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Get more bang for your buck in lesser-known KZN
Get more bang for your buck in lesser-known KZN

Why KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa's best-value holiday destination

Forget Kruger – KZN offers big game, beach and bush, all for a much more affordable price

Sarah Baxter
Friday 26 October 2018 16:28
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KwaZulu-Natal. It’s the lesser-known South African province with a bit of everything: bush, beach, berg (mountain) and the Big 7 (including whales and turtles); Indian Ocean coast; classic savannah; and southern Africa’s highest mountains. It also offers exceptional value in a country that’s already a bargain.

“A similar 18-day tour for two will cost £600 more in the Kruger region than in KwaZulu-Natal,” says Nick van de Wiel, South Africa-based safari guide and tour operator. “Trips aren’t only cheaper but pack in a wider range of included activities – from game drives and walking safaris to whale-watching, snorkelling, horse riding and more – so you get more for less.”

You can catch the ‘Big 7’, including whales and turtles

And with British Airways launching direct Heathrow-Durban flights from 29 October, access to KZN is easier than ever for UK travellers.

Here are some of KZN’s canniest savings.

Daily costs

KwaZulu vs Kruger – £70 vs £120

The bottom line: trips to KZN tend to be cheaper than to South Africa’s more famous regions. A typical mid-range itinerary, including three to four-star accommodation, some meals, some activities and car hire, costs from around R1,400 (£70) per person per day, based on four people travelling together. In the Kruger region, this jumps to R2,250 (£120).

Transport

KwaZulu vs Kruger – £72 vs £116

Petrol is pleasingly cheap in South Africa – around R17 (88p) per litre. Even so, better not to need too much. A classic three-week trip to KZN, flying in and out of Durban, covers a relatively modest 1,000km but notches up a diverse range of experiences: Indian Ocean beaches, wetland and river cruises, game drives, snorkelling, whale watching and horse riding.

In the Kruger region the different ecosystems are further apart. To encompass anywhere near the same diversity, you’ll need to cover more ground – around 1,700km on a loop from Johannesburg – resulting in higher fuel costs, more road tolls and more time stuck in the car.

Big 5 Safari

KwaZulu vs Kruger – £2 vs £19

There’s no denying the wildlife wondrousness of Kruger – you’ll see A LOT of game. And a lot of people: the park receives around 1.4 million visitors annually. Entrance costs R372 (£19) per day.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, KZN’s equivalent to Kruger – complete with Big 5 – costs R220 (£11) per day, and sees a fraction of the visitors. Also in KZN, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, with a higher biodiversity than Kruger, costs just R45 (£2) per day.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is KZN’s equivalent to Kruger

Guided safaris are better value in KZN too: in iSimangaliso expect to pay around R600 (£30), including park fees, for a four-hour safari; in Kruger, it costs around R1,000 (£52), excluding park entrance fee.

Wilderness Trail

KwaZulu vs Kruger – £200 vs £240

The concept of South Africa’s Wilderness Trails – exploring remote bush areas on foot – originated in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park; the practice has been going for more than 60 years and the park has an incident-free track record. These are not hikes – they’re thrilling immersions in the bush that reconnect you with nature. A three-night Imfolozi trail walk, traversing pristine areas where there’s a 90 per cent chance of encountering rhinos, costs R3,920pp (£200). You sleep in tents, shower under a bucket and dig your own “toilet”.

There’s a good chance of spotting rhinos on a wilderness trail

Similar trails now exist in Kruger (R9,281/£480 for two) using basic huts with toilet blocks. Still tremendous but without quite the same total wilderness immersion ethic.

Private Game Reserve

KwaZulu vs Kruger – £165 vs £250+

Private reserves offer more intimate game viewing. Sabi Sands, which abuts Kruger, is world-class, its 65,000 hectares packed with animals and around 40 gorgeous lodges. Most of these come at quite a cost; even cheaper options are upwards of £250pp per night, excluding booze.

Mavela Game Lodge is a great-value private reserve

In KZN, handsome Manyoni Reserve, part of the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, is smaller (23,000 hectares) but home to only seven lodges, and offers safari-luxe for less. For example, its Mavela Game Lodge, which sleeps a maximum of 10 in five upscale safari tents, costs from £165pp per night, including drinks.

Big 7

KwaZulu vs Kruger – £0-56 vs not possible

A big draw of KZN is the opportunity to see species you can’t find elsewhere. From June to November, thousands of humpback whales migrate along the coast, swimming so close you can see them for free from the shore. Alternatively, take a boat trip from St Lucia (R990/£51) for a closer look. From November to March, loggerhead and leatherback turtles come ashore to nest – night tours to view them cost around R1,100 (£56).

Catch sight of humpback whales along the coast

Mountains

KwaZulu vs Kruger – 3,450m vs 1,944m

Not so much a financial saving as increased bang for your buck. The Drakensberg range stretches for 1,125km across eastern South Africa. The section near Kruger includes Blyde River Canyon and the Panorama Route and peaks at 1,944m, and can be crowded and touristy.

Catch incredible views of Drakensberg Amphitheatre

Then there’s the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, along the border with Lesotho. Here the mountain reaches 3,450m and remains truly wild, plunging and soaring into its most dramatic formations. A rustic two-bed cottage overlooking cliffs and pine plantations near God’s Window on the Panorama Route costs around R900pn (£46). Even better, a two-bed at Thendele in KZN’s Royal Natal National Park, which costs from R870pn (£45), sits slap-bang in front of the Amphitheatre – the most awesome wall of rock in the world. Walking trails run right from the door.

Travel essentials

Getting there

British Airways flights between London and Durban cost from £757 return.

Staying there

TravelLocal offers a 10-day trip to KwaZulu-Natal’s Elephant Coast from £1,705pp, including accommodation, car hire, some meals and all excursions.

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