Drakensberg to the Elephant Coast - The long and short of KZN road trips

2020-01-22 11:46 - Shalini Tewari
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Durban is one of South Africa’s top destinations for a number of reasons. It’s got it all – from scenic coastlines and wild nature, to rich culture and delicious food.

During the peak holiday periods the crowds can be a bit overwhelming, so plan your escape and check out these exciting and fun road trips out of the city.  

SEE: How to have a sun-kissed mini-break in Durban

Four-day Escape - Driving the Drakensberg 

Distance from Durban: 2 to 3 hour-drive

This journey is just as breathtaking as the destination, and you’ll be hard-pressed deciding on where to stay.

The Northern Drakensberg can be reached in 3 hours from Durban and is home to the Royal Natal National Park. Within this park is the famous ‘Amphitheatre’ range where the world’s second-tallest waterfall, Tugela Falls is located. The falls are divided into five tiers with a combined total drop of over 900 meters.

The town of Bergville is a great place to hang your hat after a day of exploring the area.

Central Drakensberg is home to Cathedral Peak, one of the most climbed peaks in the area, and Giant’s Castle, named so because of the peak’s resemblance of a sleeping giant. Explore the fascinating rock art at the San Bushmen Cave Museum, which features 500 rock paintings that date back 800 years.

The Southern Drakensberg is best known for the Sani Pass, which starts at 1 544m, rises 1332 vertical meters, and summits at 2 876m. The towns of Himeville and Underberg are idyllic villages from which to set up camp. Otherwise, make your way to the Sani Mountain Lodge and enjoy a beverage in the highest pub in Africa.

The Drakensberg offers adventures in nature and a look at important cultural sites. It was declared a World Heritage Site for both nature and culture in 2000.

SEE: SA's most extreme mountain passes to take your 4x4 on a date to

Three-day escape - Explore the Elephant Coast

Distance from Durban: 2 to 4 hour-drive

From Durban, head north 2.5 hours along the Dolphin Coast to the small, but adventure-packed town of St. Lucia. The town is the perfect base from which to discover South Africa’s first World Heritage Site – the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The park is nature-lovers’ and photographers’ mecca for wildlife and natural beauty. It contains three major lake systems and eight interlinking ecosystems.

Lake St Lucia is Africa’s largest estuarine system, which is home to hippos, crocs, flamingos, pelicans, and many more aquatic and fauna species. You can enjoy the estuary by bicycle, chartered tours, or for the adventurous spirits, by kayak. The town has many quaint guesthouses and luxury hotels, and one main street for food and nightlife. It isn’t uncommon to see a hippo venture into town at night in order to graze!

A game drive in the reserve offers unique opportunities for spotting game like bush babies, honey badgers, giraffe, buffalo, and even leopards and hyenas. 

A short drive from St Lucia is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa – Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. The Big-5 all reside in this lush area that was once the royal hunting ground for the Zulu kingdom. With Hluhluwe in the hilly north and iMfolozi in the south near the two Umfolozi rivers, the biodiversity found here is endless. There is only the Hilltop Camp situation in the park, but several options on the outskirts.

Drive another 113km to Sodwana Bay National Park to revel in the plentiful underwater life found just off the coastline. Sodwana boasts world class diving and rated as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The 50km long reef complex is estimated to be more than 400 years old and falls within a Marine Protected Area.

WATCH: How rhino orphans return to the wild in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

Two-Day escape - Journey to the South Coast

Distance from Durban: 1 to 2 hour-drive

Travel south to Shelley Beach to enjoy activities like ski boating, fishing or scuba diving. This is home to Protea Banks – 8km of a unique reef system that welcomes pelagics such as tuna, barracuda, yellowtail, and bull and tiger sharks. During whale season, it isn’t uncommon for the occasional visit from a humpback whale as they migrate north to tropical waters to give birth. Diving here is not for beginners or the faint of heart.

If diving doesn’t excite you, Margate is the perfect seaside town to relax at the beach or hire a canoe for a quiet cruise in the lagoon. Visit the Gaze Gallery for paintings, pottery or blown glass or have a bite at the Waffle House in Ramsgate.

Port Shepstone is a popular destination for its sandy beaches and warm water, as well as for shopping and dining. If the sea has you feeling a bit salty, check out the world’s highest commercial abseil at 110m or hike the beautiful trails inland along the Mzimkulu River and Oribi Gorge.

Hibberdene is the gateway to the Hibiscus Coast and is home to some of the best beaches in South Africa. Activities such as fishing, whale and dolphin watching, birding and golfing are just some of what this town has to offer.


As you make your way back to Durban, it’s not a trip down the South Coast without stopping in Scottburgh or Umkomaas for a rare diving experience. There aren’t many places left in the world where one can experience close encounters with several shark species in a controlled environment. Discover shark diving either with or without a cage or just dive the Aliwal Shoal with its 1200 species of fish.

One-Day Escape - Historical Day Trips

Distance from Durban – 30-45 minute-drive

If you don’t want to stray too far or for too long from Durban, there are several day trips from the city that are worth checking out. The Valley of a Thousand Hills is located just 45 minutes outside of the city and has an array of activities like rock climbing, swimming, boating, game watching, horse riding or fishing.

The Shongweni Farmer’s Market has some delectable treats and handmade arts and crafts. Visit Phezulu village where the Gasa clan allows visitors to learn more about Zulu culture as you visit traditional beehive shaped thatched huts, learn about beliefs and rituals and watch traditional Zulu dancing.

The Inanda Freedom Trail is a must-see for anyone visiting Durban. The trip takes guests on a journey that highlights the struggles the country experience along the path to freedom.

KNOW YOUR NATION: Valley of a Thousand Hills 

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