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The Garden Province, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – a Travelogue
En route from Klerksdorp to Durban
This is the second phase of our journey from Klerksdorp to Durban.
The first phase was through the tranquil Northern and Eastern Free State where grazing cattle, bright-yellow sunflowers and crops of all sorts fill the ± 50 km (31 miles) spaces between towns that were established between 1840 and 1910.
Including the hour spent taking pictures of historical buildings and interesting sites, it took us five hours to travel from Klerksdorp to Harrismith - the end of the first phase of our journey.
First Phase: From Klerksdorp to Kroonstad to Bethlehem to Harrismith
From Klerksdorp to Harrismith
From Harrismith to Durban (Second Phase)
Between the last town in the Free State - Harrismith - and the province of Kwazulu-Natal is the Drakensberge (Dragon Mountains). This mountain range is in fact the entire eastern portion of the Great Escarpment that stretches for over 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the south to the north of South Africa - a structure that began to develop about 180 million years ago. The mountains are extensive erosion of the central plateau over a period of 20 million years. The rate of the erosion was an average of about 1.5 m (5 ft) per 1000 years, which amounts to 1.5 millimetres (1⁄16 in) per year.
Drakensberge, Kwazulu-NatalClick thumbnail to view full-size
Crossing the Drakensberge
From Harrismith, two mountain passes provide entrance to Kwazulu-Natal -
On the N3 national highway that connects Johannesburg with Durban, between Harrismith and Ladysmith, is the Van Reenen Pass with a peak of 1100 meters (3609 ft). This pass could be temporarily closed, as it is prone to heavy mist and fog, and snow during winter. Although the pass doesn't look as dangerous as some other mountain passes in SA, it has the reputation of being the most dangerous due to many car- and truck accidents.
On the R74 road, between the Sterkfontein Dam (just before Harrismith) and Bergville, is the Oliviershoek Pass, which is also subjected to road closures due to trucking accidents and snow. This pass provides routes to a significant number of holiday resorts in the mountains.
Views from the Van Reenen Pass, KZN, South AfricaClick thumbnail to view full-size
Van Reenen Pass - from beginning to end - a virtual experience
Views from the Oliviershoek PassClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gliding above Oliviershoek Pass
Van Reenen is a small town situated at the top of the Van Reenen Pass. It is named after Frans Van Reenen who used to trek his oxen inland, using the paths worn by migrating animals. Frans played a significant role in the planning of the Van Reenen Pass.
The Van Reenen Hotel, later renamed to “The Green Lantern Hotel”, was built in 1892. During the Second Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) the British commandeered the town as their headquarters. During the Second World War (1939-1945) four hotels in this little town accommodated tourists from all over the world.
The smallest church in the Southern hemisphere - a fully consecrated Catholic Church and the only privately-owned Catholic Church in the World - is situated opposite the Green Lantern Hotel. Known as “The World’s Smallest Church”, it was built by Maynard Mathew in honor of his son, the 28-year-old Llandaff Mathew who was killed in a rock fall at a coal mine near Dundee (KZN), after he had saved eight other trapped miners in 1925. The same number of seats is available in the oratory.
In 1960, Charles West-Thomas bought the church and had it declared a National Monument. In 1974, as a wedding present, he gave it to his wife, Mims West-Thomas.
The World's Smallest Church at Van Reenen
Photos of Van Reenen taken in August (winter)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hartbees house (±1850)
Holiday resorts in the Drakensberge
A significant number of holiday resorts offer exquisite holidays in the Drakensberge. Covered with snow during winter, this region is regarded as South Africa's own Switzerland.
Drakensberge during winterClick thumbnail to view full-size
Holiday resorts in the DrakensbergeClick thumbnail to view full-size
With the Drakensberge behind us, we entered the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) - the homeland of the Zulus.
In 1837, when the first European settlers entered the region known today as KwaZulu-Natal, the northern part was already the homeland of the Zulus. The name Natal, which means ‘Christmas’, was given to the region by the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, when he sailed parallel with the coastline during Christmas 1495, searching for a sea route from Europe to India.
KZN has three different geographic areas – the lowland along the Indian Ocean, the central Midlands, which is an undulating hilly plateau, and two mountainous areas - the Drakensberg Mountains in the west – with several peaks over 3,000 meters (almost two miles), and the Lebombo Mountains in the north.
Dubbed “The Garden Province” because a subtropical climate and well-watered valleys encourage the growth of a large variety of flower plants throughout the year, KZN is one of the most beautiful provinces of SA.
KZN is also one of SA’s most popular tourist destinations as it borders the warm Indian Ocean. Although Pietermaritzburg is the capital, the largest and most popular city is the port city, Durban.
First languages spoken by the ± eleven-million permanent residents are Zulu (77.8%); English (13.2%); Xhosa (3.4%); Afrikaans (1.6%); and others, such as the languages of Greeks, Portuguese, Indians, Jews and Asians, (4%).
The Midlands Meander comprises five routes to several tourist attractions. When looking at the map, the traveler get the idea that the entire KwaZulu-Natal is composed of tourist attractions including the largest concentration of battles and war related sites in SA.
The Midlands produce among other products wine, milk products, cheese, wood, and sugar. Its fascinating history - about the Zulu Kingdom, the Voortrekkers, the Republic of Natalia, and the Colony of Natal, shed light on South Africa's current existence.
Landscapes in the Midlands and mountain regions of KZNClick thumbnail to view full-size
Rural areas, Kwazulu-Natal
While traveling through the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, we noticed significant differences compared to the rural areas of other provinces in South Africa. We saw no squatter camps (informal settlements), and no houses of corrugated iron, and no rubbish lying and flying around. The colorful brick houses built on plots big enough for small crops of maize and/or vegetables, contribute to the region's beauty. Unfortunately, quite a large number of modern mansions disturb the aesthetic balance and prove the existence of social stratification in a socialist system.
Land ownership in rural Kwazulu-Natal is still rooted in the laws of pre-colonial South Africa when land used to belong to the king of the region, and the chief of tribes had power to allot land to their people and whomever managed to find favor with them. When SA became a democracy in 1994, the Zulu leaders (king and chiefs) didn’t lose their historical status. Kwazulu, which was the homeland of the Zulus during Apartheid, retained some degree of regional autonomy within the province of Kwazulu-Natal.
The Ingonyama Trust was established (in 1994) to hold all the land that was hitherto owned by the KwaZulu Government – land which has always been part of the Zulu Kingdom. The King of the Zulus is the sole Trustee of the land. The Ingonyama Trust Board issues long-term lease agreements to members of the Zulu nation. In July 2016, the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini announced that title deeds would be issued to households. This has not yet occurred as it may, according to analysts, lead to the end of the Zulu hierarchy.
Rural, KwaZulu NatalClick thumbnail to view full-size
The capital, Pietermaritzburg
The capital of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, called Maritzburg by the locals and dubbed "City of Flowers", was established in 1938 by the Voortrekkers and named after their leader Piet Mauritz Retief, who was executed by the Zulus King Dingane on February 6th 1838. The town was established after the Zulus were defeated during the Battle of Blood River.
Pietersmaritzburg has a large ethnic Indian population, descended from indentured Indian laborers and slaves, who were brought into the country by the British from India in the mid-19th century to work in the sugar plantations and coal mines. Most Indian South Africans live in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly in the cities of Durban, Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas. Mahatma Gandhi, who fought for the rights of Indians between 1893 and 1915, is equivalent to Nelson Mandela and his fellow-leaders who had fought for the rights of Africans between 1910 and 1994.
Pietermaritzburg has a population of 223,448. First languages spoken are Zulu (57.0%); English (28.9%); Afrikaans (4.2%); Xhosa (3.5%); Indian and Others (6.3%).
A wide variety of tourist attractions exist in the region of Pietermaritzburg, among others, the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary, the Tala Private Game Reserve, the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden, the Tatham Art Gallery, the Natal Museum, the Voortrekker Museum, the Scottsville Racecourse, and the Natal Zoological Gardens.
PietermaritzburgClick thumbnail to view full-size
Random Photos, Towns, Midlands, KwaZulu-NatalClick thumbnail to view full-size
Some of the game reserves in Kwazulu-Natal, MidlandsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Battlefields Route
In KwaZulu-Natal tourists may decide to take The Battlefields Route, which leads to historical sites such as museums, old fortifications, and places of remembrance, including eighty-two battlefields where battles between British and Zulus, and between Voortrekkers and Zulus, have determined the future of South Africa.
This route has the largest concentration of significant Battles and war related sites than anywhere in South Africa.
Among others, the traveler will see –
The Barefoot Lady – The Voortrekkers (European settlers) left the Cape Colony in 1836 to escape British rule. After many traumatic battles with the Zulus, they managed to establish a republic in Natal. But in 1842 the British also occupied Natal. One of the Trekker women – Johanna Smit – said she would rather walk barefoot back over the Drakensberg than live under British rule. Some Voortrekkers then decided to migrate back over the Drakensberg into what later became the Boere Republics, Orange Free State, and Transvaal. Some of the Voortrekkers moved north to the present Vryheid, where the then king of the Zulus, King Mpande had offered them land.
Kerkenberg - where the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and his group consisted of some 66 ox wagons had arrived on December 14th, 1837. From here Retief, his son, and party of about 100 men went to Zululand to parlay with the Zulu king, Dingane for land. They left on January 25th, 1838 and never returned. Dingane had taken them to a nearby ridge, Hlomo amabuto, which means "mustering of the soldiers", and ordered that they be clubbed to death. Retief was kept alive until the end to witness the deaths of his comrades. All bodies were left on the KwaMatiwane hillside to be eaten by vultures and scavengers, as was Dingane's custom with his enemies.
The Battlefield RouteClick thumbnail to view full-size
Coastal towns, KwaZulu-Natal
Our next stop was Durban - the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal.
Travelogue will be published soon....