Sailing and Snorkeling Seychelles

St. Pierre Islet

Yesterday was an active but mellow day of sailing and exploring beaches and islands near Praslin. I joined a day tour beginning at 6 am with a drive to Cat Cocos ferry and an hour-long ride from Mahé to Praslin. On Praslin, we boarded a catamaran for a sailing adventure around inner islands.

Catamaran Oplezir

Sailing on Catamaran Oplezir

There were about 30 people aboard Creole Travel’s splendid 82 ft. sailing catamaran Oplezir. The group was mostly French, German, and Spanish tourists.

Giant Aldabra Tortoise

St. Pierre Islet

Sailing from Praslin to our first stop, St. Pierre Islet, took about an hour. St. Pierre is a small, picture-perfect island, but the current was too strong for snorkeling. We stopped for photos and continued to a calmer area where we spent an hour snorkeling in the warm, heavenly Indian Ocean!!  Where we snorkeled, the fish were disappointing, but we saw angelfish, a few striped, blue, and yellow schools, groupers, and sea bass scuttling along the bottom in the seaweed. The strong pull of the current was obvious.

Curieuse Beach

I snorkeled with a fun Spanish couple who were on a diving holiday and had been in Mauritius and the Comoros before Seychelles. They were disappointed in the fish and coral near Praslin, but thought Seychelles beaches were the most beautiful in the Indian Ocean.

Mangrove Forest Curieuse

Curieuse Island

Next, we sailed to Curieuse Island – fifth-largest inner island – to hike and visit giant Aldabra tortoises. The tortoises don’t swim, but roam freely throughout the island. They’re named for the place where they originated – Aldabra coral atoll – part of the outer islands. They’re friendly, loveable creatures that like to be touched. They can live to be 250 years old!

Colonial House Curieuse

We explored the flora and fauna, including magnificent coco de mer palms and mangrove forestsCoco de mer is a rare species of palm endemic to Praslin and Curieuse. It’s the subject of legends and folklore. The coco de mer nut is the “largest seed in the plant kingdom”.

Early Morning at Mahé Harbor

The hike was easy except for climbing a few boulders along uphill sections of the trail. The beaches, views, and vegetation were exceptional! Pointe Rouge, a coral garden off the eastern coast of Curieuse, is a popular diving spot.

“From 1833 until the mid-20th century, Curieuse Island was a quarantine station for lepers. Today, old ruins and the doctor’s house remain. The house is a French colonial building from the 1800s. Now, it’s a small museum and visitor’s centre.”

Palm Plums

Part of the hike was a boardwalk trail through a mangrove forest teeming with fiddler crabs, sea snails, geckos, skinks, palm spiders, and birds, including the elegant white-tailed tropicbird. A curious skink posed for us on a palm tree trunk.

Fiddler Crab

Palm Spider

Sea Snail

Aldabra Sea Snail

Skink

Reddish laterite soil characterizes the island and led French explorer Lazare Picault to name Curieuse “Ile Rouge”. The name changed to Curieuse (curious in English) in 1768, when a boat led by French explorer, Marc Jospeh Marion de Frense, claimed ownership of the island in the name of the French crown. Today, park rangers live on Curieuse.

Picturesque Swimming Beach

The hike led to Anse Josee Beach where we boarded Oplezir again for a Creole lunch prepared by the crew. The food was simple but healthy and delicious. We enjoyed it in good company surrounded by stunning scenery and turquoise water!

Palm Tree

Anse Georgette Beach Praslin

After lunch we cruised to nearby Anse Georgette Beach for a photo stop, more snorkeling, and a swim. Anse Georgette is known for its “untouched and natural, astounding beauty”.

Beach Scene

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“Anse Georgette’s incredible mix of gorgeous turquoise ocean water, pristine white sand, and incredible palm trees make for a truly jaw-dropping beach”.

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Oplezir Mast

Anse Georgette has excellent snorkeling, but the current can become unexpectedly strong, and there’s no protection from an offshore coral reef. When the surf came up, and our guides decided it was too dangerous to snorkel, so we sailed to a nearby beach. I was eager to enjoy more snorkeling but soon experienced a taste of the Indian Ocean’s power.

Enjoying Catamaran

I joined the Spanish couple again, and we swam toward an offshore rock formation near the beach. Mesmerized by the surroundings, I didn’t notice the surf on the way there, but later got pounded hard near the beach. Thankfully, I wasn’t near rocks. An older man had to be ferried back to the boat. I swam back with a swimsuit full of itchy sand – a small, humbling reminder of the sea’s all-encompassing power!

Chillin’ on the Way Back to Praslin

White-Tailed Tropicbird

Heading back to the ferry, we cruised Praslin’s north-east coast and saw a small pod of dolphins – too fast for photos. Many fell asleep on the forward trampolines hypnotized by the soothing, rocking motion of the boat. After an idyllic, satisfying day, I had a better understanding of life in the Seychelles – my home for the next three weeks!

Anse Georgette Beach

Guide with Coco de Mer Seeds

Victoria and Mahé Island Seychelles

Sunset Beach Mahé

At this point, no words describe Seychelles – different from any other place experienced! Durban is diverse with a subtropical climate, but the isolation, weather, and culture here are a drastic change. I spent the first few days befuddled and struggling to acclimate.

Mahé Cove

Seychelles Archipelago

The Seychelles is a remote archipelago of 115 tropical granite and coral islands in the Indian Ocean. It’s near the equator, northeast of Madagascar and 1,000 miles east of Kenya. Most of the islands are small and uninhabited.

Coco-de-Mer Seed

The archipelago includes 43 inner islands clustered around the three largest islands – Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue. The 72 “outer islands” are coralline cays, atolls, and reefs. Victoria is the capital and largest city in the Seychelles. It’s on Mahé, where 90 percent of the country’s 95,000 people live.

Map Seychelles

Diverse Population and Religions

The population is an eclectic mix of French, African, Indian, and Chinese immigrants. English and French are spoken but Seychellois Creole is the official language.

Harbor View Chez Lorna

As with the people, there’s a diversity of religions on the islands. Religion is an important part of life in the Seychelles, and Roman Catholicism is dominant. It’s practiced by over 90 percent of the population, but there are also Anglicans, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. Last Sunday, traffic on the main street in Victoria came to a standstill with hundreds of Catholics marching and praying.

Seychelles is a “melting pot” of the many people who settled the islands:

Carnivorous Pitcher Plant

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“Each wave of new residents contributed something unique to the remarkable blend of language, music, arts, and religion that characterizes the Seychelles.”

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Seychellois Children

Seychelles Politics

Seychelles is a young nation of 40 years with a “presidential republic“. The President of Seychelles since 2016, Danny Antoine Rollen Faure, is head of state and government in a multi-party system. The government and National Assembly share executive and legislative powers.

Black Parrot Seychelles National Bird

Have observed grumblings from locals who seem unhappy with the government, especially business people. Apparently, there’s abundant red tape for businesses, and the government adds a 15% tax to everything.

Cove Near Sunset Beach

Getting Around and Weather

For now, I’m living without a rental car, but the SPTC (Seychelles Public Transport Corporation) isn’t well-organized, and the buses are frustratingly erratic. None of them drive the steep hill to my accommodation. It’s a half mile to the main road – good exercise but in the heat….

St. Paul’s Cathedral Victoria

With the buses, you must know where you’re going, and I’m still learning the territory.  Bus stops are not marked with signage, and drivers don’t communicate well. A few times, I missed my mark by several miles. There isn’t abundant tourist support in Seychelles, so unless you’re staying at a fancy hotel, you’re on your own. If you’re adventurous and not rushed, the experience is interesting.

Scops Owl

I’m not in a hurry, and delays are a chance to mingle with the local people. Some of them are very shy. The hot, humid weather makes walking long distances difficult – at least until you adjust to the climate. I will be here through December and am considering a change in accommodation – another island or closer to the beach.

Michael Adams Victoria Botanical Garden

Seychelles accommodation is very expensive compared to South Africa. High import costs and operation expenses make prices in the Seychelles high for foreigners. Tourism is an important but unorganized industry. I’m learning again not to ask locals for directions – you get different info from each person, and it’s likely you may never get to your destination. Apps are helpful but in Seychelles, not 100% correct – maybe I’m using the wrong ones?

Beau Vallon Beach

Learned that Sunday is a day when nothing happens quickly, so it’s best to go with the flow and not follow a time schedule. Except for a few small markets and restaurants near the beaches, everything is closed on Sunday.

On Saturday, most shops shut down at noon – primarily a religious practice encouraged by the Catholic Church. This is the way South Africa was under the influence of the Dutch Reformed Church, but things changed significantly in the 90s.

Creole Buffet

Art and Activities

During the first few days I explored Victoria and Beau Vallon. Beau Vallon is a beautiful but touristy beach area, and Victoria a small bustling town with interesting people, art, and architecture. Most local artists have their own galleries. Michael Adams is one of my favorites.  He specialises in colorfast watercolors and silkscreen prints of people, land, and seascapes. Nigel Henri is a popular local artist whose acrylic paintings “decrypt the soul of Seychelles”.

Praslin Beach

I’m deciding which activities are best in this climate. It hasn’t been beach weather since my arrival – lots of warm, tropical rain. The weather is hot but nice in the Seychelles year-round. There is always rain. December is north-west winds monsoon season. You must forget your hair and makeup – it melts in minutes!

Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception

There are several national parks and interesting hikes through the small mountain on Morne Seychellois National Park. Exploring cloud forests with exotic orchids, rare endemic birds, palms like the coco de mer, and other tropical plants is appealing.

Vanda Orchid Mahé Seychelles

Val Riche-Copolia trail is said to pass a variety of interesting plant species like the carnivorous Pitcher Plant. I saw one years ago in Borneo, and watched it devour an insect lured by the flower and fatally trapped inside the “pitcher”.

Seychelles Gannet

In the heat and humidity, you must start hiking early – around 6 am. Sun this close to the Equator is fierce! I was told to expect my skin color to change before I leave the islands – without sunbathing…. Snorkeling is on the agenda and maybe some kayaking. They say swimming is dangerous because of heavy undertow. So far, I haven’t seen surfers, so maybe there is better surfing on other islands.

La Domus Catholic Priest Residence Victoria

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The cuisine that is uniquely Seychellois is a combination of flavours from African, French, Chinese, Indian, and English cooking. 

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Nigel Henri Seychellois Artist

The beaches have shark barriers, but I’ve read conflicting information about how effectively they protect swimmers. The sand is soft and clean with interesting boulders along the shoreline. The water is picture-perfect turquoise blue! I plan to visit Praslin and La Digue and some of the closer small islands but have not yet taken the ferries or ventured out on the ocean.

Marie-Antoinette Interior

Marie-Antoinette Creole Restaurant

Seychellois food is unique, and so far, my favorite restaurant is Marie-Antoinette, where they serve delicious authentic creole cuisine. I enjoyed a long, lingering lunch there last Saturday. Surprisingly, many of the restaurants on Mahé are expensive. Guess I got spoiled by the delicious, inexpensive food in South Africa.

Marie Antoinette Restaurant Victoria Mahé

At one time, Marie-Antoinette was a hotel built in “colonial style architecture with a high roof and polished wooden staircase”. The building dates to the 1800s. It became a national monument in 2011 and is home to the Livingstone Gallery, in honour of the late American adventurer, Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley stayed there often during the 1870s and named his accommodation Livingstone Cottage, after Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary presumed lost in Africa.

Some of the Creole dishes on Marie Antoinette’s menu include golden apple and pumpkin chutney, fish stew, chicken curry, aubergine fritters, and an unforgettable spicy mango salad. There’s a beautiful flower and spice garden surrounding the gorgeous building.

Seychelles Internet is slow and dicey, but more later, when possible…

Durban Beaches, Verulam, and Gandhi

Durban Skyline from Coco Beach Promenade

Durban’s beaches are fascinating and beautiful. I’ve been exploring but haven’t found a “favorite” beach yet. November weather is volatile and windy – clear in the high 80s one day, rainy 60s to 70s the next. The storms are proper deluges with violent cracking thunder and lightning. Like Oregon, in less than an hour, skies can change from blue to menacing grey, black, and white. I fell asleep at Uhmlanga Rocks and woke up to wild dark skies –  followed by heavy rain.

Coco Beach Sky

Except for Istanbul, I’ve never seen so many tankers in a harbor! At all times, there are 30 or more waiting to enter the bustling shipyards.

Tankers Near Umhlanga Rocks Beach

Durban Beaches

So far, the beaches are my favorite Durban experience. Nothing compares to Cape Town’s magnificent Table Mountain. Haven’t explored Durban’s arts world except for a Philharmonic concert and a few museums and galleries.

Animals and nature are a big part of South Africa. I want to visit more game reserves in the area, many only a few hours away.

Beachgoers Ansteys Beach

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“The year 2014 marks a hundred years since Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa for good after spending his formative years in this country, where he developed his philosophy of satyagraha, a form of active yet peaceful resistance to political injustices.”

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Methodist Church Verulam

I’m trying to understand Durban’s suburbs and districts. Planned to hike in a nearby nature reserve on Sunday and arrived to find zero cars in the parking area. Burman Bush is part of Durban’s municipal Open Space System. It’s a gorgeous 180-acre coastal forest reserve in the heart of Morningside neighborhood. As I was putting on my daypack, noticed a homeless encampment in the bushes and several threatening-looking people. Decided to change plans. It’s sad that there are dangerous areas.

Ballito Beachgoer

Verulam Churches, Hindu Temples, and Mosques

Got lost in a small town called Verulam. Verulam was settled in 1850 by British Methodists. The town was named after the Earl of Verulam, patron of the Brits who settled there.

One Verulam street is named after George Sewpersadh, an Indian political activist. There’s an old neglected but interesting Methodist church near the courthouse. It’s said to be one of the oldest churches in KwaZulu Natal. A local man told me there were plans in the works to restore it as a historical monument.

Vendor Umhlanga Rocks Beach

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“The Muslim community played a major role in the history of Verulam. Sunni Mosque is in central Verulam on Wick Street, with palm trees in the front that are over 80 years old.”

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Sunni Mosque Verulam

Verulam is also home to Sri Gopalall Hindu Temple which opened in 1913 by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi spent his formative years in South Africa. Nearby Gayathri Peedam is the only Hindu temple in Africa that houses two full figure Gayathri Murthis.

Umhlanga Rocks Beach

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“By capitalism I just want to make this one point. From the beginning of time we have had social changes. Power concentrated in a few hands leads to exploitation and abuse and wrongdoing. The whole basis of change is to get more and more people involved in the sharing of power.” 

George Sewpersadh

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Methodist Church Veralum

I’m sorting through my luggage to leave behind excess and take only what’s necessary to the Seychelles. I’ll be arriving on Mahé Island December 1 to thunderstorms and temperatures in the mid-80s!

More later…

Umgeni River Bird Park

Harlequin Macaw

Cape Parrot

Rose-Ringed Parakeet

This week I discovered one of Durban’s hidden treasures, Umgeni Bird Park. The beautiful park is near the Umgeni River and has walk-through aviaries, birds on perches, wonderful green vegetation, waterfalls, and rock faces.

Endangered Mabula Ground Hornbill

Mute Swan

Wattled Crane

Lady Amherst Pheasant

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 school children visiting.

Cockatoo

Toucan

South African Crowned Crane

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.”

South African Blue Heron

Peacock

“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 common house pets.”

Flamingos

Sun Parakeet

Pheasant

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

Kookaburra

Scarlet Ibis

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

Beaches, Beaches, Beaches…

Durban is one looooong beach, not to mention those in nearby Ballito on 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, body boarding, and kite surfing locations near the bluff overlooking Durban Harbor:

West Street Cemetery

Neighborhoods, Townships, Suburbs

The Durban City Tour began at the beach along The Golden Mile and proceeded through some of Durban’s major areas:

Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouse

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

Station Drive Precinct – once a “no go” neighborhood near city centre – was transformed into a “hip” area where “light industrial meets residential”.

Durban Cityscape

There are craft breweries, restaurants, and clothing designers. Morning Trade Market is held every Sunday. Station Drive “collaborative-style work spaces” are becoming popular all over Durban. The Foundry includes a renovated clothing factory which is “a creative hub with floors of workshops, studios, and offices”.

Station Drive Project

Rivertown District, an “inner-city revival project, reignited neglected spaces in the central business district”. Formerly a warehouse, 8 Morrison Street has innovative “office pods” with flexible workspaces. It’s a creative hub for 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. This leafy street has restored Victorian and Edwardian buildings, and a variety of restaurants, pubs, coffee houses, art galleries, and shops.

Morningside is also home to The African Art Centre and Burman Bush Nature Reserve. Burman Bush is 136 acres of indigenous forest along the Umgeni River. It’s a great place to explore the local flora and fauna. Another nature reserve near the Umgeni River is the La Lucia and Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve, an excellent place for trail walking. Virginia Bush Nature Reserve and Giba Gorge are also on my hiking list.

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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Juma Masjid Mosque

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

North Beach

Glenwood is a “quietly cool” suburb overlooking Durban harbor. It has 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.

Umlazi Township

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

Inanda is known for its Heritage Trail and being the home of:

 

KwaMashu Township

Seychelles Next

Leaving Durban December 1 for the Seychelles Mahé Island, but will be back again in January 2018. Although I’ve spent almost a month here in Durban, 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, never boring – steaming hot one day, cool and stormy with wild skies, thunder and lightning the next. I’ll have refined my Durban “must see” list when I return in January, and am looking forward to more exploration then. During December, I’m prepared to become a Seychelles beach bum!

 

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