Bivane 4x4 TrailEnquire Now
15km from Louwsburg
17km, 3-4hrs, Grade 2-3
+27 34 983 2540, +27 33 845 1000 www.kznwildlife.com
Configuration: Out and back.
Terrain: Rocky mountain track, river crossings.
It’s a self-drive route that must be booked on arrival at Ithala Game Reserve. Only three vehicles per day are allowed on the route, but it is seldom fully booked. The route is suitable for all-year driving, but after heavy rains the track sometimes washes away and has to be rebuilt. Check before you leave. Self-catering accommodation and camping are available at Ithala Game Reserve. There is also a restaurant, bar, coffee shop and a shop. There is one more route at Ithala, the Ncence Trail, but it is limited to residents of the Mhlangeni Bush Camp. You can also go on a guided walk or mountain bike trail while at Ithala.
Ithala is a stunning but rugged reserve stretching from the heights of the Ngotshe Mountains a thousand meters down into a deep valley. It was carved over centuries by the Phongolo River and now reveals some of the world's oldest rock formations. The scenery is spectacular with an amazing array of habitats, from the highland sourveld grasslands at the top of the Ngotshe Mountains to the bushveld and forest along the Phongola River. The reserve is still relatively unknown and therefore a gem waiting to be discovered.
The Phongolo River, deep and wide and home to a few crocs, forms the northern boundary of the 30 000ha reserve. There are no lions, but deep bush filled valleys and gorges with clear streams cascading over numerous waterfalls into deep pools. There are expansive grassy plateaus with large herds of plains game such as blue wildebeest, tsessebe and red hartebees. Though Ithala is a game reserve and the emphasis here is on game viewing, the steep terrain makes for excellent driving along the Bivane Trail.
The Bivane Trail explores the remote western part of the reserve. It is a rocky out and back trail to the confluence of the Bivane and Phongolo Rivers, offering some spectacular views along the way. You don't need a guide, but you will need low range.
This is a very bumpy ride over some seriously rocky sections, with a few easy river crossings. These can get hazardous during the rainy season, so be sure to check the river conditions with the rangers before setting out. There are no escape routes along the way, but once you reach the top of the twisting climb up the mountainside the sprawling view is more than enough compensation for the odd scratch. Both day visitors and residents can use the Bivane trail. This is a self-drive route - just remember to book and to get the key for the chain across the road.
The 23km Ncene Trail that is only for the use of Mhlangeni Bush Camp residents is a strictly guided trail in the eastern section of the reserve. 4x2s with diff-lock can drive this more scenic/game viewing trail as well as a 5km management track linking the lower Ngubhu road to the Dakaneni road.
The beautiful Ntshondwe Camp offers self-catering chalets, a fully licensed restaurant, a bar, a swimming pool and a shop. There are also three bush camps offering more secluded self-catering chalets. The Doornkraal Campsite is a rustic campground with basic facilities for up to 20 persons. There are bush showers, flush toilets and communal kitchen/dining areas. It is magnificently set in isolation alongside a stream with numerous rock pools in which you can swim.
Ithala Game Reserve is situated just off the R69, close to Louwsberg. Take the N2 south from Pongola, then turn right onto the R69 to Louwsburg and follow the signs to the Ithala Game Reserve.
It was from the bush and grassland of northern KwaZulu-Natal that the impis of King Shaka emerged, sweeping down onto the other tribes of the hinterland and eventually engaging the British forces and shaking the very roots of the Empire. At the height of its power, the Zulu nation covered 30 000km2, but 60 years after it was first formed, its reign was over. In those 60 years, the Zulus shaped the future of the country and were engaged in battles with the Boers and the British, but these were not the only bloody conflicts in the region.
After the Zulu empire was broken, the English and the Boers fought for control of South Africa, with many battles taking place in Natal. While the best-known battles in the area are undoubtedly Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, as well as the siege of Ladysmith, there is fascinating history to be had at countless other ones.
The beauty of the scenery clashes harshly with the devastating past, while the rough terrain makes one wonder how the machines of war were manhandled across the country, and how the Zulu impis managed to cover such vast distances in a single day, barefoot.
The regions of Zululand and the Battlefields merge together and are hard to separate, stretching from the northern and western KwaZulu-Natal borders to the towns of Ladysmith and Colenso in the south and towards the Elephant Coast in the east.
Zululand has managed to remain largely unaffected by industrial expansion and much of it remains farmland, timber plantations and rural wilderness, including beautiful Big-Five game reserves and grasslands.
On the other hand there is the industrial hub of Richards Bay, the largest port in South Africa.
Tourism revolves around the natural beauty and diversity, as well as the haunting battlefields on which so many lost their lives and which are simply fascinating to visit, especially with a knowledgeable guide, of which there are a few.
Since this is the birthplace of the Zulu nation, it is also the place to come to grips with Zulu tradition, culture and history.
A number of cultural experiences exist, where tourists can become immersed in the local tradition and culture, learning a huge amount and enjoying themselves even more.
A few reserves in the region offer good game-viewing, from Weenen and Spioenkop in the south up to Ithala in the north. The diverse ecosystem means that hundreds of bird species are present, and a few notable bird-watching spots include the Dlinza and Ongoye forests, as well as the wetlands of Richards Bay.
An area as large and diverse will always have an almost endless array of attractions, and Zululand and the Battlefields are no different, from fishing in Richards Bay to horse-riding, mountain-biking, game-viewing and bird-watching. There is even a brewery to lighten the spirits when the history gets a little heavy.
Look out for
Zululand Brewery in Eshowe is a great place to pop in for a relaxing Zulu Blonde Export Ale, a beer that has won awards and rave reviews internationally. While you’re sitting at The Happy George Bar, ask around for recommendations on what’s new to do in the area.
The Dlinza and Ongoye Forests are serious birding hotspots and both are easily accessible. In fact, the Dlinza aerial boardwalk is something that even non-birders will enjoy and appreciate.
Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are the two seminal battlefields in the Battlefields tour and are both intensely fascinating and moving. A good guide is invaluable in bringing them to life. Ulundi and Blood River are also well worth visiting, giving different insights into the bloodshed that shaped this land.
Take a hike up Majuba or Spioenkop mountains, both of which offer sensational views in addition to stirring battlefield history. The historic O’Neills cottage, where a peace treaty was signed to end the first Anglo-War, lies at the base of Majuba.
The majestic Ithala Game Reserve in the very north of KwaZulu-Natal offers good game-viewing and bird-watching, as well as epic scenery of mountains and valleys. While there is a variety of accommodation, the pick of it is undoubtedly the bush camps that can be booked out for your group.
Every year the Zulu nation holds the Reed Ceremony near the eNyokeni Royal residence in Nongoma north of Melmoth, thousands of maidens gathering to pay their respect to their king. This happens in spring and visitors from all over the world come to watch the women dance and sing to King Goodwill Zwelithini in his ceremonial regalia.
The eMakhosini Ophate Heritage Park should not be missed by anyone with a sense of history. It is the birthplace of the Zulu clan and what is known as the Valley of the Kings. The Spirit of eMakhosini memorial and an educational multimedia centre are worth a visit, and there is also game, including the rare oribi antelope and black rhino.
Immerse yourself in the Zulu culture at a place like Shakaland and watch Zulu dancing, ask a sangoma (witch doctor) for his sage advice, sample traditional Zulu beer, listen to singing and perhaps try out a few simple phrases for yourself. Arts and crafts are also on sale and make wonderful gifts and souvenirs.