Umgeni River Bird Park

This week, I found Umgeni Bird Park, just a few minutes from my accommodation. It’s one of Durban’s hidden treasures. The park along the Umgeni River has walk-through aviaries, birds on perches, wonderful green vegetation, waterfalls, and rock faces.

The Free Flight Bird Show features “endangered and critically endangered species like the Wattled Crane, owls, storks, hornbills, and a Cape Vulture doing what they do in the wild in free, unrestricted flight”. The park emphasizes conservation and education, and there were several groups of school children visiting.

The Park was designed and built by Dr. Alan Abrey. It’s in a river quarry that he visited as a boy growing up in Durban. “After a year of extensive land filling, landscaping, and aviary construction, the Umgeni River Bird Park opened in April 1984.”

“The park is situated on 9 acres of lush tropical landscaping and houses an ever-increasing collection of more than 800 birds from 200 species. Some species are endemic to South Africa, others are the only representatives of their kind in Africa, and some are kept as pets.”

It was an informative afternoon. The birds were very vocal and cooperative posing for photos. When feeding time comes, you need ear plugs!

Durban Neighborhoods and Beaches

Durban’s Golden Mile

Durban and its surrounding areas have hundreds of neighborhoods, townships, villages, suburbs, and beaches. The population is about 3.5 million. Yesterday, I joined a city tour of Durban’s more notable attractions. It was difficult taking photos in a bumpy moving vehicle – maybe after 8 months of travel, I’m becoming a bit weary…

Durban City Center

City Hall

City Hall

Central Durban has interesting museums, monuments, markets, galleries, and theaters. Political and historical sites provide detail about Zulu ancestry and the apartheid era. My favorite building, City Hall, is a magnificent Edwardian neo-baroque structure!

Moses Mabhida Stadium from Morningside

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“The most prominent part of Durban is called The Golden Mile, a stretch of beach where sunbathers, surfers, and bodybuilders gather.”

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Dolphin Coast

Ballito Beach

Beaches, Beaches, Beaches…

Durban is one looooong beach, not to mention those in nearby Ballito and the Dolphin Coast. a playground for bottlenose dolphins. These are a few of the most popular beaches along the Golden Mile:

Durban Skyline

These beaches are popular surfing locations overlooking Durban Harbor:

Old West Street Cemetery

Neighborhoods, Districts, Townships, Suburbs

The Durban City Tour begins at North Beach along The Golden Mile and proceeds through some of Durban’s close-in districts:

Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouse

Today, some of Durban’s most popular “in places” include:

Station Drive Precinctonce a “no go” neighborhood near city center, transformed into a “hip” area where “light industrial meets residential”. There are craft breweries, restaurants, clothing designers, and a popular Sunday Trade Market.

Busy Durban Shipyards

Station Drive’s “collaborative-style work spaces” are becoming popular in Durban. The Foundry includes a renovated clothing factory which is “a creative hub consisting of floors of workshops, studios, and offices”.

Station Drive Project

Rivertown District, an “inner-city revival project, reignited neglected spaces in the central business district”. A former warehouse, 8 Morrison Street, now has innovative “office pods” with flexible workspaces.

Umhlanga Rocks

It’s a hub for business startups, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and photographers. The district hosts a monthly food and craft market. Rivertown Shed and Beerhall is a popular venue for bands, openings, conferences, and creative competitions.

Rivertown Graffiti

Morningside is one of my favorite neighborhoods. It’s near the beaches and known for “hip” Florida Road. The street has fabulous restored Victorian and Edwardian buildings and an eclectic variety of restaurants, pubs, coffee houses, art galleries, and shops.

Morningside is also home to The African Art Centre and Burman Bush Nature Reserve, 136 acres of indigenous forest along the Umgeni River. Other trail walking areas and nature reserves near Umgeni include:

Morningside Architecture

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“Since the 2010 World Cup, areas in and around Durban central have undergone significant urban regeneration.”

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Jumma Masjid Mosque – Largest Mosque in Africa

North Beach is a popular area with “its own atmosphere, including the smells of sea salt, tikka cooking at Pakistani restaurants, and pineapples from vendors along the ocean”. There are shops and restaurants, a skate park, and a seaside promenade running from Moses Mabhida Stadium to UShaka Marine World.

North Beach

Glenwood is a pretty, “quietly cool” suburb overlooking Durban harbor. It’s known for famous eating spots like the Glenwood Bakery, art galleries, and “graffiti so cool the area has its own curated graffiti tours”.

Glenwood Bed and Breakfast

Umhlanga Rocks is the “upmarket” part of Durban. It’s a holiday village filled with pricey hotels, a beach promenade, lighthouse, and a mix of Durban’s best restaurants.

Durban Manor House

Umlazi Township

Townships are the “cultural soul” of South Africa. Durban’s largest townships include Umlazi, Inanda, and KwaMashu. KwaMashu is known for its “lively performing arts scene – Maskandihip hop, pansula dancing, drama, and football (soccer)”. The township has a community radio station and eKhaya Multi Arts Centre for Arts and Performance.

KwaMashu Township

Inanda is known as the home of John Langalibalele Dube, first president of the African National Congress (ANC), a residence/base for Mahatma Gandhi’s operations, and birthplace of the syncretic Nazareth Baptist Church.

Inanda Township

Seychelles Mahé Island

I leave Durban December 1 for the Seychelles but will be back again in January 2018. Although I’ve spent almost a month here, it seems like I’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s much more to learn about the area. It takes time to understand a new place – at least it does for me. The tropical climate and weather have been volatile but never boring – steaming hot one day and cool and stormy with wild skies, thunder and lightning the next. I’ll have refined my “must see” list when I return in January and am looking forward to more exploration.

Zulu Valley of 1000 Hills

Valley of 1000 Hills

I got lost on the drive to Valley of 1000 Hills, but had a fun side trip in Kloof. The Valley of 1000 Hills is named for the cliffs rising above the Umgeni River as it flows from the Drakensberg Mountains to the Indian Ocean. The valley’s temperate climate is home to the Zulu People, colorful birds, wildebeest, impala, blesbok, zebra, and giraffe.

Zulu Wood Carving

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“When Europeans arrived at the Port of Natal in 1825, the Valley of 1000 Hills was a remote area teeming with birds and game. Leopards occasionally spent the night on the veranda of the Field homestead in what is now the town of Kloof.”

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Zulu Art

A wagon route opened between Durban and the Transvaal interior. After gold was discovered in the 1880s, a railway line was built to link the goldfields with Port Natal.

Isibindi Zulu Lodge

Zulus live in the Umgeni and Shongweni Valleys near the Inanda Dam. They maintain a traditional lifestyle and “their colourful ceremonies and expressive, artistic culture give the area a vibrant atmosphere and creative energy.”

PheZulu Safari Park offers cultural shows and traditional Zulu dancing. Visitors enjoy game drives, shop for local curios, and explore a crocodile / snake park.” If you do nothing but sip espresso at a café, views of the Valley are always phenomenal!

Inanda Dam Umgeni River

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Zulu villages in the Valley include hiking and mountain biking trails for visitors.

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Zulu woman in Traditional Clothes

Zulu BangleiSithumba is an authentic Zulu village in the Valley with a network of hiking and biking trails that allow visitors to explore the river, forests, and hills. I visited today and will return to hike in the uMngeni River and Nature Reserve between iSithumba and Inanda Dam.

Zulu Village

Birds were elusive, but I’ve attached some beautiful professional shots.

Durban Botanic Gardens

Feeding Egyptian Geese

Yesterday I visited Durban’s subtropical botanical garden – the most beautiful in the world, for eyes and nose! A guide, Krishna, educated me about the trees, plants, and birds. Many of the “proper” names are long, so I took photos. The exquisite plants take your breath away and divine fragrances fill the air – orchid, lemongrass, jasmine….

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“The Garden maintains indigenous plant collections from the sub-tropics, characterized by majestic trees dominating the landscape.”
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Orchids

As Africa’s oldest surviving botanic garden and Durban’s oldest public institution, the Durban Botanic Gardens cover 30 lush acres. The Garden is famous for a collection of rare South African Cycads.

Duck Family

Vervet Monkeys

Tree Frog New Guinea Kamerere

Turtle

Bird in Nest in Lotus Leaves

History and Background

British Colonists developed the Garden in 1849 as a “botanic station for agricultural crops”. Today it’s part of a network of international botanic gardens focusing on “biodiversity, education, heritage, research, horticultural, and green innovation“.

Ibis aka Hadeda

One focus is conserving threatened plant collections like cycads and palms.

Branches New Guinea Kamerere

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The Garden is home to the “original specimen of a Cycad widely acknowledged as the rarest plant in the world”.

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Highlights and Collections

The main plant collections are, orchids, bromeliads, cycads, and palms.

  • Orchid House – first “naturalistic” orchid collection with Cattleya, Dendrobium, Vanda, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Miltonia
  • Cycads and Palms – rarest collection in the world
  • Natal Herbarium – specimens of dried, pressed, and catalogued plants
  • Charity Tea Garden – teas and refreshments for visitors
  • Sensory Garden for the Blind
  • Heritage Trees – rare majestic species over 100 years old
  • Education – permaculture courses, lectures, horticultural library
  • Botanical Research Unit – researching indigenous flora
  • Durban University Horticulture Department – work with students
  • Green Innovation – focus on Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)

Red Bishop on Lotus

On the way home I discovered Château Gâteaux, a South African pâtisserie with great espresso and tempting sweets. The fudge-picasso white chocolate mousse is ;)!

Fudge-Picasso Château Gâteaux

KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic at City Hall

Durban City Hall

Last night I attended a KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Philharmonic performance conducted by Daniel Boico. The venue was historic Durban City Hall, and it was an exciting evening of beautiful music and singing!

KZN Philharmonic and Clermont Choir

People warn that it’s not safe in central Durban at night, but the area had security and was well lighted. The historic old buildings looked beautiful. Before and after the philharmonic performance, Zulu and belly dancers performed in the upper and lower mezzanines.

Daniel Boico Conductor KZN Philharmonic

KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Philharmonic Orchestra

The orchestra beautifully performed three compositions:

The Clermont Community Choir and soloists enhanced the performance:

Durban City Hall at Night

The performers all have impressive histories. The Clermont Community Choir, managed by Wiseman Mkhize, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The 85-member Choir is the “undefeated champions at the famous prestigious Old Mutual National Choir Festival.” The Choir specializes in “different music genres with a special focus on choral, opera, classical, and African Indigenous music”. Members vary from scholars, students, and workers to employment-seekers.

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Durban recently became the first city in South Africa and on the African continent to become a UNESCO World City of Literature in 2018.

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Old Durban Railway Station

Mayor, Zandile Gumede, spoke and congratulated the choir not only for their 25 years of music but also for being Durban ambassadors. During Nelson Mandela International Day in 2013, the choir represented South Africa on a tour with the KZN Philharmonic in France.  Mandela loved the choir. They helped soothe grief-stricken South Africans by singing at his funeral.

Talented cellist Atistide du Plessis has won many prizes and performed in Zürich, Vienna, Munich, and Berlin. Du Plessis is co-principal cellist with the Philharmonic.

Mayor of eThekwini Municipality Zandile Gumede

Associate guest conductor Daniel Boico has produced performances all over the world, including the US, Europe, Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. He was Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic 2009-2011 and apprentice conductor to former Chicago Symphony Music Director Daniel Barenboim.

Aristide du Plessis Cellist

Durban City Hall

City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in Durban. Built in 1910 and designed by architect Stanley Hudson, it “boasts a distinctly dramatic Neo-Baroque style”. The building is described as an “exaggerated structure that oozes grandeur and elegance”. It’s stunning, especially at night.

KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic

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City Hall is “bedecked with sculptures that represent different facets of modern South Africa”.

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Siphokazi Maphumulo Mezzo-Soprano

Like Cape Town, Durban’s City Hall houses many cultural venues:

Sbongile Mtambo Soprano

City Hall is “more than a remnant of the architecture of old. It provides modern residents and international visitors with practical resources and a fascinating context”.

Mthunzi Nokubeka Bass

Thando Mjandana Tenor

City Hall sculptures represent the Arts, Music, Literature, Commerce, and Industry. The building is in central Durban near the Royal HotelDurban Playhouse, and other key attractions:

Medwood Gardens

uShaka Marine World Durban

Dolphin Show Sea World

uShaka Marine World is a happy, fun experience in a special, relaxed environment. Magnificent sea animals create the atmosphere and are clearly the stars!

The largest aquarium in the “southern hemisphere,” Marine World opened in 2004 and easily became a major attraction for both tourists and South Africans.

Shipwreck

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Underground viewing galleries extend through a series of “four superbly designed old shipwrecks”.

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Whale Skeleton Inside Shipwreck

The park has 6 themed sections:

  • Wet ‘N Wild – freshwater with tubes, slides, swimming pools, and rafting courses
  • Sea World – dolphin, seal, and penguin shows, shark dives, and a Sea Animal Encounters Island / Lagoon where visitors snorkel and meet dolphins and seals in the water, face to face
  • Village Walk – an open-air shopping mall with fantastic restaurants
  • Kids World – Africa’s biggest jungle gym, a sandpit, painting paradise, live shows, and a kiddie spa
  • Dangerous Creatures – real and life-sized artist reproductions of reptiles – including poisonous frogs, venomous Gila monsters, a cobra, goliath bullfrogs, tree vipers, Taipan snakes, and a rare Tegu lizard
  • Chimp and Zee – a child-friendly rope adventure park “with the longest belay system in Africa” and a double zip line over the snorkel lagoon

I spent most of the day in Sea World thoroughly enjoying the dolphins, Cape fur seals, and African penguins. The animals are brilliant, happy, and healthy. They’re clearly loved and well cared for. During each show, staff discuss current environmental challenges facing sea animals, encouraging respect for the sea and its creatures.

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“Aquarium displays represent the natural habitat of sea creatures and depict a story that ties in with the Phantom Ship theme.”

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Dolphin and seal shows are performed in impressive open-air stadiums. The popular performances include interaction with the audience.

Eleven gorgeous Cape fur seals delighted their audience – Spungie, Mobi, Thembeka, Tee, Mullet, Moya, Daisy, Jabu, Hlabhayi, Dozy, and Illanga. Seemingly natural-born entertainers, seals are especially adept at entertaining and hamming it up.

Ten incredible, loveable dolphins performed during the Dolphin Show – Gambit, Frodo, Khethise, Kelpie, Kwezi, Ingelosi, Tombi, Khanya, Affrika, Zulu! Their antics and sounds were fascinating.

Each animal at uShaka Marine World is unique and has an individual story. Many were rescued and nursed back to health. If possible, all will be released back into the wild.

uShaka Marine World Aquarium

Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve

Hluhluwe Imfolozi Vista

This week, I shared a game drive in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve with a couple from Oakland. It was their first visit to South Africa and first game drive. We were in awe of the animals and happy to be in a covered safari vehicle. It was a cool, windy day, and tourists huddled in open trucks were shivering.

Nyala

Hluhluwe is a beautiful reserve <=> 3 hours north of Durban in ZululandKwaZulu Natal. The landscape is stunning, and its forests, thickets, woodlands, and rivers are a haven for birds and game. Timber, sugar-cane, and pineapples are grown in the area.

Impala

Buffalo

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…every day rhino and elephant are under siege by relentless poachers…

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Lone Elephant

In 1895, British colonists declared Hluhluwe (pronounced SLOO SLOO WE in Zulu) a protected wildlife sanctuary. The reserve covers 370 square miles and includes the big five – elephant, leopard, lion, rhinoceros, and buffalo. The “Big Five are considered the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot”.  Hluhluwe once was the “exclusive hunting domain of Zulu kings, including legendary King Shaka“.

Nyala in Background

Warthog

We saw small game, large antelope, zebra, buffalo, elephant, and an elusive rhinoceros, but no wild dog, leopard, hyena, hippo, cheetah, or lion. It was the first time I’ve seen Nyala – a gorgeous animal native to South Africa!

Elephants Grazing at Hluhluwe Imfolozi

Game drives are always hit or miss, and I was happy to see smaller animals that were evasive during a two-month safari last year. Warthogs in Hluhluwe were abundant and came close to our vehicle. From my experiences in East Africa, as soon as they saw a safari vehicle, they ran away in a tiz with their little tails high in the air.

Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve Vista

Bushbuck

During Hluhluwe’s early years, the world’s white rhino population increased from an endangered 20 in the world, to and astonishing 100. “By 1960, rhino numbers improved so drastically that the Natal Parks Board relocated some of the animals to protected areas outside the reserve.”

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“Today, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is home to the largest populations of rhino in Africa, about 1,600 white rhino and 450 black rhino. Many African reserves restock their rhino population from this gene pool.”

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Shockingly, rhino and elephant are always under siege by relentless poachers. Poaching is a serious crime and a continuing problem. Poachers are severely punished and rangers patrol parks and reserves 24/7.

Vulture

After 7 pm, only vehicles with special permits can drive inside the reserve. After that hour, rangers have the right to shoot (without question) humans in the park. During the day, visitors are allowed out of their vehicles at certain points only – this rule is strictly followed for the safety and well-being of humans and game.

White Rhino

Grazing Plains Zebra

I’m learning a new Canon digital camera and took only a few photos during the drive. Still missing the broken Sony… It was a memorable, educational day at Hluhluwe – good company and time well spent!

Leopard Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve