Pietermaritzburg is the second largest city in KwaZulu-Natal. Known as the “Garden City” it is situated about 75km north-west of Durban and is the gateway to the Natal Midlands. Its history goes way back to when the Voortrekkers settled here in 1837, and named the town after two of their leaders, Gerrit Maritz and Piet Retief. Six years later, the British converted this settlement into a military garrison town, and today, there are many Victorian and Edwardian buildings in town that reflect the British influence. In fact the city is often called the “last outpost of the British Empire”.
The University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal is a major presence in the city. It was one of the first universities in South Africa to defy the apartheid system and provide education on a non-racial basis. The university was founded in 1910 and is world-renowned for its high academic standards. The city’s architectural heritage has been well preserved and a tour of the city’s architectural heritage is well worth it.
The city is surrounded by rolling hills and valleys, forests and fertile farm lands. The Voortrekkers were the first to settle alongside the Umsindusi River in 1837. The area was also the hunting ground of the Zulus but in the end it was the British influence that prevailed although the city is thought to be named after two Voortrekkers.
Piertermaritzburg is well known for a number of major events in KwaZulu-Natal including the annual Royal Agricultural Show, the Comrades Marathon, the Midmar Mile, the Duzi Canoe Marathon, the Diwali Festival of Lights and the Durban/Pietermaritzburg Cycle Race. There are also numerous regular events and activities including horse racing at the Scottsville track, the Alexandra Flea Market, motorcross at Lincoln Meade Track and farmers markets at the AB Jackson Fields on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Church Street in Pietermaritzburg has been converted into an attractive pedestrian shopping mall. The African Arts and Craft Centre in Fraser Lane specialises in traditional and contemporary work, including sculpture, hand-woven rugs and tapestries, batiks, jewellery and collectors’ pieces. Situated conveniently near the city centre is the Hayfields Mall, a popular shopping centre among locals. All of the major stores are present.
Cultural places of interest include the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, the Voortrekker Museum, the Tathum Art Gallery, Macrorie House Museum, Gandhi Statue, Queen Victoria Statue, Worlds View and the Voortrekker Trail. The iconic City Hall is the largest example of red brick Victorian architecture in the Southern Hemisphere. To experience the more modern side of the city, visit the Golden Horse Casino, the Harry Gwala Stadium and the Hexagon Theatre. The Botanical Gardens are a sight to behold, especially in the spring flowering season. The Tala Games Reserve, reputed to be one of the best in KwaZulu-Natal, is within easy driving distance as is the Natal Lion Park in nearby Camperdown and the Albert Falls Game Reserve. If watersport is your thing, visit the nearby Midmar Dam where the world famous Midmar Mile swimming event is held every year.
If you’re looking to explore the area in more depth, take the famous Midlands Meander Route using the city as your starting point.