We’re driving past plantations of tall, spindly gum trees when my guide informs me that we’re not the only ones whose monarchy has seen a recent change. ‘We have a new king too!’ he says. I’m in KwaZulu-Natal, a lush, largely undiscovered province of South Africa that flanks its south-eastern coast. Ask a native where he or she takes a holiday and it’s likely to be here. Many foreign tourists head west to Cape Town. In so doing they’re missing out because KwaZulu-Natal – roughly the size of Portugal – has beaches, cities, mountains and safaris… and is cheaper. Durban is its biggest metropolis, sprawled along the sandy shores of the Indian Ocean that is warm here, even in winter. British Airways used to operate direct flights from the UK to Durban but the route was paused during the pandemic. While plans are afoot for them to be resumed, for the time being holidaymakers must fly to Durban via Johannesburg. Durban is South Africa’s third largest city and saw a facelift when the country hosted the 2010 World Cup – the swanky Moses Mabhida football stadium was built along a new six-mile coastal promenade called the Golden Mile. You can ride the SkyCar up the stadium arch to an observation deck and, for the ultimate ride, try the Big Rush Big Swing, the world’s tallest, which will send you through a 720 ft arc. I’m staying at the beachfront Oyster Box Hotel, perched on a hill above a lighthouse in the smart seaside suburb of Umhlanga Rocks. It’s a classy establishment, which asks guests’ pillow preference before they arrive and offers a glass of bubbles on arrival. Yes, thank you. Nelson Mandela stayed here as has Idris Elba, John Legend and Charlize Theron. Built in 1863, the architecture is colonial-style and you will find vintage chairs in nooks, antique chandeliers strung from ceilings and first-edition Dickens in the library. Outside by its pools, the red and white loungers and parasols match the lighthouse. The Zulu people are the largest ethnic group in South Africa with around ten million living in KwaZulu-Natal alone. Many take their tribal traditions seriously. After all, they fought the Voortrekkers and the British Army and their new King Misuzulu kaZwelithini remains powerful and rich, with a generous allowance from the South African government. You can discover more about the Anglo-Zulu war by visiting Fugitives’ Drift near the famous site of Rorke’s Drift, where the battlefield tours are very moving. The native language is isiZulu, not the Afrikaans of the Western Cape. As for Durban, it has the biggest concentration of Indians outside India and this combination of cultures is one of the area’s biggest draws. The Oyster Box serves a nightly all-you-can-eat curry buffet, featuring a challengingly hot vindaloo. The creamy apricot chicken and prawn curry is nearly worth the plane journey alone. For many years the Indian community here also felt the effects of apartheid. Considered non-whites, they were forced into Indian townships and weren’t allowed to use certain stores or particular beaches. And so in 1893 Mahatma Gandhi came to South Africa as a lawyer to help improve Indian rights. Gandhi spent 21 years, on and off, in South Africa, living mainly in the Phoenix Settlement just outside Durban. Today, it houses the Gandhi Museum and you might bump into his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, an MP for ten years after the first democratic elections. Modern Durban dates from 1824 when a small British trading post was set up to negotiate with the powerful Zulus. But the city did not acquire its moniker for another ten years in honour of Sir Benjamin D’Urban, governor of the then Cape Colony. Today, the port is the busiest in Africa. The Zulus used to live in rural communes in beehive-shaped thatched huts. There’s one a half-hour drive from Durban in PheZulu village, where you can mingle and learn about their tribal customs and lifestyle. A tiny minority still live this way. The kitchen hut’s reserved for women; the men’s hut for men. Even today, Zulu males can and do, marry multiple wives. There’s one sitting on a stool, contemplating potential suitors. ‘Any offers?’ he asks cheekily. No, but I do try to emulate his moves when they perform a tribal dance to the beat of drums. Brightly coloured beads play a big role in their dress and, historically, were used to relay messages. The women wear intricate head, waist and collar bands and Durban’s Victoria Street Market offers an enticing selection of this jewellery. A section of this market is dedicated to healing and tables are piled high of lime chalk, some red, some white. Locals use lime as a cure for many an ailment from acne to pimples to runny tummies. Zulus have traditionally also mixed the lime with water and used it to decorate faces, bodies and even houses. KwaZulu is also home to the Big Five and for two nights I decamp to a luxury lodge in the Phinda Private Game Reserve, three hours away. On the first game drive we spot a white rhino and her calf, buffalo, a leopard and then a cheetah, which looks dangerously cute and I joke about stroking it. ‘Their fur’s actually very rough,’ informs ranger Holly. When an elephant and a lion are spied the next morning it completes the Big Five. This must be luck because it’s rare to see so many different species in such a short space of time. The rangers stop at 8am to make everyone a ‘Mocha Chocarula’ – coffee mixed with hot chocolate and a dash of Amarula liqueur. Delicious. Most wildlife viewing is done from the safety of a four-wheel drive but, occasionally, the lodge offers bush walks. No matter that Holly’s armed with a rifle when we set off on one, there’s still a fear of becoming a leopard’s lunch. We’re scanning with binoculars when suddenly Holly freezes. She points to fresh lioness footprints and deduces that we have been followed. She manages to keep the group calm as we retreat to the Jeep and hit the gas. South Africa does adventure travel brilliantly. Much of it is five-star, but on the way back to Durban we head to the township of Umlazi where there’s a buzz about a new restaurant called Max’s Lifestyle. Its speciality is a native barbecue and £14 per person buys a mixed grill served on a wooden platter alongside spicy local chakalaka relishes. The meat’s unbelievably succulent with a tangy kick. The adventure is rounded off by returning to the Oyster Box, where I order the signature cocktail: an Umhlanga Schling. It’s packed with cane sugar and liqueur and, like the province of KwaZulu-Natal, is colourful, potent and moreish. I raise my glass to this refreshingly diverse kingdom and its new king.