KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

By Matt McMillan

I recently returned from the enchanting land of South Africa, one of the most fascinating and diverse countries in Africa, and arguably the world. My trip this year focused on the KwaZulu-Natal region on the eastern side of South Africa, and it was a whirlwind adventure that had it all – from relaxing beach vibes to captivating wildlife encounters, historical sites, and even some mountain adventures.

The journey began in Durban, where I kicked off my trip with a tasty breakfast and a quick site inspection at the fabulous Sala Beach house in Thompsons Bay, just about an hour’s drive from Durban. It was the perfect way to start the day and soak up the coastal atmosphere before venturing further into the wonders of South Africa.

From there, I ventured into the glorious iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s very first World Heritage site. This park is home to the largest Estuarine system in Africa, the St Lucia Estuary, and supports an impressive array of animal species. My home for two nights was Makakatana Bay Lodge, the only lodging within the park. Surrounded by lush vegetation and overlooking the stunning wetlands, it was a paradise for nature lovers like me. From our base we enjoyed boat cruises to witness hippos and crocodiles and safari game drive where we saw such animals as Elephants, Nyala, Waterbuck, Kudu, Impala and buffalo. We also found some leopard tracks but unfortunately no leopard this time around.

Continuing my adventure, I made my way to the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park, or as the locals pronounce it, “sh-lou-sh-lou-way.” Here, I had the privilege of staying at the magnificent Biyela Lodge for two nights. This luxurious lodge seamlessly blended with the surrounding wilderness, allowing me to truly connect with the untamed beauty of the African bush. Safari drives through the park offered thrilling encounters with majestic elephants, graceful giraffes, and the elusive Big Five. Wildebeest, impala, and other antelopes were common sights, and every so often we were fortunate enough to come across a white rhino or two, making the experience all the more unforgettable.

Taking a break from the wild, I embarked on a tour of the historic battlefields area. Our base was the renowned Fugitives Drift, where expert guides led us through the significant battles that shaped South Africa’s history. It was a truly fascinating and humbling experience, providing me with a newfound appreciation for the rich, storied history of South Africa.

Our final stop was the majestic Drakensberg mountains. Nestled amidst this breathtaking range, I spent two nights at the picturesque Champagne Castle Hotel. One morning, we had the incredible opportunity to embark on an exhilarating hot air balloon ride, which offered a unique perspective and allowed us to take in panoramic views of the magnificent mountains and valleys below. Additionally, I enjoyed some excellent hikes that took me deep into the heart of the mountains. The crisp air, awe-inspiring landscapes, and the sense of accomplishment made it an adventure that will forever hold a special place in my heart.