The Valley of 1000 hills is off the usual backpacker route and has several secrets to uncover!
Locals will warn that the valley is unsafe, but the drive into it and across the dam is beautifully scenic. GPS is destined to fail here, so take a map with you and try to find the caves by Umzinyathi waterfall. The local Rastafarian community have maintained these caves as sacred land.
The Pot and Barrel Pub by the local tourism office provided us with plenty of help searching for a place to stay, but finding nothing, we ended up in the car. If you are going to explore this area, book accommodation in advance.
The pub is situated next to Puzzle Place, a fantastic puzzle shop run by a talented puzzle sculptor and his daughter - a puzzle master. If you love a challenge or have a friend who does, this shop is the place for you.
Phe Zulu is a 5 minute drive from here and is home to a huge number of crocodiles and various other reptiles. The animals were kept in incredibly poor conditions; we estimated one of the enclosures to be 40m x 40m for 20 crocodiles. Sadly, this is not an ethical organisation when it comes to animals and their shop selling crocodile skin products from handbags to shoes is enough to put you off. This organisation sells their crocodiles to farms and various other unethical organisations.
Having already organised the 'Zulu experience' when we arrived, we decided to give Phe Zulu another chance.
The Zulu experience gave a fantastic insight into the traditional way of living. Performers had learnt scripts which talked you through the process of two people getting married and in between this, song and dance filled the 'stage'.
These talented actors portray messages and cultural thumbprints that are accurate to how life would have been for a Zulu in their traditional way of life. We have had several cultural experiences in Africa and you can read more about them here.
We were introduced to a Zulu Sangoma (shaman) who was genuine. Sadly we struggled with the language barrier but we are sure she had many shamanistic spells up her sleeves (or in her fascinating headwear!)
Saint Lucia is famous for its hippopotamuses. During the night, these huge vegans can be seen wandering the streets of the town, so watch out when driving. Backpackers, restaurants and beautiful craft shops line the Main Street providing all the necessary facilities for backpackers.
Isimangaliso park begins at Saint Lucia and extends North along the coast. The self-drive game drive to Cape Vidal will take you approximately an hour if you stop to take photos of monkeys and look for whales and dolphins at Mission Rocks.
Cape Vidal has a beautiful beach with a warm ocean. The hula-hoop provided endless fun on this isolated beach, and the power of the ocean was felt as we dived in and out of waves, hoping to spot some more dolphins.
One of the main attraction lies in the river where around 900 hippos and 1300 crocodiles live. Tourism offices will offer the opportunity to kayak through the river, but the wind was too strong and it was too much of a risk as no guides would come with us. We had to settle with a cruise where we saw many beautiful animals in their natural environment. This turned out to be a much better choice and we fear that had we kayaked, we would have been eaten by either Crocodiles, Bull Sharks or killed by Hippos; all inhabit the river!
James attracted so much attention with his Rastas, everywhere people would scream "Rasta man, bless Jah", "Bom Fire", “Jah", they would comment on the hair and ask questions. Clearly this was a sign and we weren't surprised when we stumbled upon our next destination near by.
Close to Saint Lucia, near a butterfly dome and Rasta vegetarian cafe (owned by members of the local community) you will find a legitimate Rastafarian tribe. Hidden in the forest a few huts in a picturesque setting are home to a community who strongly follow the religion and understand the history and philosophical dimensions of the lifestyle. Read our blog on this experience here.
Natural moments bush camp is located in the small town of Sodwana Bay. There is a pizza restaurant next door who’s special pizzas ensure to make you feel more content than any other meal! The forest feel of Natural moments and the wonderful souls working there make this backpackers a great stop for anyone wanting to dive on the beautiful reef.
Reefteach dive school base themselves on the beach in a large gazebo alongside several other dive schools. In our 2 day stay in Sodwana, they helped us to complete 3 courses each: the Nitrox course, Emergency first response, James - the advanced diver course and Laura - the Rescue diver course. Working towards our goal of becoming instructors, we are trying to learn as quickly as possible and the instructors at Reefteach were excellent for helping us do this.
The diving was phenomenal. The warm ocean made it possible to dive in 3mm wetsuits, unlike the western coast of South Africa, resulting in beautiful corals and marine life only found in these temperatures. We definitely recommend paying a little extra to do a 'double-tanker' trip out to 7 and 9 mile reefs where you can be more isolated from the many divers launching from Sodwana Bay beach.
Zulu-land is the place to go to experience cultures such as The famous Zulus and Rastafarians. The animal life is incredibly diverse and has grown around the human communities in a very encouraging way. With beautiful beaches and fantastic ocean temperatures approaching the Mozambican border, and a seemingly infinite amount of activities to do here, this is a must for any backpacker!