Route 56

Popular Tourist Routes in or near Matatiele, Drakensberg in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

KwaZulu Natal Tourist AttractionsRoute 56

Where? Follow the R56 from either Molteno or Pietermaritzburg.

Overnight? Stay in Matatiele, in KwaZulu Natal

Route 56 is not only a great alternative to the N2 through the former Transkei, it is also a highly scenic route covered in mountain trails, opportunities to fish for trout and some fine examples of San rock art.

Marketed as 'the shortest route between the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal', Route 56 officially starts at Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape and heads into the KwaZulu Natal highlands via Matatiele to Kokstad, and then on to Umzimkulu, Ixopo and Richmond before joining the N3 at Pietermaritzburg.

It hugs the fringes of the Eastern Cape section of the Drakensberg. Not only is the route beautiful to drive but it is also a road less-travelled, quite literally, as fewer people know about it, making it far less congested than the N2 (keep the route to yourself).

At the moment these unexplored southern reaches of the Drakensberg remain a remarkably untamed part of the country. Guest houses, even though they have sprung up along the route in the last few years, remain sporadic at best.

Route 56 actually begins further west in the Eastern Cape, at Queenstown where you can follow it in a north easterly direction through Elliot, Ugie and Maclear (where adventurers turn off to the beautiful village of Rhodes) before it joins Mount Fletcher.

The highlight of the route, though, is the town Matatiele. The name comes from the Sesotho, meaning 'the ducks have flown' and probably refers to the fact that Matatiele was once dominated by wetlands and marshes.

Today what is left of the important wetlands is protected in the Matatiele Nature Reserve that also protects important grasslands, rare species of plants and the bird-rich Matatiele commonage.

The Mehloding Hiking Trail starts and ends just outside the village. It follows a route through the foothills of the mountains and rural villages, taking in rock-art and incredible views.

Additional Reading

Find out more and view photographs at "Offbeat Route 56 Take The Alternative Route Through The Transkei".

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