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To see wildlife you can travel to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, 175 km to northeast of Durban. This combination of game reserves of Hluhluwe and Umfolozi occupies 960 sq km. The park is mostly savannah grasslands and low acacia bush, but has a forested mountainous section. You will see famed "big five"- lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. The park is well known for its very successful black and white rhino conservation efforts. Other animal species to look out for include impala, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, zebra, nyala, kudu, bushbuck, warthog, cheetah, hyena, jackal and giraffe. Birding is great and over 300 species are on record.
You can see game on guided walks, but for obvious reasons, an armed ranger must accompany you. The less adventurous will have an equally satisfying game viewing experience aboard a vehicle. Accommodation in Umfolozi reserve is available at various bush camps at Sontuli, Nselweni and Mndindini and at self-catering cottages and tented camp at Mpila. At Hluhluwe, well-positioned Hilltop Camp offers accommodation ranging from a luxury lodge to self-catering chalets and rondavels. The dry season in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi area falls between May and August, while most off rains fall within rest of year.
To northeast of KwaZulu Natal is Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, which stretches along a 280 km coastline from Cape St Lucia to Kozi Bay near Mozambique border. This first rate eco-tourism paradise, is an amalgamation of a number of protected areas including - Lake St Lucia, St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, Coastal Forest Reserve and Kosi Bay Natural Reserve. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, official bulletin justifying this distinction highlighted existence of 5 ecosystems resulting in an exceptional diversity of species and actual ongoing speciation.
The park is a tropical and subtropical interface and has landforms that include coral reefs, sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lakes, swamps, and reed and papyrus wetlands. It occupies more than 3200 sq km, but supports more animal species than larger parks. Here you can find hippos, turtles, crocodiles, rhino, leopard and sharks. The birding is unsurpassed and more than 530 species are on record. The numerous activities possible include- fishing, hiking, boating, diving, game viewing and whale and bird watching. You can seek accommodation within park or nearby towns in range of basic camps and luxury game lodges to hotels and self-catering chalets.
Sodwana Bay Nature Reserve, which falls within Greater St Lucia Wetland Park is a haven for sport fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving. The underwater world, and coral reefs in particular are outstanding, and marine life plenty. This is one of world's top diving destinations. You can visit year round, but conditions for diving are best April to September. Water temperatures vary from about 20 degrees C and can reach 29 degrees C in summer. Take time off from water sports for a guided to see loggerhead and leatherback turtles. There is good accommodation for most budgets nearby.
The Drakenberg Mountains on KwaZulu-Natal's western border are one of South Africa's most outstanding attractions. Rising 3282 m above sea level, spectacular 200 km long mountain ranges were named by martial minded Zulu as uKhahlamba or "Barrier of Spears". The thoroughly photogenic "Amphitheatre" is very impressive and is popular with visitors. This is a rock wall with a height of 500m and stretching for 5 km. Many adventure activities are available here in most scenic of surroundings, including- hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, white-water rafting, birding, and fly and trout fishing.
There are several parks and game reserves around Drakensberg Mountains, most prominent of which is 2430 sq km uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 mainly for two reasons; first for its remarkable physical charm and biological diversity, and second to highlight outstanding collection of San rock art. Scattered over 600 sites; there are more than 35,000 well-preserved artworks, with scenes depicting hunting, dancing, fighting and food gathering. The oldest paintings are estimated to date back 2400 years, with more recent ones less than 200 years old.
Scholars have in recent years studied San rock art closely and consensus now is that this is not merely representation art but it has some spiritual content. At Kamberg Rock Art Centre, you can learn more about San people, and how to interpret symbolic and spiritual content of their art. In Drakensberg region, there is a very wide range of accommodation including - basic bed & breakfasts, guesthouses, camps, hotels, and luxury resorts. The rains come in summer between October and April, with rest of year being mostly dry. Beware that winter nights can get extremely chilly and of sudden thunderstorms in summer.
Descending from Drakensberg, you can visit battlefield sites, where some of South Africa's most vicious battles were fought. The protagonists were Zulu, Boer and British who engaged one another in nineteenth and early twentieth century. The hottest battles were fought in areas around Colenso, Weenen, Dundee, Estcourt, Glencoe, Ladysmith,Newcastle, Utrecht, Volksrust, Vryheid and Winterton.
The Voortrekkers had headed north away from Cape Colony to escape British control. After crossing Drakensberg, just like Zulu people earlier, they believed they had reached "Heaven on Earth". Conflicts over land and other resources were inevitable and in several episodes between 1836-1852, two parties sought a resolution through arms. Next came Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. The British eventually won, but they met a number of disasters as they had initially underestimated Zulu army. This is war that broke hearts of Bonaparte royalists after Prince Louis Napoleon - an observer with British party- succumbed to multiple assegai thrusts.
The British were busy making war again, this time on Boers between 1880-81. They lost war, made peace but sought a rematch in Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. This second engagement attracted worldwide attention, and it was first war ever recorded on film. Two of giants of twentieth century were witnesses - Churchill as a reporter, and Gandhi as a stretcher-bearer. It is advisable to tour with an accredited battlefield guide, who will retell story of battles at various sites. While in area, there are opportunities to learn about Zulu history and culture, and also to buy local arts and crafts.
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Andrew Muigai is editor of AfricaPoint Insider online newsletter. It is part of AfricaPoint.com- the Africa travel website that has helped thousands of travelers discover Africa. You can view more info on Tanzania safari and tours at the website.