Here I am back in Durban, the city with two seasons, summer and summer. The summer sun may not have been shining on my arrival but it certainly was not cold. It had rained all the way down through my two hour drive from the Midlands but as I parked my car there was a break in the clouds and a hint of sunshine. It did not take long for things to heat up.
Over the twenty one years I have been travelling to KwaZulu Natal I have spent many days in Durban. It was the base for my first trip to South Africa in 1994. I have had some great days at Kingsmead watching Test and domestic cricket. Kings Park, known now as the Growthpoint Stadium, has been an even more regular stop off for me watching International rugby and the province’s home team ‘The Sharks’. The England cricket team will be back in Durban later this year to play a Test match beginning on Boxing Day. With that in mind I wanted to explore Durban and its surrounds a little more. What else is on offer to distract an England cricket fan if the Test match is not going so well?
My accommodation for this stay would be the Gooderson Tropicana Hotel. It is ideally placed overlooking the beach and the warm Indian Ocean. From my window I have great views of the beachfront and I can hear the waves breaking on the golden sand. The beach is a stones throw away and it’s a very short walk to bars and restaurants. The Golden mile promenade runs the length of the city beaches from south to north. There are public pools, a small cable car and many curio stalls all within easy walking distance. Early mornings are dominated by walkers, joggers and cyclists. One other notable presence on the walkways and beaches were the army of cleaners keeping everywhere litter free, clean and tidy.
Beyond the beach and in the ocean there are dozens of surfers waiting for, and then riding in, the ideal waves. I am not a surfer but admire these guys as they leap from the piers, paddle their boards out through the surf, then lay and wait for the perfect wave. Swimmers are also in the water in designated areas patrolled by lifeguards within the boundaries of shark nets. Future generations of life guards are being trained in the art of rescue. Surf skis and canoes are also popular in the warm surf. The sand has plenty of sun bathers with people of all ages on towels, in folding chairs and under umbrellas. There are children making simple sand castles and older sand sculptors creating works of art in the shape of some of Africa’s best known animals.
Before my arrival I had liaised with Durban tourism and had arranged for a guide to meet me and show me around. Zamani Shelembe met me at the Tropicana Hotel and after introductions, a smile, and a traditional Zulu handshake we set off. I had tweaked my suggested itinerary a few times and Zamani was both adaptable and extremely knowledgeable. We set off passing the last standing wall of the old prison now decorated with graffiti on our way to the city hall. The hall is very European and Zamani explained it was an exact copy of the Belfast city hall in Northern Ireland. Other tourists wandered around the statues and palm trees that surround the building. I noticed that Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ was playing at the city theatre and the building joining the theatre had the look of a building more suited to Stratford in England.
We walked through a big crowd of people sitting on steps waiting for some live entertainment to start in a scene reminiscent of Covent Garden in London. There seemed be a technical delay in proceedings so we carried on walking. Zamani pointed out many street vendors most of whom were trading illegally. We spoke to a lady cooking mealies (corn on the cob) over a fire on the pavement. She explained that she would be moved on but this is what she did. When I asked if I could photograph her she was reluctant. After some negotiation I agreed to pay her twenty Rands and she allowed me to point my camera at her. I always find it best to always ask someone before you take their photograph.
On our way to the Victoria Street Market we strolled through a major taxi rank where combi vans and people mixed at high speed. We were heading here to check out the famous shops selling spices. Durban has a large Indian population and I wanted to check out what was on offer. The shops are a mass of vibrant colours and smells. I resisted the mother-in-law hell fire blend but did stock up on a hot Durban curry mix, which was put together as I watched, along with a packet of blended lemon pepper spice. There are also curios, clothing and other food items on sale here. I had asked if I could visit the muthi market and Zamani had agreed to take me. Muthi is a word which means medicine and the Zulu people are great believers in the power of muthi. Under a heavy grey sky the market was intimidating and I was told before entering not to take any photographs. Make shift stalls were laden with bark, leaves and bushes. Men stood over giant pestle and mortars perched on smoky fires grinding herbal concoctions. There were animal parts to. I thought I recognised crocodile skin, monkeys and vultures. Zamani explained that some Zulu believe that certain parts of animals when used would cure ailments varying from impotency to skin disorders. Sangomas and inyanga trade here, the equivalent to our chemist and pharmacist, and play a big role in Zulu culture and the treating of many conditions.
From the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and markets we headed by car just beyond the city, through leafy suburbs, to the University of KZN. From here we get views down onto the port of Durban and our next destination Wilsons Wharf. On arrival at the Wharf we board a luxury yacht for our tour. Captain Richard acted as guide and there was nothing he did not know about the port. Durban is the biggest port in southern Africa and goods arrive here in the containerisation section destined for other countries including Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. There are sections devoted to the export of sugar and timber, two products mass produced in the province. We even passed Elizabeth Taylors old yacht which was in port for refurbishment. Captain Richard laughed and said he thought it had been there for twenty years!
Our last destination for the day was uShaka Marine World. For me Durban with this attraction now really does have something for everyone. I know that my family in KZN and in particular the young nieces and nephews have loved their days at uShaka. The park has water slides, rides and aquarium. Plus there are shark dive encounters, pools and lagoons for snorkelling. Importantly it is not just a tourist attraction, it’s a working research centre heavily involved in conservation. We had dinner in Moyo Restaurant over looking the beach and Indian Ocean. The menu like the portions was big. I settled for a mutton curry which was served in a traditional potjie pot and was accompanied by rice, bread and sambals. To finish the day on a high we took a short stroll to Moyo on the Pier to for a final beer. Here to the noise of breaking waves we reflected on a great day and everything Durban has to offer. From the all year round climate, its beaches and its sporting and family attractions. I might be back to watch the England cricket team at the end of the year knowing that if things do not go according to plan, there are plenty of other things to enjoy. I will definitely make more time for uShaka Marine World.