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The Valley of a Thousand Hills, perched along KwaZulu-Natal’s midlands, offers so much from culture to curios, adventures to good food and some of the most magnificent views of Durban. We look at how you should explore these beautiful valleys.
Twenty miles inland from the beaches of Durban at the doorway to the KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands lies the scenic Valley of a Thousand Hills. Located between Durban and the provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg, this picturesque place meanders through valleys of dense foliage where traditional Zulu people still live today. It offers some of the most commanding views of the Drakensberg mountains and the Indian ocean. The Thousand Hills route is best explored by car, as the road runs through the heart of the valley and offers some of the best views.
At the outskirts of the Valley of a Thousand Hills lies small suburbs with quaint bed and breakfast establishments while the towns of Hillcrest and Botha’s Hill close by offer a mix of decor, home crafts and food. The Arts and Crafts community is big in the valley and home to many talented artists and crafters who work in a variety of media from wood, metal and clay to glass beads, wax and fabric. Many of them have their galleries and studios along the Thousand Hills route. The valley’s strong traditions and beautiful landscapes have inspired innovative and interesting styles of arts and crafts, and it is guaranteed that the intricate handmade works are unlike anything you’ll ever see. Think ethnic decor, jewellery, paintings and ornaments.
Shongweni Dam and Game reserve is famous for its tranquil damn set in a nature reserve. It offers hiking trails through thorn bush and you have the opportunity to see large game such as bushbuck, wildebeest, rhinos and giraffes. Bird watchers can look forward to seeing the shy pygmy kingfisher and the stunning African fish eagle. It’s also a place with some of the best rock climbing cliffs in the country and those who enjoy a dose of adrenalin can abseil or rap jump down the wall of the dam. The dam is also a popular canoeing and fishing destination. You can stay a night at the reserve if you prefer, and accommodation options range from lodges, huts, tents and even caravans. There are a number of other nature reserves nearby including Assagay, Springside and Krantzkloof George nature reserves.
Many local people have maintained a traditional lifestyle in the Umgeni and Shongweni valleys, giving the area a powerful history and identity. Explore the roots of Zulu culture by going for an organised tour into tribal lands. You can witness ancient zulu ceremonies like traditional healers ‘throwing the bones’ and speaking to the ancestors. PheZulu Safari Park offers traditional Zulu dancing and cultural shows, as well as game drives, trips to see local curios and a visit to a crocodile and snake park. For those with adventurous taste buds, you can try a crocodile steak at pheZulu’s croctilian restaurant. Vuk Africa Tours and Training offers an immersive Zulu experience with a cultural overnight stay. Visitors are welcomed into homes as guests and not tourists, allowing for a unique opportunity to gain insight into the people of the Thousand Hills. ISithumba is an authentic Zulu village in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, situated on the banks of the Umgeni river.
If you plan to go on a Saturday, make sure you get to the Shongweni Farmer’s market. This once rustic and basic farmer’s market has upgraded to permanent premises and promises the best of the valley. From fresh fruit and vegetables to a variety of baked goods, it’s worth waking up early for. The early morning is filled with dew and mist, friendly vendors and the smell of coffee as breakfast gets going. The market runs every Saturday morning from 6.30 to 10.30am.
On the last Sunday of every month, you can take a ride on one of South Africa’s oldest trains, the grand Umgeni Steam Railway Train. Be pulled by a 1912 locomotive as steam puffs on a journey that runs on railway lines from the early 1800s, making it one of South Africa’s oldest functioning tracks of history. The colonial station on Inchanga holds a Craft Market whenever the train runs. Rail passengers can buy crafts and home-made food before the return journey through the majestic valley.