African history meets nature on the legendary Route 66

Posted on 8 November 2023 By Nomvelo Masango

Route 66 is rich in history and natural beauty. The legendary Zululand heritage route is the perfect way for curious travellers to explore the land of the iconic King Shaka Zulu – a figure that has not failed to capture the world’s imagination, while also inspiring television epics like the much-loved Shaka iLembe.

In the past, Route 66 was one of the most popular and oldest trade routes traversed by missionaries, soldiers, farmers and ordinary transport riders on horse and ox wagon.

Today, the busy highway – now known as the R66 – still ferries just about everything and everyone. This includes sugar cane, groceries, school children and even businessmen who travel to the world class ports of Durban and Richards Bay.

Route 66 meanders its way for 250km through the hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal where sugar cane grows generously, through to the now bustling towns of Gingundlovu, Eshowe, Melmoth, Ulundi, Nongoma, Mtunzini and Phongolo.

The historic route is punctuated by monuments, museums and memories that date back to as far as the tribal wars of the early 1800s, the Voortrekker-Zulu War of 1838, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1878, as well as the Bhambatha Rebellion of 1906. Undoubtedly, the route is a paradise for nature lovers and history buffs alike.

In the town of Eshowe which serves as an anchor for the route, you can visit the picturesque Fort Nongqayi – a beautiful old fort originally created in the middle of the Dlinzo Forest in 1883. There is also the Mission Museum which pays tribute to the early Norwegian Christian missionaries, as well as the Vukani Museum of Zulu Art and Culture where some of the province’s best artwork is showcased, especially pottery and basketry.

For the stunning view of nature’s beauty in all its glory, the Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk magically traverses the tree canopy offering a bird’s eye view. What’s better than the breathtaking sight of the forest’s giant trees, orchids and beautiful birds? The boardwalk ends at a 20-meter high viewing tower where one can enjoy gorgeous views all the way to the coast!

As the cherry on top, the Siyaya Coastal Park presents 42kms of unspoilt coastline which stretches to the mouth of the Mlalazi River to the southern boundary of the Amatigulu Nature Reserve. For unexplored indigenous forests and lush greenery, there’s the Ntumeni Nature Reserve and the Nkandla Forest.

As you head to Melmoth and Mtonjaneni, you can explore the eMakhosini Ophathe Heritage Park where King Shaka is said to have spent much of his youth. In true royal style, there’s also the Spirit of eMakhosini Monument which overlooks the Valley of the Kings. It is not too far from the White Mfolozi River and offers a sanctuary for the endangered black rhino.

Still to explore is the Zululand capital, Ulundi, where the decisive battle on Gqokli Hill took place. This historic battle was very integral to King Shaka’s rise to power. To tie the ribbon on your indulgence in all things historic, you can visit the Ondini Heritage Site and the KwaZulu Cultural Museum. Here, you can find a collection of fascinating artefacts  including the silver friendship cup which was presented by Queen Victoria to King Cetshwayo during his visit to England after the Anglo-Zulu War.

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