 27, 1994. The guided tour is a sobering rememberance to what it has taken to transform South Africa and the many sacrifices that men and women across the land made for the one-day hope of a deracialised and free South Africa. To the uninitiated traveller, this would mark the end of the exploration and it would be time to hit the surf.

However, as promised by TKZN, there would be no painting Florida Road red. We were deep diving into the expansive offerings of the land of King Shaka.

After a seaside lunch in Umdloti, an elderly gentleman – seeing my fascination with the rawness of the ocean – was quick to pass on a piece of useless information: he had spotted whales a day earlier. Quite mean spirited if you ask me. I would have been happier not to be disappointed. Umdloti is a coastal stretch of holiday apartments, flip flops and tank tops. A perfect sanctuary for the not-quite Umhlanga or Ballito crowd of holidaymakers.

We left there for the exclusive Tala Collection Private Game Reserve in Camperdown, where we would spend the night.

The reserve, located 50 minutes from Durban City centre, boasts over 250 bird species, an impressive tower of giraffes and several dehorned rhino that remain under constant guard against poaching – an effort that has been successful in deterring poachers in recent history.

This 3 000 hectare wildlife conservancy partners with the community in ownership and management. Friendly staff and exquisite lodging will accommodate your every need, be it a safari or a warm outdoor shower. The overall size of the conservancy makes it possible to view at the leisure in the back of a converted truck.

For some, the early morning chill was unbearable but made worthwhile by sightings of an ostrich in heat and several zebras with made-up names.

Breakfast was served hot in the restaurant, offering a selection of muffins, cheeses, fruits and the staples (eggs, bacon and toast). After filling up, we left for the Nelson Mandela Capture site in Howick. As a celebration of the Mandela centenary we visited the landmarked site of the late statesman’s apprehension in 1952 following 17 months of evading apartheid security forces.

Created by South African artists Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose, the monument is a two dimensional image made of 50 steel columns. From afar it looks random and offensive in comparison to the landscape that serves as its backdrop. The closer you walk, the more the image of Tata comes into focus and the brilliance of the creators can be thoroughly appreciated.

Delving deeper into this province we zigzagged up into the Karkloof Forest Reserve where the Karkloof Canopy Tour expertly operates a network of 10 zip-lines from the roof of the forest into the valley below.

Being a “retired” adrenalin junkie I was surprisingly undecided whether to do it or to stay at the bottom. Any hopes of an excuse were dashed once the instructor giving the safety briefing mentioned that the cables could carry a ton and every effort to ensure safety has been made.

With that I jumped into my harnesses, was given gloves and a helmet and directed to the back of a 4×4, which is the only reasonable way up with the cables the only way down. The short ride up the mountain, filled with nervous giggles and questions to our guides, is similar to a ride on the back of a tractor at high speed… perfect for getting the blood rushing.

Once at the top it’s a 30 to 40m hike to the first platform, a short “practice” zip-line that does not prepare you for the scenic views as you plunge at high speeds through the trees. Each zip-line is masterfully engineered for thrill seekers, young and old, with a pitstop of the most refreshing water I have ever tasted, gushing over a 15m cliff high into the mountain.

With spirits high, we meandered further into the Midlands to our final destination, Lythwood Lodge, a farm-style hotel near Lidgetton West. This quaint farm is hidden between picturesque hills dotted with grazing cows and sheep only metres from the veranda. As a Joburger, it was a relief to leave my two litre cola bottles behind and explore a side of KZN away from the crashing waves.

I am in awe at the great diversity of experiences this region has to offer. World Tourism Day has come and gone but I am left with a desire to uncover more gems.

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