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Location: South Africa » Kwazulu Natal » Natal Midlands » Pietermaritzburg

Pietermaritzburg is the gateway between Johannesburg and Durban

Pietermaritzburg is a beautiful city, nesting among wooded hills.Its centre lies between the Dorp Spruit (Town Creek) and the Umsindusi rivers. The city was laid out according to Dutch tradition, and so has a Church Street and a Commercial Road intersecting at right angles at its heart. Other street names, such as Longmarket Street and Loop Street (Walk Street) are reminiscent of the same tradition. The city remains traditionally Victorian, with wrought-iron lace-like work on several of its older buildings. It is one of the best preserved Victorian cities in the World.

Pietermaritzburg is the gateway between Johannesburg and Durban as a result there are many bus services, rail services and taxis available on a daily basis.

Pietermaritzburg has a airport, which is known as Oribi Airport. It is not a international airport but it offers national destinations and inter - city flights.

The city lies some 600-700 metres above sea level, and so has a cooler and more extreme climate than Durban or the Kwazulu-Natal Coast. The summers tend to be very hot and tropical, with thunder storms and temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius in mid-summer. The winters are usually very dry and can be quite cold with several degrees of frost during some nights. The rivers flood unpredictably, and disastrous floods of both the Umsindusi and the Dorp Spruit have been reported sporadically at most times of the year: even during the dry season.

Popular attractions in the city include the Lion Park on the South-Eastern side of the town and a few game parks. These, together with the spectacular scenery afforded by the surrounding country-side, especially the Drakensberg Mountain areas, make Pietermaritzburg a sought-after tourist destination. Vistitors to Kwazulu-Natal are well advised to include the region in their itineraries.

Attractions in Pietermaritzberg

butterflies for africa

Butterflies for Africa. A complex housing a butterfly craft shop, art gallery, coffee bar, African art & craft centre and a garden planted with a large range of butterfly food plants. The prime attraction is an impressive walk through the butterfly house where visitors can come into close contact with butterflies from around the world as they fly freely in a lush environment. An outdoor butterfly garden complements the enclosed house, enabling guests to observe these magnificent jewels of the air in their natural habitat.

golden horse casino

Theres a million reasons to visit the Golden Horse Casino! Not only is the Golden Horse the ultimate casino and entertainment experience, with R1 000 000 minimum jackpot on our Maximillion slot machine, 450 slot machines and 18 gaming tables, its also an ideal venue for your next business conference.

Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens

The National Botanical Gardens, one of eight in the country, is situated on an ancient floodplain and a hillside at the foot of a mist belt. Established in 1870, the garden concentrates on the conservation and propagation of rare and endangered indigenous plants as well as the cultivation of east coast grassland plants.

Tatham Art Gallery

Spend a few hours among beautiful beadwork and intricate basketry, wood and bronze sculptures as well as powerful lino-cuts and oil paintings. Theres also an impressive collection of British and French 19th and early 20th century English and French paintings, including Degas, Picasso, Matisse, Hockney and Renoir, as well as a Henry Moore maquette and china and glassware.

KZN Railway Museum

One of the more interesting attractions in the museum is a coach that had been converted to serve as a bullion carrier and which was used for the run from Rhodesia to Johannesburg during the early part of the 20th century.

The Natal Museum

The Natal Museum is the largest national museum in KwaZulu-Natal and is dedicated to the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of objects of cultural and scientific value, concentrating on both the Natural and Human Sciences. The exhibition galleries are continually being upgraded to make the museum even more efficient and enjoyable.

The Mahatma Gandhi statue

The Mahatma Gandhi statue is visited outside the Colonial Building - where he targeted many of his concerns about human rights issues. Visit the outstanding City Hall and Carbineer Gardens, which commemorate those who fell in South African and World conflicts.

‘City of Contrasts’

Essentially British colonial in character, Pietermaritzburg is a city of contrasts. New blends with old in graceful harmony, nestling within a ring of green hills. It has an environment of great quality and distinctive, described by the Historical Monuments Council as ‘one of the most important high character cities in Africa’. Hermione Hobhouse, secretary of London’s Victorian Society, wrote after a visit in 1981: ‘I found the architecture all I had been promised and it is indeed one of the finest Victorian cities I have ever visited’. Strangely, the founding of the City of Pietermaritzburg had nothing to do with the British. In 1838, the Dutch speaking Voortrekkers moved into Natal from the Cape and laid out a town between the Umsindusi River and the Dorp Spruit (stream). They named it after their leader, Pieter Mauritz Retief. But, over the years, the letter ‘u’ in Pietermaritzburg was discarded and, at the time of the town’s centenary in 1938, it was decreed that the leader of the second trek into Natal, Gert Maritz, should also be commemorated and the city’s official name became Pietermaritzburg. Here is a city proud of it’s heritage and determined to conserve buildings of character. In church street, one of the finest Victorian shop fronts in South Africa stands a few doors from the Philip Dudgeon designed Standard Bank Building with it’s beautiful stained glass windows depicting the four seasons (a famous faux pas perpetrated in the northern hemisphere for a customer in the southern hemisphere). Outstanding among the many Victorian and Edwardian buildings of red brick is the City Hall, built in the site of the old Voortrekker Raadsaal (meeting hall) in 1900 and declared a national monument in 1969. notable for it’s domes and fine stained glass windows, it is the largest all brick building in the southern hemisphere and an ideal starting point for tourists setting out on the Town Trails walking tours. Another one of the city’s 39 historic (national) monuments, Publicity House, is only 100 m from the City Hall. The international ‘I’ (for information) sign ensures visitors a warm welcome. Maps and broschures are available, plus unique Pietermaritzburg and Colonial Natal souvenirs, postcards, and even video programmes to show the folks back home. A few hitching rails in the central area are reminders of the city’s romantic and leisurely past. One is outside the Imperial Hotel, from whence Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial of France, rode to his death in a Zulu ambush in 1879. Another stands near the entrance to The Natal Witness, South Africa’s oldest daily newspaper, founded in 1846 by David Dale Buchanan, a Scottish immigrant. Opposite the newspaper offices are the soaring columns and cooper domes of the old Natal Parliament buildings, where tourists catch a glimpse of the splendour of colonial days. These buildings and the old Supreme Court (Tatham Art Gallery) completed in 1871, are linked to the central network of quaint pedestrian lanes – a charming attraction for visitors. Upon the hill overlooking the city there is much evidence of the settlement’s transformation into a garrison town.

Fort Napier

Was founded in 1843 when the 45th Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) camped there and remained for 15 years – a record in the British Army for the length of overseas service. The fort’s St George’s Church, built in 1897 by troops as a memorial to their comrades, and the nearby cemetery with it’s military graves dating back to the 1840’s, are favourite spots for tourists who like to soak up the atmosphere of a bygone era. Because of it’s founders, Pietermaritzburg played an important role in Afrikaner history, and the few tangible reminders of the trekking pioneers attact thousands of visitors every year. After Pieter Retief’s death at the hands of the Zulus early in 1838 and the subsequent massacre of more than 600 Voortrekkers in the Weenen district, a vengeful commando under the leadership of Andries Pretorius defeated the Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838. At a prayer meeting before the action, the Boers vowed to build a church if they were granted victory, and the Church of the Vow was completed in 1841 in Pietermaritzburg. It is now a fine museum. Andries Pretorius house and statues of Retief and Maritz complete this popular tourist complex. Also evident is the later contribution of the city’s Indian population, descendants of indentured labour brought to Natal in the 1860’s to work in the sugar cane fields. They added a district Eastern blend – Hindu temples, Moslem mosques, colourful saris, spice shops and the annual fire walking ceremony on Good Friday. Pietermaritzburg is conveniently situated in relation to the province’s many attractions – the exciting game reserves of Zululand, fabulous beaches, and vibrant Durban. The glorious Drakensberg and it’s crystal clear trout streams is within a two hour drive. In two or three hours you can reach the historic battlefields of three wars – Boer Zulu, Anglo Zulu and Anglo Boer – or experience the delights of several KZNNCS inland resorts. Trips to the adjacent arts and crafts route, the Midlands Meander, from your Pietermaritzburg base will provide several days of pleasant sightseeing and shopping. Touritsts seeking the animals and birds of Africa will find them within 20 km radius of the city in closed and open captivity. Pietermaritzburg is known as the ‘City of Flowers’,so garden lovers will find the capital of Kwazulu Natal a floral delight. What most visitors remember, apart from the red brick Victorian buildings, are the gardens – the masses of green, the brilliance of the bougainvilleas, and the azaleas, which bloom from July to October. The city is at it’s best at the end of September when the annual Garden Show, South Africa’s answer to the Chelsea Flower Show, attracts thousand, and early October when beautiful private gardens are opened to the public. Words cannot do full justice to Pietermaritzburg. It needs to be personally explored and experienced.

GENERAL INFORMATION

How to get there

Durban 77 km, Johannesburg 503 km, Pretoria 561 km, Richards Bay 259 km

HISTORICAL VIEW

City Hall (1908)

An exceptional example of Victorian design, this ornate building features a 47 m clock tower, a 12 bell carillon, domes, stone carvings and attractive stained glass windows. Ripley’s ‘Believe it or not’ claims that this is the largest all brick building in the southern hemisphere. Closed on weekends.

Colonial Buildings (1899)

The soaring columns of this elegant building are a fine example of late 19th century architecture. Completed in 1899, it has a central pediment featuring the royal coat of arms. Minor pediments feature the Natal wildebeest emblem and the elephant, symbol of Pietermaritzburg.

Comrades Marathon House Museum

A restored Victorian house where items relating to this famous race are on display.

Dorpspruit Trail - Features historical aspects of the city

Gandhi Statue

Mohandas Gandhi (the Mahatma) arrived in Durban in 1893 to assist in a legal case. He stayed in South Africa for 20 years during which time he attempted to improve living conditions for local Indians. The statue of Gandhi, opposite the Colonial Building, was unveiled in 1993 to mark the centenary of his ejection on racial grounds from a train at Pietermaritzburg Station.

Garden of Remembrance

Picturesque reminder of servicemen who gave their lives in the two world wars. Contains the famous Weeping Cross of Delville Wood, which oozes sap on the anniversary in July of the First World War battle in which many South Africans died.

Italian Church

Built by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War, this tiny church can be visited by arrangement.

Macrorie House Museum

One of Pietermaritzburg’s most striking examples of Victorian architecture, Macrorie House provides fascinating glimpses of the elegant lifestyle of the early British settlers. Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 09:00 – 13:00, Sundays: 11:00 – 16:00.

Natal Museum

One of five national museums in South Africa, it was founded in 1905 and features an outstanding Victorian display of houses and shops as they were in the 1850’s. Furniture is authentic antique. Other sections include dinosaurs, African mammals, snakes, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, geology and paleontology. The ethnology display contains fascinating items from many regions of Africa. Old guns from a Portuguese shipwreck on the Transkei coast and Bushman paintings also attracts attention.

Old Government House

Dating back to the 1850’s, the building was the home of Lieutenant Governor Sir Benjamin Pine who later sold it to the Natal Government for use as an official residence for the colony’s governors. A national monument.

Old Natal Parliament

The Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council Buildings, both national monuments, formed a colonial parliament of two Houses, a Council of 11 nominated members and an Assembly of 37 elected members. When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, the Assembly became the meeting place of the Natal Provincial Council. Contains many fascinating relics dating from colonial days.

Old Presbyterian Church (1852)

This is the first British church built in town. The clock was sold to the Greytown Municipality to raise funds in 1895 and installed in the town hall there. But when Greytown purchased a modern electric clock, the original clock came back to the church in 1977. National Monument.

Publicity House (1884)

This historical building is the headquarters of the Pietermaritzburg Publicity Association. A walking tour from Publicity House includes the City Hall, central monuments and the network of central lanes.

St Peter’s Church

Completed in 1857, this historic shale stone building became Bishop John William Colenso’s cathedral following the split in the Church of England in the colony which led to William Macrorie’s appointment as Bishop of Maritzburg. Colenso, Bishop of Natal is buried in front of the altar. St Peter’s has become a museum housing church treasures and beautiful stained glass windows from Europe.

Standard Bank

Centenary Branch (1882)

Modeled on the Bank of Ireland in Belfast, architect Philip Dudgeon (1852 – 1891) considered this his personal masterpiece. Built in 1882, it’s famous stained glass windows depict the four seasons (in the northern hemisphere).

 

Voortrekker House

The oldest surviving double storey Voortrekker house in the city has been restored and furnished in authentic Voortrekker style. The wooden ceilings and floors are fine examples of early Voortrekker craftsmanship. National Monument.

Voortrekker Museum

This is the original church of the Vow, built by the Voortrekkers in 1841 to commemorate the Boer victory over the Zulus at Blood River on 16 December 1838. The Church was used for worship until 1861 and, after being used as a commercial building, opened in 1912 as the Voortrekker Museum. It contains a unique and varied collection of trekker relics, including a fine replica of a trek wagon, old flintlock rifles, and Retief’s prayerbook and water bottle. The architecture of the modern Memorial Church next to the museum symbolizes the struggles of the Voortrekkers in Natal and features the words of the Vow in the foyer. Statues of Retief and Maritz are in the forecourt. Newest addition to the complex is the thatched, double storey house of Commandant Andries Pretorius, who led the victorious commando at Blood River. Special postmarks for mail placed in the museum’s postbox.

World’s View Trails - Follow the routes taken by early Voortrekkers

NATURE

Alexandra Park

Founded in 1863. variety of flowers, shrubs, aloes and succulents. Delightful 1892 bandstand alongside picturesque cricket oval and pavilion (1898). Picnic spots. Venue for ‘Art in the Park’ annual show.

Natal National Botanical Garden

This beautiful and tranquil garden specializes in the conservation of Natal plants and of rare and endangered species from elsewhere. Established in 1874, the garden’s Victorian past is evident in it’s magnificent specimens of northern hemisphere plants such as the swamp cypress, tulip, trees, camphor trees, plane trees, giant figs and magnolias. One of the finest features of the garden is the avenue of London plane trees which has been stunning visitors since 1908. The focus of the garden is to collect, display and promote the conservation of plants of the eastern grasslands, in particular the genera Kniphofia, Watsonia and Dierama. A section of the garden is planted specifically to attract birds which, along with other diverse habitats, makes the garden rich in birdlife, with over 120 species recorded. A special feature of the garden is a traditional Zulu hut, surrounded by indigenous medicinal plants which form the basis of a Muthi plant display. The garden has a series of exciting walking trails through indigenous forest and grassland. The popular guided walk programme gives visitors the opportunity of experiencing the garden in a hands on way. New developments include a grassland display area and Clivia collection. There is a restaurant which is open every day except Tuesdays. The garden is open 365 days a year from 08:00 – 18:00 (October April) and 08:00 – 17:30 (May – September). A small entrance fee is charged. Botanical Society members have free entrance to the garden.

Queen Elizabeth Park

8 km from city centre. Headquarters of the KZNNCS. The park features the flora and fauna of Kwazulu Natal, picnic sites and nature walks.

ATTRACTIONS

Art in the Park – May, South Africa’s top outdoor art show

Assegai Safari Park

In the scenic valley of a Thousand Hills, houses an impressive collection of crocodiles and other reptiles.

Hindu Temple

The Sri Siva Soobramonair and Mariammen Temple is the main place of worship for the city’s Hindu people.

Islamia Mosque - Visitors are allowed access to the city’s largest mosque

Lanes and Stock Exchanges

Part of the city’s charm lies in the central network of quaint, narrow pedestrian lanes. This area became the financial centre of the young capital and housed four different stock exchanges between 1888 and 1931. visitors will be attacked by the many small shops, Edwardian Harwin’s Arcade (1904) and Theatre Lane, site of the old Scott’s Theatre which was very popular before the turn of the century.

Lion Park and Zoo

East of Pietermaritzburg, the Lion Park has a variety of game, including a herd of Asian elephants.

Pietermaritzburg Town Trails

There are six pre planned trails within the city, taking one to many places of historical interest.

Racing at Scottsville

The Scottsville Racecourse in Pietermaritzburg is acclaimed as one of the most picturesque in the country. It’s Mediterranean architecture, intimate atmosphere and rolling green lawns combine to present an inviting picture to racegoers, whether racing enthusiasts of casual visitors. Restaurant and pub facilities at Scottsville are outstanding, and cater for the needs not only of members, but also those of the general public. Inquiries and bookings may be directed to the Pietermaritzburg Turf Club’s administration offices.

Tatham Art Gallery

Opposite Publicity House is open every day (except Mondays). It has a fine selection of paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics, and mounts special exhibitions. Collection includes 19th and early 20th century English and French paintings, a Henry Moore maquette, china and glassware. The famous ormolu clock holds enchantment for tourists who enjoy watching Medieval Figures ring tiny bells on the hour and half hour.

Tours

Local mini bus tours (on request), local scenic flights (Air Midlands) and Town Trails (walking tours)

World’s View

This 305 m high vantage point has excellent views of the city and surrounding area. An old wagon road below the site was used by Voortrekkers ro reach Port Natal (now Durban), and forms part of the Green Belt Trails.

Wylie Park

Features azaleas, the city’s floral emblem, which can be seen at it’s best in spring. Also Cape heath and proteas.

ACTIVITIES

Hiking

Ferncliffe Trail – Leads through indigenous forest


Green Belt Trails

A network of trails on the escarpment northeast of Pietermaritzburg is marked with logos for the benefit of riders and walkers. The purpose of the trails is to gain a greater appreciation of the environment

Pietermaritzburg

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