Culture & Conservation – South Africa


  • Discover the traditional cultural practices of the Sangoma world
  • Hike through the Central Drakensberg with some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes
  • Tackle the infamous Sani Pass, a 4×4 track which is the only vehicle access from KwaZulu-Natal into the remote and mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho
  • Immerse yourself in a private game reserve in the heart of Zululand
  • Participate in rhino dehorning for the right reason
  • Learn about camera trapping, one of the most effective ways to monitor leopards
  • Enjoy sundowners in a secret bush location

The ultimate African experience punctuated by culture, exploration and conservation.

An entwinement of tradition and wildlife preservation, this journey starts in the cultural hot pot of Durban where you will be introduced to a blend of cultures, practices, and beliefs. Venture into the majestic Drakensburg Mountains for several days of hiking through this spectacular terrain as your cultural knowledge continues to grow whilst traversing into the landlocked and mysterious Kingdom of Lesotho.

From the mountains to your private game reserve, move into the world of wildlife conservation. Join experts in their field where you will have the chance to assist award-winning conservationists who have been working on the frontline for more than a decade. This experience is unique in that it includes everything that an African safari offers but also delivers a truly meaningful and valuable experience. Track wildlife on foot, download data from their tracking collars, survey leopards and participate in de-horning rhino to protect them from poachers. An experience unlike any other in South Africa that will leave you with a deep appreciation of all that goes into conserving South Africa’s natural heritage.

Journey map

Fitness level



Day 1 – Arrival in Durban

Welcome to South Africa! Upon arrival into Durban, you will be met by your driver and transferred to your accommodation where the remainder of your day is at leisure. Durban is an honest African city, with structured western linings. Despite the constant push of modern pressures to westernise, it will always remain a heavily African influenced city. It is an eclectic city that has a strong blend of Indian and Asian cultures and is certainly becoming one of the next ‘cool’ cities of South Africa. Spend time exploring your local neighbourhood for funky bars and trendy eateries.

2 nights at the Concierge Hotel or similar

Day 2 – Durban City Tour

Today will be an incredibly eye opening and educational day, as you set off on your exclusive conservation vs culture tour of Durban. A journey all about context, immersion and relevance. You will start where all things should, at the beginning. There is a very fine line between maintaining traditional cultural practices and supporting conservation. In many cultures globally, these two cross over in both a positive and negative way. To understand culture and to appreciate conservation, you must have some knowledge to both sides of the story and this is what today is all about.

Meet the dancing curator of Phansi Museum who will introduce you to a vast collection of indigenous art and crafts, before sampling some delicious Pan African cuisine. From here, you will head to Isithumba — a living Zulu cultural village. A local resident will help you to explore the village on foot, as you begin to understand this different way of life. If the ancestors are welcoming, you may meet the village chief or the local spiritual healer for an immersive exchange.

The Markets of Warwick are your final stop. This curious quarter represents the beating heart of indigenous culture. Meet the Lime and Imphepho Gogos (female elders) and watch them create their goods, before you witness the culture shock that is Muthi Bridge, or as we like to call it ‘Sangoma Central’. Sangoma’s are traditional healers, diviners if you will, chosen from the psychic world and are selected by their predeceased ancestors. Sangoma’s are ‘called’ and they cannot ignore these callings or they may die according to their beliefs. These calls can come at any time of their life, generally starting in the unconscious mind through vivid continuous dreams. When these calls are left unanswered, they start to take over your conscious life and turn it upside down, until you answer the call.

Unlock this mysterious culture and traditional marketplace and get a feel for where the culture is heading and impacts on poaching and wildlife conservation tied so tightly with this faith. A confronting but essential end to the day’s story. (B)

Day 3 – Durban to Central Drakensburg Mountains

Leaving behind the cultural hotpot of Durban, travel to the Central Drakensberg. Think majestic, stunning, mysterious mountains and foothills. This is some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Drakensberg means ‘Dragon Mountains’ in Afrikaans, while the Zulu named the range Quathlamba (‘Battlement of Spears’); both beautifully convey the area’s sublime backdrop of incredible peaks. People have lived here for thousands of years, evidenced by the many San rock-art sites, with its Zulu villages, wilderness areas and wildflowers.

Your first stop will be at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, a site of cultural and historic importance which has been curated into a museum and open-air sculpture museum. Continuing on, travel through the Natal Midlands, which is renowned for the Midlands Meander route of arts and crafts. Explore some of the galleries and enjoy lunch in the picturesque rolling hills of the Natal Midlands. Check into your quaint farmhouse this afternoon where the remainder of your day is at leisure. (B)

2 nights Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse or similar

Day 4 - Central Drakensberg Hiking in Kamberg

Set off this morning to the Kamberg Reserve which is part of the greater trans frontier park – Maloti Drakensberg Conservation Area. 

The reserve has been made famous for some of the most well-kept rock art. Meet our Anthropologist, Dr Jeremy Hollmann, who’ll help you unlock this mysterious place. The experience kicks off with an introductory video before starting the hike.

Dr Hollmann will guide you through the rugged terrain to Game Pass Shelter and delve deeper into the anthropology of the San people. At Game Pass Shelter, you will have a chance to take in the mystery of Bushman Rock Art, as you explore theories and beliefs that underpin the art. Today’s hike can be described as moderate. Enjoy a packed lunch in the Drakensberg, before heading back to Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse in the afternoon. (B,L)

Day 5 - Central Drakensberg to Sani Pass Lesotho

After breakfast, skirt the southern Drakensberg on picturesque dirt backroads, toward the village of Underberg. This area is well-known for its dairy farming and scattered along the route are rural Zulu homesteads, with good examples of subsistence farming.

After lunch in the village of Underberg, tackle the infamous Sani Pass, a 4×4 track which is the only vehicle access from KwaZulu-Natal into the remote and mountainous landscape of Lesotho. This is essentially an alpine country, where villagers on horseback in multicoloured balaclavas and blankets greet you around precipitous bends. The hiking here is world class, offering undulating expanses of pastoral charm, traditional rondavels (round huts with a conical roof) and innumerable grazing sheep.

At the very top of the Sani Pass is the Sani Mountain Lodge, with beautiful views over the escarpment looking into South Africa, at a height of 2874m ASL. (B,L)

2 nights Sani Mountain Lodge or similar

Day 6 - Hodgson’s Peak Hike

The most noticeable landmark of the Southern Drakensberg is the Hodgson’s Peak, also known as Giants Cup. Set off on a four-hour (return) hike to climb the highest peak on this section of the southern Drakensberg, at 3,256m. The distance hiked is around 6km each way and the altitude gain is approx 400m. This guided hike crosses alpine meadowland, past flocks of sheep and angora goats minded by shepherds, before the final climb to the peak. Situated on the edge of the escarpment, the summit provides not only a satisfying climb, but superb 360-degree views of the Drakensberg, the Kwa-Zulu Natal midlands and into the mountainous interior of Lesotho.

Return to your lodge for lunch and then head to a rural Lesotho homestead for an immersive experience into this hardcore and remote way-of-life in the barren Lesotho Highlands. Lesotho is an excellent example of rural living that has blended with aspects of modern living. These hardy mountain shepherds still practice many of the ways of life that has become part of them, such as the all-important Basotho pony, which is as important as a bicycle for someone from the Netherlands. Venture on horseback to a shepherd village, experiencing first-hand the hardy lifestyle of the locals, that continue to practice their way of life, whilst incorporating some modern conveniences such as solar power. (B,L)

Day 7 – Drakensburg to Rhino Sands

After breakfast, descend the pass, returning into South Africa and transfer by road to Rhino Sands. Rhino Sands is ecofriendly and has been constructed with minimal disruption to the natural forest, highlighting rather than dominating the surrounding environment. On arrival, enjoy an orientation and an afternoon conservation game drive.

In 2004, 17 private properties in the northern Zululand area, dropped their fences forming what is today known as Manyoni Private Game Reserve (formerly Zululand Rhino Reserve). The impetus for forming the reserve was to provide a home to a population of Black Rhinos, as part of the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project. The joining of the properties created a 23,000-hectare private game reserve in the heart of Zululand, in one of the most animal-rich and species-diverse areas of South Africa. In addition to Black Rhino, the reserve is now home to all the Big 5 (Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Lion) and has seen the re-introduction of two endangered carnivore species, Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs.

Moving from strength to strength, the Zululand Conservation Trust was established in 2011 and has cemented a strong partnership with the local communities through various conservation projects. The Trust also provides the reserve with much needed support in the fight against wildlife crime. A significant achievement was the proclamation of the reserve as a Nature Reserve under the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 (the highest conservation status possible). Manyoni Private Game Reserve is recognised as a site of biodiversity importance and contributes to the provincial conservation targets and endangered species meta-populations. It is one of only a handful of large successful private reserves in Zululand.

This evening, enjoy a welcome briefing about the exciting activities ahead for the following days and sink into sleep to the sounds of the South African bush. (B,L,D)

4 nights Rhino Sands or similar

Day 8 – Rhino Conservation

Today is all about the endangered rhino. This morning’s activity is rhino dehorning. One of the key rhino conservation strategies is to dehorn rhino populations in reserves with smaller populations, which acts as an effective deterrent to poachers. You will participate in the capture operation and witness the team at work over the course of a day.

This afternoon, participate in rhino tracking and a monitoring walk. Monitoring rhino is an essential and critical part of their protection. You will have an opportunity to experience first-hand how the experts in the field track and monitor rhino on foot, as well as what it takes to protect the species. The duration of the walk will be dependent on the fitness levels of the group, as well as the rhino’s location.

This evening, enjoy a fireside discussion further to the day’s activities around rhino conservation in South Africa. Understand both sides of conservation – the poachers world, and that of those who risk their lives daily to protect these vulnerable animals. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Camera Trap Data Collection and Analysis

Awaken to the sounds of the African bush before a hearty breakfast. It is then time for a bush walk to collect camera trap information. Camera trapping is one of the most effective ways to monitor leopards and other elusive nocturnal species. You will have the opportunity to walk through the bush to set up, collect or download images from camera traps and to learn more about why camera traps are so important for the conservation of elusive species such as leopards. The duration of the walk will be dependent on the fitness levels of the group and the camera trap placement. The walks will be guided by an experienced, armed, qualified field guide.

This afternoon, it is all about monitoring endangered species which is an essential and critical step in their conservation. Wildlife monitoring is essential for keeping track of animal movement patterns, habitat utilisation, population demographics, snaring and poaching incidents and breakouts. This valuable information, which Wildlife ACT gathers on our various projects, has numerous management applications, including the planning of successful introduction and removal strategies of Africa’s wildlife.

This evening, we have a camera trap data analysis and discussion focused on the KwaZulu Natal Leopard Survey. Leopard have been somewhat overlooked from a conservation perspective and recent findings have shown a rapid decline across all of their historic range. Monitoring has therefore been identified as a key activity to better understand this secretive cat. Camera trapping is one of the most effective ways to monitor Leopards and other elusive, nocturnal species. Wildlife ACT works in partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Panthera to carry out an annual provincial Leopard Survey. The data from camera trap images is used to determine Leopard densities, demographics and population trends at various key sites in KwaZulu Natal. This information is utilised in provincial and national management planning and decision making. Traditional monitoring techniques, such as direct observation, are somewhat ineffective for Leopards due to their elusive and solitary behaviour, wide home ranges, and ability to move in and out of protected areas. (B,L,D)

Day 10 – Endangered Species Monitoring & Community Conservation

This morning we have another endangered species monitoring session. Continuing from what you started with yesterday, delve deeper into the unique wildlife under threat. This afternoon, head off on a game drive to search for the big five and of course the precious wildlife you have learned so much about over the past few days. Enjoy sundowners in a secret bush location as the sun dips and night creatures of the bush come to life.

Upon returning to the lodge, following dinner, our discussion this evening is about community conservation in Africa. This is an opportunity for us to present and discuss the interface of rural communities and wildlife conservation – highlighting the importance of addressing some of the challenges that exist in this space, as well as focusing on building opportunities for community-based conservation initiatives to take place. Discuss some of the work that Wildlife ACT carries out in this space to create co-existence between people and wildlife, ensuring that rights to natural resources are recognised, allowing communities to become shareholders in conservation, not just observers or stakeholders. (B,L,D)

Day 11 - Departure

Set off this morning for a final conservation closure drive, where not only will have your last chance at wildlife spotting, but a great opportunity to summarise all the incredible knowledge and experience you have learned over this journey. You will then transfer to Durban Airport for your onward flight. (B)

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What’s included

  • Return airport transfers
  • 10 nights accommodation
  • Meals as per the itinerary
  • Services of an English-speaking local guide
  • Private transportation in an air-conditioned vehicle for transfers
  • National Park fees
  • Safari vehicle
  • Sightseeing as per the itinerary
  • Local taxes
  • Conservancy fees
  • Donation to ACT Wildlife
  • International and domestic flights
  • Visas
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • All services, meals other than those indicated above
  • Any changes to the proposed and confirmed program.
  • All items of a personal nature e.g., drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tips etc

**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.

* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.

* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.

A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.