In February 2016, five Travel Counsellors visited KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on a week-long educational. Marc Fitchett, Jeanette Coughlan, Claire Walker, Stephen Rowlay and Debbie Bosacki joined Natalie de la Porte, the UK representative for Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (TKZN) and Keith Matthews from the TKZN Durban head office to learn more about this exceptionally diverse area of South Africa.
As well as showcasing the destination’s fine food and wine, the itinerary featured many of the KZN’s highlights - looping from the coastal capital Durban, through the scenic towns of the Midlands and onto the Drakensberg, with its many soft adventure opportunities, before giving the visitors a taste of Zulu culture and historic insights into Battlefields. A game drive, coastal wetlands tour and another overnight stay in Durban completed the action-packed tour.
The group at Howick Falls, Midlands, FLTR: Debbie Bosacki, Keith Matthews (TKZN), Jeanette Coughlan, Stephen Rowlay, Claire Walker and Marc Fitchett.
The visit was co-sponsored by Qatar Airways, who since December 2015 have been operating a service into Durban four times a week - and the group were lucky enough to experience the airline’s business class service.
Jeanette was very complimentary about the airline’s professional service as well as its new and modern planes: “I was delighted to get the chance to experience Business Class on the outbound journey –this experience was super, from food to comfort to service.” Debbie added: “Using Qatar was fabulous especially the A380 and seeing the Dreamliner for the first time.”
Nelson Mandela Capture Site FLTR: Claire Walker, Keith Matthews, Jeanette Coughlan, Debbie Bosacki, Stephen Rowlay, and Natalie de la Porte (TKZN UK / AMG)
Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani, on Durban’s Golden Mile, hosted the visitors for the first night. Jeanette was particularly complimentary of the Tsogo Sun property, describing it as: “Very well located, right across from the Indian Ocean along the Golden Mile, so close to shops, restaurants and activities. The view of the ocean was excellent”.
After shopping within Durban’s hip Victoria Street Market, the group departed the city for the Drakensberg, taking in the popular Midlands Meander tourist trail enroute. Marc was really impressed with the day’s activities and said he will definitely be suggesting it to clients “I loved the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and would recommend this alongside the lovely small town of Howick. Lunch at Piggly Wiggly and the Ardmore Ceramic Art in Caversham were a real surprise.”
Visit the Ardmore Ceramic Art Studio in the Midlands to see the amazing art created on-site
At Ardmore Cerimic Art's studio, guests can see the artists at work
Everyone was captivated by the Central Drakensberg and the Drakensberg Sun Resort, with its beautiful gardens and scenic mountain backdrop, was a huge a hit with the group. Marc commented: “An excellent hotel for an activities based resort and I would not hesitate putting families with older children in here. The rooms were a good 4* standard with superb grounds and facilities”. Clare added: “I could easily see clients spending 3 to 4 days in the area as there is so much to do”.
The group made the most of the destination’s adventure activities with the Drakensberg Canopy Tour, describing it as a "must for anyone spending time in this area, offering a chance to zip over tree tops, waterfalls and jungle-like mountain area”.
Exploring the forest while having fun at Drakensberg Canopy Tours
After the adrenaline highs it was time for a well-deserved treat of locally produced wine and a delicious cheese pairing, compliments of Cathedral Peak Wine Estate, which Natalie described as, “An absolute gem in a stunning setting, just outside Winterton. One of only two wineries in KZN (Abingdon Wine Estate close to Howick) and the wine was surprisingly good. The owner Caren was very welcoming, and a wonderful host. The winery only opened in August 2015, and they will have their first MCC ready at the end of the year; with the harvest at the end of February - a month later than in the Cape, so at the end of Feb“.
Cathedral Peak Wine Estate, close to Winterton, is the ideal location to relax while tasting the local wine
Isandlwana Lodge and the taster battlefields tour with Rob Gerrard followed. Marc said of this important historical site, from which the lodge takes its name: “Wow! What a location. I could take in those views of the battlefields all day. Our room were well appointed and the area was magnificent.” “I left my heart at this hotel,” added Debbie.
The battle of Isandlwana, as told by Rob Rob Gerrard at Isandlwana Lodge
The recent drought was becoming more evident, as the group neared the Jozini area for a stay at Ghost Mountain Inn, but the much-needed rain arrived with the group! “Jean from Ghost Mountain Inn took us to a genuine local modern Zulu village. There, Isaac took us around a traditional Zulu home and explained the Zulu way of life. This was quite different to visiting a ‘themed’ traditional village which would be more ‘touristy’… I enjoyed listening to Isaac explaining their beliefs and traditions,” Jeanette says of the stay here, adding, “I loved the indoor/outdoor feel of the hotel, the way the doors opened onto the wonderful tropical-like gardens was very serene and chilled out!”
Learning all about Zulu culture, close to Jozini, with Ghost Mountain Inn
With a packed breakfast, the educational group departed for Hhluhluwe Game Reserve and St Lucia. Jeanette said: “A definite must is to spend time on safari in KZN, this was my first ever safari. The river boat cruise [at St. Lucia] was super, it was a real treat to get so close to the hippos in the water, again a definite must if staying in this area.”
Excellent game viewing at Hluhluwe Park
The final night at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga was a real treat. In Marc’s words: “a great place to send my clients if they were to stay in Durban. The food was first class and the service excellent. I did like the way the hotel was concentrating on customer care. Our rooms were fantastic and I would have no hesitation recommending The Beverley Hills”
Relaxing boat cruise to see hippo pods up close in St Lucia
On the last day everyone spent some time getting to know Durban, and even tried the ultimate Durban dish – a bunny chow. “The visit to the Moses Mabhida Stadium is a must, particularly the sky car ride which gives superb views of the city in all directions which I found really helpful in forming a ‘city map’ in my head!” said Jeanette, and added: “This was my very first visit to Africa and I was really impressed by my experience. Kwazulu-Natal is beautiful, very scenic and has so much to offer in - from the city of Durban and its beaches, to the dramatic scenery of the Drakensberg mountains, history in abundance from the Mandala museum to the Battlefields and Big 5 game parks. South Africa is renowned for its excellent food/wine and now I can vouch for that! Plus the favourable exchange rate for British travelers is a huge bonus. Post trip I would say to anyone now, don’t think about going to Kwazulu-Natal: just go there!”
Stephen also loved Durban: "It was great to see much of the original architecture [in Durban] and how the area is reinventing itself. Many of the landmarks were pointed out by our guide for the day, Stuart, who also gave us a great commentary. You could also see that much investment had been made and continues to be made, especially as the city is to host an upcoming Commonwealth Games."
A beautiful view over the beach in Umhlanga at The Beverley Hills Hotel
Moses Mabhida Stadium is a must, particularly the sky car. FLTR: Jeanette Coughlan, Marc Fitchett, Stuart Nairn, Debbie Bosacki, Stephen Rowlay and Claire Walker
Breathtaking views from the Moses Mabhida Stadium, in all directions
Your Africa DMC sponsored all the ground arrangements, assisted by driver-guide Stuart Nairn. “Stuart again was a fountain of all knowledge, he made sure we were comfortable at all times, managing the number of stops we had, changed a tyre and generally looked after us like royalty!” said Claire.