South Africa Travel
Rediscovering the Drakensberg & the KZN Midlands
September 16, 2015
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Last week was part one of the first of four trips this Tourism Month where I re-discover KZN with Tourism Kwazulu-Natal. Our first #GottaLuvKZN itinerary took us to the central Drakensberg and the KZN midlands, areas that I am quite familiar with but which also revealed some hidden gems.

 

Bonga Dlamini Nomfundo Mkhize

These crazy kids – Uzalo’s Bonga Dlamini & Nomfundo Mkhize from Ukhozi FM

My travel buddies for the trip were the lovely Nomfundo Mkhize from Ukozi FM and heartthrob actor Bonga Dlamini from SABC 1’s hit show, Uzalo. You know I love a good road trip, but it can be a little stressful tavelling with people you don’t know. Luckily we got along like old friends, and were soon laughing and playing games to no end!

First Car rental

Thanks for the purple passion mobile First Car Rentals!*

Drakensberg hiking!

Our first stop was the Gooderson Monks Cowl Golf Resort in the Champagne Valley area of the berg. This family friendly resort offers a host of activities including golf, putt-putt, tennis, a swimming pool and spa, and a ton of adventure activities in the area.

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Mountain walks are food for the soul*

We took an easy hike from the scenic Monks Cowl KZN Wildlife Office through rolling foothills and magnificent vistas of Champagne Castle and Cathkin Peak, passing rock pools and  a little waterfall at the Sterkspruit River.

Rain has been scarce of late in KZN, so the area was a lot drier than the last time I was here. It was still lovely anyway.  It was so good to be out of the city, take in the fresh mountain air and the beauty of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, one of KZN’s two World Heritage Sites.

 

Monks Cowl

Of course I had to make everyone jump 🙂 *

UNESCO describes the park as having “exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts…the site’s diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants… it also contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara“.[1]

Unfortunately we didn’t get to vist the rock art paintings this time.  But I was happy as can be.

Shiny happy people!

The Drakensberg (meaning “Dragon Mountains” in Afrikaans) or uKhahlamba (”Barrier of Spears” in Zulu) are the highest mountains in South Africa with peaks reaching well over 3000m. They are truly a heritage treasure and  a place of myth and legend.

I felt truly free here and at one with nature. I’m not a religious person, being in nature is the closest I get to God. No matter how many times I visit these sacred mountains they make my heart sing and my soul dance! Bliss.

Monks Cowl Sterkspruit Falls

Happiness is whispering waterfalls and the sweet Drakensberg air

 

Visiting the Mandela Capture Site

After our nature fix in the Berg, we headed to the Midlands to one of KZN’s most significant heritage attractions, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site outside Howick.

It was here that Nelson Mandela was arrested on 5 August 1952, leading to the infamous Rivonia Trial and his 27 year incarceration. It was here that Mandela disappeared from public view and began his long walk to freedom.

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Amandla!*

Here, at this unassuming spot, armed apartheid police flagged down the car in which Mandela was pretending to be the chauffeur. Having succeeded in evading capture by the apartheid police for 17 months, Mandela was returning from a secret visit to ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli’s home in Groutville to request support in calling for an armed struggle.

 

Mandela Capture Site

The site is commemorated by a stunning interactive sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose consisting of  50 laser cut steel columns, which from the road look like a forest of arbitrarily arranged poles.

As you walk down a path – representing “the long walk to freedom”-  towards the sculpture, these steel columns gradually come together and focus at a point 30 meters from the sculpture into the image of Mandela you see above.

 

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Of course we had to jump!*

This is the second time I’ve visited the site and it never ceases to amaze me. The steel columns line up at this point creating the illusion of a flat two-dimensional image magically recreating Madiba’s portrait, symbolising his return to the site of his disappearance from world view.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site Howick

The Capture Site Exhibition*

There is also a temporary exhibition taking you through the life of Mandela and his heroic role in the anti-apartheid struggle. The Capture Site is currently being upgraded with a new multi-purpose centre and visitor centre under construction.

We had lunch at the lovely Truth Cafe on site, serving traditional KZN fare. I enjoyed a delicious lamb curry, while my friends tucked into their hearty grills. There are also some great craft shops on site, with stunning local beadwork and handicrafts.

Bonga Dlamini Mkhonto

Freedom selfie!

The Mandela Capture Site is a must-visit heritage attraction in KZN and is just a quick detour from the N3.  The experience and significance of the sculpture is simply breathtaking!

 

Flying through the tree-tops at Karkloof

Next up we were in for an adrenalin rush at Karkloof Canopy Tours,  where we did a zipline tour through the spectacular valley of the Karkloof Forest Reserve mist belt.

Karkloof is an area of quiet, natural beauty, home to Crowned and Martial Eagle which breed among the yellowwood and black stinkwood trees. It is an incredibly bio-diverse area, containing many endemic and near-endemic species of fauna and flora, including the Karkloof Blue Butterfly!

Karkloof Canopy Tour

Geared up and ready to fly through the tree-tops!*

This was the second canopy tour built in South Africa with slides of up to 180 metres long. The tour consists of seven platforms that zig-zag down a pristine forested valley, and take 2- 3 hours to complete depending on how many people there are in your group.

Africa Madondo Karkloof Canopy Tours

Our guide Africa Madondo has been a guide at Karkloof since 2003!

I was a bit nervous, especially given my vertigo and fear of heights. I’d been on a zipline before, but never from such heights, nor were they this long. Thankfully, the experienced guides and safety measures put me at ease. Soon I was zipping through the tree-tops like a pro, squealing with laughter at the thrill of it!

 

Karkloof Canopy Tour

Who whould have thought I would have enjoyed it this much!*

The views of the Midlands valleys below and the dense canopy of ancient trees were magnificent. I just loved the feeling of zipping through the trees like a modern Tarzan. We saw birds, heard the calls of samango monkeys and spotted some gorgeous forest flowers – an epic nature and adventure eco-tourism experience.

Karkloof canopy

At the bottom of the canopy

Midlands Magic at Fordoun Hotel & Spa

After the adrenalin of the Karkloof canopy tour, I was in desperate need for some rest and relaxation. I’d heard of Fordoun Hotel  before but nothing prepared me for just how awesome it was. Fordoun is located in the heart of the Midlands at Nottingham Road.

The entrance to Fordoun is flanked by herds of Nguni!

Nguni love

As we drove up from the main road we were greated by a herd of the most gorgeous Nguni cattle. I was in love! The cows had just started birthing season a week ago and we spotted a few shy calves suckling on their mammas. With their patterned hides, Nguni must surely be the most beautiful cattle in the world!

Nguni cows at Fordoun hotel

The Nguni herd at Fordoun, and paintings of the cattle that decorate the hotel, pay tribute to the property’s origins as a dairy farm. Nguni are South Africa’s indigenous cattle and have adapted to our tough grazing conditions. They have long being the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture and are a part of our national heritage.

Fordoun hotel and spa

Welcome bubbles!

After our Nguni photo shoot, we arrived where we were greeted by the manager with a warm bubbly welcome.  We were soon whisked off to the luxury spa where Nomfundo and I were treated to full body massages using local products made by their resident African traditional healer Dr Elliot Ndlovu. It was so relaxing we both fell asleep on the massage bed!

Fordoun spa

Meeting tradional healer, Dr Elliot Ndlovu

We then got the chance to meet Dr Elliot Ndlovu who is an Inyanga (medicinal healer) and Sangoma (spiritual healer).  Dr Ndlovu has a long history at Fordoun and has even published a book titled ‘A Sangoma’s Story’. He told us of his calling as a Sangoma…

As a young man, he was awoken in the middle of the night by the spirits of his ancestors. He recalls fleeing to the nearby river where he was submerged until sunrise. On the bottom of a riverbed, he claimed to acquire all the knowledge of his cultural heritage to heal bodies and minds. He is a natural conservationist and leader who believes in the preservation of indigenous flora, in the strength of community, and in ubuntu.

 

Dr Elliot Ndlovu at Fordoun

Elliot Ndlovu telling us his Sangoma’s story*

Elliot has a consulting room at Fordoun, as well as two African therapy rooms built in traditional Zulu style, and a medicinal garden that has over 120 different species of healing plants. He also manufacures Ndlovu range of African healing products that are used at and sold at the Fordoun spa.

Ndlovu

I couldn’t resist the Wild dagga bath salts 🙂

Elliot has travelled the world practicing African traditional medicine. It was fascinating listening to Elliot’s stories, from meeting Queen Elizabeth to getting detained in Los Angeles for carrying his sangoma bones. I think I may have to go back for a consult!

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I’ll be back for a consult!

Fabulous Fordoun

Fordoun is a five-star boutique hotel, with a big focus on personal service. I stayed in on of their new suites which was so spacious and luxurious it was basically a villa. My bedroom overlooked a pasture and the rolling hills towards the Drakensberg. It had an open plan lounge, fireplace, dressing area and maginficent bathroom which opened up into an outdoor shower.

Fordoun suite

My suite at Fordoun was the boss!

Most people come to Fordoun to relax but if you feel like being active there are  a host of activities offered – from yoga, pilates and spin classes to fly-fishing, birding and mountain biking. Their restaurant, Skye Bistro, headed by Chef Lorenzo Giliomee is one of the best in the Midlands. It celebrates local cuisine, with most produce being sourced locally.

Fordoun was heavenly, definitely a hidden gem of the Midlands. The food and service were impeccable, the ambience, peaceful and relaxing. It’s a place of romance and simple luxury.  I only wished I could have stayed longer. I just guess I’ll have to go back for longer next time!

 

Awesome #GottaLuvKZN travel crew – Uzalo’s Bonga Dlamini (aka Mkhonto), photographer Thuli Dlamini and our awesome host Nhlanhla Ngwenya from Tourism KZN.

My first #GottaLuvKZN trip re-discovering the Drakensberg and the Midlands was truly epic. I re-visited places that I’d been to as a kid, and discovered new gems like Fordoun and Karkloof. Best of all, I had some amazing company that made the trip so much fun!

Check out my podcast!

Click play below  to listen to the podcast I recorded with my road trip buddies, Nomfundo Mkhize and Bonga Dlamini:-

Mzansigirl on The Expresso Show

Here’s a little intro to the #GottaLuvKZN campaign that aired on The Expresso Show on SABC1 last week:

 

On our next adventures we’ll be hitting up the South Coast, Durban, North Coast, Zululand and the Elephant Coast. Follow #GottaLuvKZN on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for instant updates on my adventure!

 

Redisocver KZN with Mzansigirl
Disclosure:
I was a guest of Tourism Kwazulu-Natal, but all opinions expressed are my own!  
*Images credit: Tourism KZN, Thuli Dlamini. All other images: Meruschka Govender

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Meruschka Govender

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There are 3 comments

  • Hilton says:

    It’s great to see your posts about Durban and KZN. I spent time in Durban several years ago with relatives and I thought it was a fascinating city with a rich heritage and an interesting province (KZN). I hope I could go back and experience more of the sights you’ve featured here.

  • Wow, superb post. Loved your experience and I would have loved to be a part of this gang. Though I have been reading about Nelson Mandela but Capture site is something that I am reading about for the first time.
    I am a travel blogger exploring Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town for last 40 days. I also collaborated on a campaign with South Africa tourism #ChaloSouthAfrica but I did not visit any of these places. After reading your experience, I think I need to come back soon to discover more of South Africa.

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Hi Manjulika. Thanks for your comment. The Capture Site is definitely worth a visit. Hope you enjoyed your travels in SA. There is really so much to experience here, even 40 days is not enough. This country has many layers! I guess it’s similar with India too, I’ve been a 4 times and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Let me know next time you’re in South Africa, would be happy to meet up!

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