Experience the Berg and Midlands of KwaZulu Natal

Sisonke meaning “we are all together” one of the 11 districts municipalities in KwaZulu Natal, is an inland municipality situated in the southern of the province. It includes the southernmost part of the UKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park adjacent to Lesotho and borders Eastern Cape Province in the West.
Ixopo one of the secondary nodes, as indicated in the District Spatial Development Framework and is accessible from the R56 and R612 linking Pietermaritzburg and Eastern Cape and the coastal towns including Durban and the Drakensberg. Sisonke District Municipality has five local municipalities namely:

  • UMzimkhulu Local Municipality: in the southern part of the district.

  • Ingwe Local Municipality: in the northern part of the district.

  • Kwasani Local Municipality: in the northern part of the district.

  • Ubuhlebezwe Local Municipality: in the eastern part of the district.

  • Greater Kokstad Local Municipality is the largest municipality within the district and is located in the western part of the district.


Sisonke District is well endowed with natural resources and has a tremendous potential to fortify its tourism sector. The relatively unspoilt natural environment has high eco-tourism and adventure tourism potential. Activities such as horse riding, mountain biking, river rafting, abseiling and canoeing are available. Hikers have a choice of gentle strolls to all morning hikes that will bring one to features such as San rock art sites, pristine berg pools and streams, caves, and hilltops with splendid views. Overnight trips take the ardent hiker deep into the mountains and even up the great escarpment onto the South Africa-Lesotho border. The Sani2C, one of the South Africa’s top multi stage mountain bike rides, starts from Underberg and goes through Sisonke District ending in Scottsburg.


Sisonke and the Paton Country Narrow Gauge Railway have developed a fledgling steam rail tourism sector based on the existence of the underutilised Cape Natal Railway line and the remnants of the narrow gauge line from Ixopo to Carisbrooke with a proposed extension to UMzimkhulu. This steam train offer a chance to experience the beauty of the KwaZulu Natal Midlands and Southern Drakensberg, while the off train experiences will touch the ears of all people fortunate enough to enjoy this journey.

tourism picture
The Sisonke Stimela (steam train) is a magnificently restored luxury steam train which exhibits an unforgettable experience to its passengers. The train is pulled by one of three beautifully restored steam locomotives and consists of 21 luxury suites with handsome wood panelling and air conditioning. Each suite accommodates two passengers in either twin or double beds and has a lounge area with Edwardian furnishings and en-suite bathrooms with hot showers.
gerard bhenger picture
Linked to the Rail tourism is an Art Gallery and Museum, featuring the work of Gerald Bhengu as one of train experiences, the last son of Centocow in Sisonke. Bhengu is an internationally recognised artist and his artwork is represented in numerous public and private collections both locally and abroad. The art gallery will not only celebrate the art of Bhengu but will also provide a historical record of African life prior to large scale transformation to modern times.



Avitourism forms the single largest group of eco-tourists globally, and 25% of domestic tourists are interested n birding. Sisonke has two top national birding spots and seven important birding areas. The Marutswa Forest Board Walk in Bulwer has been completed by Sappi and is fully operational. The Ntsikeni mobile Vulture Hide at Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is home to some rare bird species and has a Ramsar Convention Status.

Ntsikeni Nature Reserve including its 12000 ha wetland epitomises a raw, untamed, quite and natural beauty. Within the Nature Reserve is the Ntsikeni Eco-Tourism Development Enterprise that operates two lodges, May and Ntsikeni. The lodges each offer comfortable chalets, a large equipped conference facility and a dining area.



Sisonke District is an important site for a complex of monasteries and missions that the Trappist monks created in the 19th century across the Province of KwaZulu-Natal at Marianhill, East Griqualand and the valleys of the Midlands which include Centocow, Kavalaer, Mariathal, Reichnau, Lourdes, Emmaus and the current Kings Grant. Historically these missions have always representing the cultural intersection between European monasticism and local black rural culture, and represent important heritage nodes of architecture, arts and cultural synthesis and diversity.

mission picture

The missions constitute a unique cultural and heritage tourism asset in the Sisonke district, and provides an important opportunity for story telling in that, among the greatest historical narrative of KwaZulu Natal is the remarkable story of the silent order of German Trappist monks who came to share their particular vision of Christian life with the population of the KZN region more than a hundred years ago.