For those with wanderlust in their hearts, Pietermaritzburg is a convenient stop to set up a base and explore the KwaZulu-Natal.
1. Howick Falls
Howick Falls are located in Howick outside Pietermaritzburg and provide a spectacular view. The falls are about 95m in height, about the same as the famous Victoria Falls of Zimbabwe. The Howick falls can be dated back to the time the first man wandered the KwaZulu Natal plains. If reputation and hearsay are to be believed, this region has remained unchanged for the last 300 centuries.
Though these falls on the Umgeni River may not boast the inclusion in the list of tallest waterfalls, they can provide some interest to those morbidly inclined. Since 1851, about 40 deaths have been recorded here. Although most are ruled as suicides, this place is also famous for notorious, historical murders! In spite of the scandals surrounding them, the deafening roar of the water as it rushes in Howick falls, viewed from a deck which is ideally located, can instill a pang of mysticism in even the most hardened of souls. Shops that sell local handmade crafts are ever-present on the viewing platform if one wishes to bring back a souvenir.
2. Bisley Valley Nature Reserve
In need of a much-needed break in the arms of Mother Nature? The Bisley Valley reserve, sprawling to around 350 hectares of good old African grassland and savanna has you covered. There is another added surprise. No entry fees! There are many sites to set up your well-deserved picnic, or just follow the trail which is designed just for that bird lover in you.
Your trail will lead you to two bird hides. At the Pamela Reed Hide, if lady luck smiles on you, you may see the fan-tailed widowbirds, the black flycatchers or even the elusive thick-knee hoopoe. In the dense woodlands, you may have to rely on your auditory senses to hear the emerald cuckoo and the African boubou. The dam acts is an attractive watering hole for various species of birds like the Grebe, rush warbler and African black duck. If one is fortunate enough to arrive at the reserve during summer, one may get a glimpse of whydahs and the widow finches. The limelight, however, is stolen by the Tchagra and the booted eagle.
3. Gandhi Statue
This statue, on Church Street, depicts the Indian revolutionary leader Mahatma Gandhi, who was known to have started his movement of ‘Satyagraha’ or passive resistance after experiencing apartheid in South Africa. The statue is a bronze cast and depicts the Indian leader in a dhoti with his famous staff in one hand, the other extended out as though demanding peace. It marks the memory of his forced removal from a white-only compartment in 1893. Perhaps not as scenic as the other sites on this article, but it is a good place to reflect upon one of the great turning points in history, an event which shaped two countries which were divided by distance, yet united by a single idea of equality.
4. Scottsville Racecourse
Forget the excellent facilities and the 550-meter racecourse. The Scottsville Racecourse is most famous for being the setting for the 2005 movie Racing Stripes, which tells the story of a racing zebra. If you have that extra dough burning a hole in your pocket and horse racing gets your blood rushing, this is the perfect place for you! Scottsville has all the modern facilities shaped for your comfort. Enjoy a picnic in an enclosure or even in a restaurant while enjoying the atop class race. Wish you luck!
5. Maritzburg Golf Club
The Maritzburg Golf Club features an eighteen-hole course of green, rolling hills. It also stands as one of the oldest golf courses of South Africa. The course is challenging but enjoyable and informative. Do not sweat if you are not an expert golfer. The course caters to all levels of players, with bunkers to catch your wayward strokes.
6. Habibia Soofie Masjid
Though religious experiences in a foreign country may seem cliché, do pay a visit to the Habibiasoofiemasjied just for its fascinating history. The mosque was built by the Sufi saint Soofie Saheb. It was one of the 11 built by Shah Ghulam Muhammad Siddique (Soofie Saheb), who was ordered by his master the great Sufi saint Khwaja Habib Ali Shah to propagate Islam to South Africa. When he died his wife continued the spiritual practices, after which her son and grandson took over and serve the community today.
7. Alexandra Park
Alexandra Park is a hub of activity during warm evenings when many can be seen strolling, jogging or cycling through the gardens, which are lined by magnificent roses. The Oval Craft Market is hosted on a Sunday at the cricket oval, which also serves as the honorary headquarters of the KwaZulu Natal Inland Cricket Union. Art in the Park and Cars in the Park, famous for their display of vintage cars which will turn you nostalgic, are another two annual highlights of the park.
8. KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
For the lovers of flora, the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens, established in 1870, present a selection of seasonal blooms and lush vegetations. The main purpose of the gardens was to instill a sense of conservation and love for rare, uncared plants of the South African valleys. The gardens are also famous for the bell tower, where a ship bell from the HMS Princess, the one that King George V used to cross the channel in 1918 can be found.
9. The Valley of a Thousand Hills
Despite the dramatic name, the landscape of this vast inland, carved by the mighty Umgeni River is beautiful rather than dramatic. Hills as far as the eyes can see transverse the land. This area has played a major role in King Shaka’s administration and the creation of Zulu. Many battles between the Boers and the British were fought here. The battlefields can be visited to remind tourists and locals of the bloody past of the British acquisition of Zulu.