Think Africa and wildlife is never far behind. No one can doubt the contribution nature has made to African tourism, but many regional tourist offices point out they have more to offer than the big five.


Tourism KwaZulu-Natal is one such region. Chief executive officer Ndabo Khoza went as far as to say game viewing is not KwaZulu-Natal’s main selling point. “Culture is our hook. Our main selling point is our history and battlefields,” said Khoza.


KwaZulu-Natal – formerly Natal but renamed in the 1990s to reflect its indigenous culture – was the site of many battles in the Boer and Zulu wars at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.


So keen was Tourism KwaZulu-Natal to promote its heritage that it took a mega-fam out to the region prior to this year’s Indaba show in Durban. The 35 agents, operators and media were split into five groups and each shown different highlights of the region.


We caught up with a few of the participants to hear what they thought.


 


Thanda Private Game Reserve, South Africa


Everywhere south of the Sahara purports to offer the real Africa. 


Thanda, in KwaZulu-Natal, is no exception. There’s luxury on tap here. Decor is contemporary African and accommodation is either under stylish canvas or in spacious villas with electricity and their own plunge pool and terrace. The tents are more of an adventure and a great way to get back to nature.


Thanda has the big five but Zulu heritage is as much an attraction as lion or leopard, as we discovered at the end of one evening game drive.


I’m no expert on Zulu culture, but there seemed nothing phoney about flaming torches and the chanting warriors that greeted us at Thanda’s Zulu cultural centre, or the energetic show they delivered.


The focus on local heritage stands Thanda apart from its peers.  Is it the real Africa? Maybe. Is it enjoyable? Certainly.


Facilities: Nine luxury villas and four tents, restaurant, small spa, daily game drives and bush walks, and a Zulu cultural centre.


Get there: Fly into Richards Bay and book a 90-minute private transfer to the lodge – £30 per person one-way.


Verdict: 4/5


Book through: African Pride, Rainbow Tours, Thomson, Africa Travel Centre. Thanda is also a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World.


Sample product:African Pride offers tented accommodation from £140 and villas from £275 per night in the May-September low season, £157 and £305 in the high season.


 


Highlights


“A high point was visiting the crèche run by a young Zulu woman, who set up the project with her white friend, which now looks after 50 children, orphans Aids victims, tuberculosis victims and children with learning difficulties.”
Paul Hopkins, journalist, Irish Independent, Dublin


“The battlefields were fantastic. The guide was very passionate and enthusiastic, if you didn’t have a good guide it wouldn’t be anywhere near as impressive. The properties we stayed in were beautiful too.”
Martin Churchill, sales and marketing director, Holmes Travel


“Staying at Fugitives Drift Lodge owned by historian David Rattray who was murdered this year. There’s a big void to fill, but the highlight was the way his wife Nicki and others are continuing the work he started.”
Dominic Cooper Smith, co-owner, Different Tracks


“The battlefields and the way the history was described was amazing. I was lost for words, it made it so real. You come away from it a much more sensitive person.”
Jan Bessant, senior travel consultant, Kuoni


“The battlefields and Isandlwana, definitely. It was so much more than I expected. A lot of people come to Africa for the game, but seeing the battlefields and the history was incredible.”
Katherine Tetley, sales consultant, Bailey Robinson