A 100% ethical African journey, self-driving through the scenic KwaZulu-Natal.
Welcome to your KwaZulu-Natal adventure!
You’ll spend your first day in the historic town of Pietermaritzburg, staying there overnight. On Day 2, you’ll head north into the Midlands, spending time in the pretty villages of Howick and Nottingham Road as well as the rolling surrounding countryside, before overnighting at Cranford Country House.
There then follow two days at Zingela, a remote lodge near the small but very personal Weenen Game Reserve. You’ll love the utter tranquillity, game and bird watching here. That’s Days 3 & 4. On Day 5, you’ll drive deep into the Drakensberg for two nights at Three Tree Hill. This mountain-top lodge offers superb hiking, deep history in the form of the cave paintings in the area and battlefields as well as splendid scenery.
On Day 7, there’s a long drive cross country all the way to back to Durban, for your overnight stay at The Grange, an upmarket guesthouse in the suburb of Umhlanga, before flying home the next day from King Shaka International Airport.
It’s a relatively quick drive to Lexden Guesthouse just outside Pietermaritzburg. We’d recommend the route which will allow you to stop off at the Valley of 1000 Hills on the way or the most unusual Mariannhill Monastery.
There’s a lot to see and do in the Valley of 1000 Hills but from our point of view, the key attraction is the food and the views (so this would be a particularly good place to stop for lunch!). Our suggestion would be The Pot and Kettle, Botha’s Hill mainly because of its beautiful views across the valley or the café at the Mariannhill Monastery itself. The monastery is still very active with its own kitchen garden from which the food at the café is produced, right down to the milk and yoghurt which is made at the on-site dairy (complete with on-site cows). It has a deep and long-lasting history, having been founded in 1883, and was very active in the fight against the Group Areas Act in the bad days of apartheid. You can take a tour of the grounds, including the beautiful ornamental gardens, church and museum most days of the week.
If you’d like to spend a bit more time en-route, you might like to stop off at the rather wonderful Makaranga Botanical Garden: it’s a subtropical garden of over 30 acres, filled with lush vegetation and numerous ponds and water features, all built around a central design and including several interesting sculptures and vistas.
Particular highlights from our point of view are the City Hall, the National Botanical Garden and Macrorie House.
Lexden is a rather special place: originally built as a private house but now converted into a guesthouse, it offers only 4 rooms in the main house (you’re staying in Room 4, set at the end of the veranda) and is set in beautiful gardens with lovely views down the valley over Pietermaritzburg itself. The whole establishment speaks quite refinement: it’s all about muted hues, high ceilings and clean lines. We do hope you like it!
We suggest asking the staff for some dinner recommendations for this evening as Lexden doesn’t offer in house dining.
176 Howick Rd, Pietermaritzburg
Tel +27 33 345 6984
Cranford Country Lodge
Today you’ve another short drive onwards to Cranford Country Lodge - just outside the village of Curry’s Post - so plenty of time to explore the pretty villages and countryside that makes up the Midlands Meander. Originally, the Meander was started to showcase the art and craft of the region in a more manageable way: a potter, a weaver and a painter came together in 1995 to start a map to show visitors how to visit each of them in their studios, with places to stay and eat on the way. This small idea had a big vision and now, the Meander is not just one route but in fact a collection of five routes, any one of which you’ll enjoy for a variety of reasons.
In terms of things to do on the way, we personally think that Route 4 holds the most interest, interspersed as they are with crafted food and beverage products alongside decorative arts and crafts.We particularly like Shuttleworth Weaving, Hillfold Pottery and Tsonga Shoes and Bags. Also, don’t miss Sterling Wrought Iron located in the Piggly Wiggly Village.
Before you start this route, you might also like to take in some of the political significance of the area, such as the Nelson Mandela Capture Site just outside Howick (this is where Mandela was arrested during the apartheid years and started what became his 27 years of arrest). It’s now become an iconic place, and as such an art installation there of the great man You might also enjoy the Howick Falls Gorge Walk (which is easy and spectacular: the falls are 95m high which is only 13m shorter than Victoria Falls) and the gorge itself beautiful and filled with bird and butterfly life. You can pick the Gorge Walk up at The Black Olive towards the end of Harvard Street.
Cranford is most certainly a family affair: Richard and Debbie Blackburn are an unusual couple, with Richard being having a military background and Debbie being a Cordon Blu chef who had her own catering company for years.
They’ve now combined Richard’s military precision for detail and Debbie’s foodsmithing into a gorgeous country estate, large enough to host weddings but small enough to still feel intimate and personal. The original farm house built in 1880 is still the centre piece of the property but the Blackburns have developed the estate over the last 10 years, adding or repurposing existing buildings into a whole series of accommodation options.
The main attraction at Cranford is the estate itself, which comes with its own bass dam would you believe and lots of pleasant walks and horse rides in the forests and hills around. As if they don’t have enough to do, Richard and Debbie also have a stud farm on the property which you’re welcome to visit too.
77 Old Main Road, Curry's Post
Tel 082 556 6748
Zingela River Lodge
Today is a longer drive to Zingela but you’ll have a busy afternoon as you’re going on a game drive on the way there! Have lunch at Hartford House, because there’s no food before Zingela (which you’ll only reach much later this evening).
Hartford’s is a superb dining venue and hotel just outside the pretty town of Mooi River: having been a horse stud and private house for the best part of its 200-year history, and home to many notable political figures, the house has now been converted into a luxury hotel, but without ruining any of its legacy. Expect a sedate, timber and canvas style colonial luxury, complimented with modern cuisine and impeccable views and service.
Once you’ve finished lunch, you’ll need to drive to Weenen to the farmhouse there, which is where you’ll be picked up from. You should not attempt to drive to Zingela as the road is very bad and you may get stuck in a normal car. The road from Weenen to Zingela is not suitable for normal 2x2 vehicles so we’ve arranged a transfer to Zingela itself. The car will stay at Weenen (perfectly safe and secure) and you’ll be dropped back there after your stay.
WEENEN GAME RESERVE
Whilst being one of the smaller reserves in KZN, its remote setting makes it a rarely visited one and as such, you get some fantastic sightings of totally wild animals. It’s a public reserve managed by KZN Wildlife to which the Zingela team have access. The variety of game could be attributed to the river (the Bushman’s which you crossed on the way here) which rushes through a spectacular gorge a little further upstream.
You should expect to see both black and white rhino, giraffe, hartebeest (a type of large antelope), kudu, ostrich and (most unusually) hyena and jackal. There are recorded sightings of over 251 bird species. There’s even a vulture feeding site in the reserve (if you’re lucky you may actually be able to witness a ranger luring them in).
The setting at Zingela is magical: set in its own valley with the Tugela river running through it, they regularly host adventure racing events at the site, erecting huge marquee-type tents to house over 100 racers at a time. The river teams with fish, to the point that the ‘Zingela Section’ of the Tugela has achieved international renown amongst fly fishermen: they’re attracted not only by the fishing itself but the seemingly endless variety of animals that come to the water to drink: warthog, kudu, impala and duiker are all totally wild and roam freely through the valley.
Whilst you can enjoy white water rafting, abseiling and so on here, the focus is not on being an adventure centre. Rather, Zingela is about the serenity with the option to engage in as much or as little as you like.
Each room is really a suite and has been built as far as possible purely from materials to be found in the immediate area. As such some are made from timber, others from rock, some thatched, some with canvas roofs. The idea is to make each room fit with its surroundings as much as possible whilst keeping them private and comfortable at the same time. The bathroom is set under the stars, just because in this part of the world, you can do that.
GPS: S 28 43 035 E 030 03 800 | Weenen, Kwazulu-Natal
Tel 087 802 0050
Three Tree Hill
Today you’ll say goodbye to Zingela and be driven back to your car at Weenen. It’s not a long drive to Three Tree Hill today, only 95km, but it may well take you over two hours so if you can, pick up some water and snacks at Zingela before you leave.
Three Tree Hill is very much a destination in its own right: Cheryl and Simon are actually fully qualified field guides (and have written books about travel in Africa) but settled on Three Tree Hill (quite by chance) on one of their trips. Cheryl and Simon from the start wanted to have a place that was utterly committed to sustainability, not just to people but also to planet. To that end, they have personally trained and employed all their staff, most of whom are from the nearby village of Hambrook, and none of whom had any work experience when they first arrived at Three Tree Hill. They also grow much of the food you will eat on site, or what isn’t grown on site is bought only from the farmer’s cooperative up the road, not in supermarkets.
All this hard work has paid off as now Three Tree Hill has been awarded the very coveted Fair Trade in Tourism accreditation. There’s a main lodge building with a big lounge, beautifully decorated with all sorts of interesting artefacts from Simon and Cheryl’s travels and the work they sponsor in the local community. Just off this room is the dining area where your meals are served (it’s always farmhouse style at Three Tree: everyone eats together!).
There’s lots of opportunity for peace and solitude, though: whilst it’s perhaps going to be a little chilly for swimming (the pool is heated, though), there’s a lovely winding path that takes you down to the pool area and some secluded spots there to sit and read. The Double Cottage is built in traditional style with corrugated iron exterior and wood panelling inside. It has its own private deck, fantastic quality linen and bathroom amenities as well as a bath with a view over the valley. We suggest both the nature walk and the game walk and a trip to the battlefields with Simon (don’t worry, he’s got a understanding of the real history of the many battles of the area)
GPS: S 28deg 39′ 41.6” | E 29deg 29′ 13.6”
Tel +27 (0) 36 448 1171
Today is the longest drive of the trip at around four hours.
This lovely house strikes the prefect blend between a country house with space and privacy whilst being perfectly located for beaches and the urban offerings of Durban. The Grange is situated in the exclusive area of Upper Durban North which is only about a 10-minute drive from the Umhlanga beaches and the rather oxymoronically named ‘Gateway Theatre of Shopping’. Rooms have sweeping views of the seaside and breakfast is enjoyed on the patio whilst soaking up the sun.
Since you will only spend one evening here to recover from all the driving, you will most likely want to just relax before the dinner this evening and the flight home tomorrow.
1 Monteith Place, Durban North
Tel +27 (0) 31 563 6826
All accommodation choices are either Fair Trade in Tourism accredited or have a written commitment to ethicality with Where It All Began