Half an hour inland from the beautiful beaches of Durban, at the gateway to the scenic KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, lies the picturesque Valley of a Thousand Hills. Conveniently located midway between the coastal hub of Durban and the provincial capital Pietermaritzburg, the region is ideally suited to a lazy days browsing through the many arts, crafts, collectibles and curios found in the area.
Around the rim of the Valley of a Thousand Hills lie verdant suburbs dotted with cottages and bed and breakfast establishments, while upmarket shopping centres in Hillcrest, Westville and Botha’s Hill offer shoppers a plethora of décor, home crafts, clothing, food and other goodies.
The world-famous Comrades Marathon runs through the hill and the Amashova cycle race follows the same route. The raging Umgeni River in the valley below is the testing ground for participants in the gruelling Dusi Canoe Marathon.
The region is also home to the 1000 Hills Chefs School one of the country’s top culinary schools and training ground for a number of the world’s top chefs; bespoke wooden furniture by Shelldon; the 1000 Hills Bird Park and the early Saturday morning Shongweni Farmers’ Market at Assagay.
For generations the Zulu have lived in and around the valley and no visit is complete without a trip to one of the Zulu cultural villages, where tourists can gain insight into the culture and traditions of one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa. Traditional dancing, cultural shows and curios are showcased at Phezulu Safari Park, while crafts and curios are sold at the 1000 Hills Arts and Crafts Village.
Mariannhill Monastery, established by Roman Catholic monks more than a century ago, boasts striking architecture and an art gallery, while the Umgeni Choo-Choo steam train departs from Kloof Station on the last Sunday of every month and winds through the valley to Inchanga for lunch before returning home.
The nature reserves of Assagay, Springside and Krantzkloof Gorge offer respite from the bustle of the modern urban lifestyle, but the adventurous might prefer paragliding or rock climbing at Inchanga and Monteseel, or mountain biking at Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park.
Inanda Dam: Set in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, Inanda dam is just 43km from Durban and 70km from Pietermaritzburg. At more than 1460ha in extent, it is 1.5 times the size of St. Cassien in France, and also very close to the same longitude in opposite hemispheres.
The dam is the ideal place for water sport and is famous for its bass fishing. The most popular water sports practiced here include jet skiing, power boating and canoeing. Other fish to be found in this dam – if you enjoy fly fishing – is Tilapia (both Blue and Red-Chest), Barbel (catfish), Scalies (yellow-fish) and Carp.
The campsite is well maintained and at the water’s edge, there are braai facilities and a children’s jungle gym. There is a short self-guided trail that will give you the chance to admire many bird species.
Lunch at Intaba View: Our lunch was served at Intaba View, located in the tranquil and majestic Valley of 1000 Hills. Placed on the halfway mark of the Comrades marathon and overlooking the Phezulu Nature Reserve, the restaurant has a panoramic view of the magnificent valley.
Its country-style wrap-around patio and classically styled interior are the perfect setting for any elegant events including weddings. The quaint chapel’s main window offers a stunning backdrop for special vows.
Should you prefer an outdoor ceremony, the venue has a charming Victorian gazebo elevated on a wooden deck which overlooks the serene surroundings.
The interior of the venue is full of charm. It features three large chandeliers, a stone-clad fireplace and is able to accommodate up to 180 guests. The manicured gardens lend themselves to stunning photograph opportunities as well as garden games.
Phezulu Game Reserve: After lunch, we had an opportunity to savour the taste and feel the rhythm of Africa. We were taken into traditional beehive shaped thatched huts, where the various artifacts, beliefs and rituals were explained, giving us an insight into the fascinating Zulu culture.
The Zulu dancing show was impressive with the dancers in their traditional garb, showing off their skills with grace, agility and humour – a truly unforgettable experience!
The game reserve also offers a crocodile and snake park where guests are taken on a tour by knowledgeable guides. We learnt interesting facts about crocodiles and snakes, as well as met Ramesis, the 90 year old Nile crocodile.
If you are brave enough, you’ll have a hands-on experience with Cleo, the Burmese python who weighs in at 42 kilograms.
Phezulu Game Reserve boasts one of the best Curio shops in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and a Swazi Candle shop with beautifully sculptured hand-made candles. The Boma Restaurant serves meals ranging from Traditional Zulu meals or Crocodile steaks to toasted sandwiches and burgers.
One hour scenic game drives are also offered, providing guests with an opportunity to see a variety of animals including wildebeest, impala, blesbok, zebra and giraffe.
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