North of Eshowe, the winding R66 leaves behind the softer vistas of the Dlinza Forest, the citrus groves and green seas of cane plantations and looks across huge views of the valleys that figure in the creation mythology of the Zulu nation. In no time you’re into thornveld (acacias, rocky koppies and aloes) and theme park country.
Most accessible of these “Zulu-village hotels” is Shakaland, 14km north of Eshowe off the R68 at Norman Hurst Farm, Nkwalini (035 460 0912, www.shakaland.com). Built in 1984 as the set for the wildly romanticized TV series Shaka Zulu, Shakaland is a reconstruction of a nineteenth-century Zulu kraal and quite unrepresentative of how people live today. However, the theme park just about manages to remain on the acceptable side of exploiting ethnic culture, and offers the chance to sample Zulu food. Tours for day visitors include an audiovisual presentation about the origin of the Zulus, a guided walk around the huts, an explanation of traditional social organization, spear-making, a beer-drinking ceremony and a buffet lunch with traditional food. The highlight, however, is probably one of the best choreographed Zulu dancing shows in the country, with the dramatic landscape as the backdrop; it’s worthwhile putting up with all the other stuff just to see it.
In a different league, Simunye Zulu Lodge (035 450 0101, www.simunyelodge.co.za), along the D256, off the R34 and 6km north of Melmoth, offers a far more authentic experience of Zulu culture, introducing guests to contemporary ways of life as well as traditional customs. Visitors are conveyed to the camp by horse, ox wagon or 4WD, and get to see dancing, visit a working kraal and meet local people.
There is traditional-style accommodation at both places. Shakaland offers comfortable beehive huts, with untraditional luxuries such as electricity and en-suite bathrooms. At Simunye you can also choose to sleep in beehive huts, or opt for rondavels at a kraal or stone-and-thatch cottages carved into the cliffside.