Sitting just around ninety kilometers and just over an hour's drive on the N3 north of Durban, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, is often overlooked by travelers on their way from the Drakensberg mountains to the coast. This is a shame, as there is much to see and do in this bustling city of around half a million people. It is famous as being a landmark in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. In the late nineteenth century, a white man objected to his presence in the first-class carriage of a train to Pretoria. Gandhi, who had a first-class ticket, was ejected from the train at Pietermaritzberg, when he refused to move to the carriage for coloreds, and consequently made it his mission to oppose discrimination, which later developed into his philosophy of nonviolent protest or Satyagraha (devotion to the truth). There is a Gandhi statue on Church Street in the city center.
Pietermaritzberg also had a small part to play in the political life of Nelson Mandela. He was arrested in nearby Howick in the mid-twentieth century, kept overnight in a cell in Pietermaritzberg, and then transferred for trial in Johannesburg, from where he was sent to start his long stretch of twenty-seven years in prison.
Walking through the center, the streets are lined with historic buildings and statues. It's impossible not to be impressed by the huge, nineteenth-century, red-brick city hall. It's been kept in immaculate condition, and it really takes your breath away.
The Botanic Gardens, created in the later nineteenth century, sit on the northwestern edge of the city (a Napierville minibus from the city center will get you there). It's a lovely place to wander around and there are many trails leading up the hillside through forest, with great views over the city suburbs. Butterflies For Africa, in the east of the city, can also be visited (Sobantu minibus) and there is the Kwazulu-Natal Museum and the Tatham Art Gallery in the center. The tourist office in the city center has lots of information and leaflets for all the activities around Pietermaritzberg and beyond. The Midlands -- an important area in the Boer War, which now is home to several battlefields and museums -- can be visited in the surrounding countryside as a day trip.
The annual Dusi Canoe Marathon every January/February, has been held since the fifties, and starts in Pietermaritzberg on its three-day paddle to Durban. It is now the subject of a feature film "Beyond The River." The Comrades Marathon is an ultra-marathon, run on the Pietermaritzberg-Durban route, some ninety kilometers, starting in Durban and finishing in Pietermaritzberg, attracting runners from all over the world and is run annually around June. It was first run in almost a hundred years ago, with just thirty-four entrants. It now attracts twenty thousand participants.
Because Pietermaritzberg is so overlooked by international travelers or is done as a day trip from Durban, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa hostel accommodation is sometimes hard to find. Several hostels in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa have opened and closed within the last few years, so it's quite important to do your research first. There are plenty of guesthouses that cater for the domestic tourist -- the tourist office can help here with what's available.
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the Hostelz.com local expert for Pietermaritzburg hostels. Welcome.