Land of the Zulu – KwaZulu Natal

Zulu culture has always fascinated me, they are the legendary warriors of Southern Africa.  The KwaZulu Natal is the traditional home area of the Zulu people and the fact that the G Adventures – Kruger/Swazi Overland took us through this region was one of my big draws to this trip.  The other was Kruger National Park.

St. Lucia was our first and  main destination in the KwaZulu Natal, it is a beautiful town situated on the St. Lucia Estuary.  This area is a very popular vacation spot for people in South Africa, and the Estuary is famous for its Nile Crocodiles and Hippos.  We started our time here with an evening cruise in the estuary which provided many close encounters with wildlife, particularly Hippopotamus, and the backdrop for the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen and photographed. This is a nature lovers paradise, and a must do for anyone travelling in the KwaZulu Natal!

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Walking back to our hotel we passed through a market set-up by women from the nearby Zulu village which offered many handmade traditional Zulu items.  With my keen interest in Zulu culture this was where I bought most of the souvenirs I brought back for others.  What came next though was one of the main reasons I had taken this trip, we were off to the nearby Zulu village for a tour and to spend some time with the locals! A young woman from the village worked at the lodge where we stayed and arranged this for us.  She had told us her name was “Wendy”, but after I told her that must just be the name she used so tourists could pronounce it she told me her name was Nobuhle, which means “The Beautiful One”.  It’s not as simple to pronounce as it looks though as there is a click at the beginning of her name.  After practicing it over and over during our time in St. Lucia I was close to getting it right when I said goodbye to her, but still not 100% correct.  At least she appreciated the effort.

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At the end of our village tour we ended up at the village bar where we got to try Zulu beer and hang out with the locals.  Zulu beer is basically fermented corn maze and has a consistency similar to whole milk with a few chunks in it.  I’m pretty sure I was the only one in our group to drink an entire glass.  It’s potent stuff and definitely helped to give me a buzz.  After a few beer we were being taught their traditional war dances in the middle of the bar.  It was also around this time some of the locals became curious to get the digits (phone numbers) from a few of the women in our group which Nobuhle advised me to tell the women not to give their numbers out.  After a few hours at the bar it was time to head back to our lodge for dinner and some traditional Zulu dancing.  I should note that there was a cool little backpackers lodge next to the bar in the village, and if I returned to the area would be quite curious to stay there.

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Upon arriving back at the lodge we were greeted by men in traditional clothing and ready to put on a show for us.  The beats were intense and the dancing was awesome!  They encouraged group participation, of which some of our group were definitely more coordinated then others but a good time was had by all.  There is nothing like experiencing a legendary culture like the Zulus first-hand and it was great to see these young men being interested in sustaining parts of their culture.

As Big Cat Conservation is a big passion of mine I found it interesting to be told that in older times a Zulu boy had to bring back the head of a lion which he would kill by hand as part of entering manhood.  This was to prove that he was man enough to take a wife.  However, in researching this after the trip I’ve been unable to find anything that confirms this as true.  I was told that today this is no longer part of their culture and that only the Iobola (dowry) of giving cows and money to the brides family for their daughter remains.

The next morning one of our guides, Jaco Steenkamp, and I headed off to the oldest park in South Africa, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.  This park is well known as one of the best places in Soutrh Africa to spot the rare Black Rhino.  However, on this day that was not meant to be.  Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is a beautiful park and we did see many of the famous African animals.  One of the memorable parts of the day was our guide telling us to sit down and hold on while we were watching some beautiful White Rhino in the bush next to our truck.  It’s exciting because you know a something rare is ahead if you go tearing away from a close-up encounter with Rhinos.  Up ahead we found a pack of African Wild Dogs on the river bed.  One of their members had been separated from the pack by the vehicles on the road.  It was amazing to see the social structure and communication amongst these beautiful and rare animals.  We could hear the pack communicating with the lone dog, and when they were reunited every member came to welcome him back to the pack.  The personalities, compassion and social structure shown by these animals was incredible.  Definitely proof that animals have souls.

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Throughout this 9 day adventure with G Adventues, Jaco made this trip memorable.  He exhibited passion for and knowledge of his country, it’s cultures and wildlife.  As we travelled through the country he would point out historical significance for certain areas.  I could not have had a better partner to experience  Hluhluwe-iMfolozi with.  It was interesting to note that for someone growing up in South Africa and having spent so much time in the wilderness, the African Wild Dog sighting we had was only the second or third time he had seen them proving what a special moment it was to see them.  I can’t say enough great things about Jaco and the other guides!

The KwaZulu Natal was everything I had imagined or wanted.  Experiencing beautiful culture together with amazing wildlife and nature is what I live for.  The KwaZulu Natal provided it all!  Sawubona!

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