Three of South Africa's best bird-watching destinations -- St Lucia/iSimangaliso, and the Mkhuze and Ndumo reserves -- are located here. The ever popular Zululand Birding Route has recently celebrated 10 years, and you can't beat the local residents' passionate knowledge of all the best places. For local guides and info, contact tel. 035/753-5644 or www.zbr.co.za. Alternatively, contact Peter at Lawson's Birding and Wildlife Tours (tel. 013/741-2458; www.lawsons.co.za), which operates throughout southern Africa but invariably includes the KZN reserves in its fully catered and tailored bird-watching safaris. A 4-hour drive north from Durban, the Mkhuze Game Reserve, with more than 420 bird species on record, has chalets and en-suite tents with limited facilities (a small restaurant, the Rhino Diner serves simple pub-grub-style dishes; a shop stocking curios, clothing, basic food supplies and liquid refreshments; and a swimming pool, which is essential during the hot summer months). Ensure that your itinerary includes Ndumo Game Reserve, on the border between KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. With some 430 species, this KZN Parks Board camp is in an exquisite area, often compared with the Okavango Delta in Botswana, with numerous pans and yellow fever tree forests, wetlands, and reedbeds teeming with more than 60% of South Africa's birdlife. Situated near the Tembe Elephant Park on the Mozambique border, it has seven twin-bed chalets situated in a parkland setting under spreading marula trees. A camp cook provides excellent meals from the food provided by the guests. The camp is served by a kitchen and ablution block with hot and cold water. It's equipped with air-conditioning, a fridge, and a communal pool.
Within the 66,000-hectare (163,020-acre) Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Reserve, between the White and Black iMfolozi rivers, is a 25,000-hectare (308,750-acre) wilderness untouched by human beings. Uncharted by roads, it's accessible only on foot. The five wilderness trails here are considered the country's best, superior even to those in Kruger. They offer the best opportunity to appreciate the silence and solitude of the wilderness, refreshing visitors physically, mentally, and spiritually. Most popular is the 3-night Base Camp Trail, based in the tented Mndindini Trails Camp. Trialists share showers and toilets with piped water. There's a fridge for BYO drinks, and you carry only daypacks with your personal effects, water, and lunch. Cost is R3,080 per person, excluding the R90 per day conservation levy. The cheaper 2-night (with option to extend to 3) Short Wilderness Trail is based around a more basic satellite camp; showers are buckets, and toilets consist of a spade, match, and paper; cost is R1,870 per person, excluding levy. Hard-core nature lovers or those ready for a life-changing experience should opt for the 3- or 4-day Primitive Trail, a return to the original pioneering tradition, in which you walk to a new campsite every night, carry your gear, and sleep under the stars (note that a fair degree of fitness is required for this trail); cost is R2,300-R4,600 per person. All trails mostly run from mid-February to mid-November (to avoid the worst of the heat) and are fully catered (including all equipment, bedding, food); they do, however, require a minimum number of four individuals to go out on the trail as scheduled. If this quota isn't booked, the trail will be cancelled and payments refunded. Participants have the option, however, to pay the minimum charge for four people, to ensure the trail takes place. For more information, call tel. 035/550-8478 or visit www.kznwildlife.com; for bookings, call tel. 033/845-1000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. KZN Wildlife also manages bookings for a second popular wilderness hiking destination: Giant's Cup Hiking Trail, located in the Cobham area. Of the many trails traversing the Drakensberg, we highly recommend this 3- to 5-day self-guided, clearly marked hike that takes you past caves with San paintings, crystal-clear rivers, pools, and deep grass valleys. Alternatively, if you have only a day, try the Sentinel Trail, connecting the Royal Natal and Cathedral Peak Parks.
Back in Zululand, the 3km (1.75-mile) circular guided Mkhuze Fig Forest Walk, through one of the area's rarest and most attractive woodlands, is also recommended; to arrange this, call tel. 035/573-9004. When this guide was published, some of the trails in Greater St Lucia Wetland Park (or iSimangaliso Wetland Park, as it's now known) had been suspended (temporarily, we hope). For up-to-the-minute information, contact iSimangaliso Wetland Authority (tel. 035/590-1633 or tel. 035/590-1162), or e-mail info@iSimangaliso.com (www.shakabarker.com). If it is operational, don't miss the Mziki Trail (in the Mfabeni area), comprising three 1-day loops of 10km to 18km (6 1/4-11 miles). Accompanied by an armed field ranger, you explore the park's estuary shore, dune forests, and coastline, with the chance to see elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and crocodiles.
To rent a surfboard and arrange lessons, contact Ira at Blind Sunrise Surf Tours and Accommodation (tel. 0798136718; email@example.com). Safari Surf Shop is another reputable Durban surf institution that will supply gear and lessons. They are located at 6 Milne St. (tel. 031/337-4231; firstname.lastname@example.org). In addition, lessons and gear for most watersports are available at uShaka Marine World. Good surf spots around the city are North Beach and the adjacent Bay of Plenty. Check out Green Point, Scottburgh, the Spot, Warner Beach, and Cave Rock; the latter has an excellent right reef break but is a little farther out of town; trips can be arranged by Blind Sunrise.
Umko offers full- and half-day trips (R495/R395) on the Umkomaas/Mkomazi River, which boasts some of the best rapids in South Africa (the Section from Hella Hella to Number 8 is regarded as the longest stretch of traversable white water south of the Zambezi). These excursions can be extended into 2-day trips; call Clyde at tel. 082/561-5660.