Durban Botanic Gardens

Feeding Egyptian Geese

Yesterday I visited Durban’s subtropical botanical gardens – the most beautiful in the world, for both eyes and nose! Public admission is free, and I hired a guide, Krishna, to educate me about the trees, plants, and birds. Many of the “proper” names are too long, but I took lots of photos. The exquisite plants take your breath away and the many fragrances in the air are divine!

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“The Garden maintains indigenous, exotic plant collections from the sub-tropics, characterized by majestic trees that dominate 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 South African Cycads.

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

“The Garden has indigenous, exotic plant collections from the sub-tropics characterized by majestic trees that dominate the landscape. Garden responsibilities include conserving threatened plant collections such as cycads and palms.”

Branches New Guinea Kamerere

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

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Highlights and Collections

Main plant collections are, orchids, bromeliads, cycads, and palms.

  • Orchid House – first “naturalistic” orchid display house with Cattleya, Dendrobium, Vanda, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Miltonia collections
  • 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, many over 100 years old
  • Education – school programs, permaculture courses, public lectures, horticultural library
  • Botanical Research Unit – researches indigenous flora
  • Durban University of Technology 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 Gateaux, a pâtisserie with great espresso and an array of sweets sure to tempt anyone.

Fudge-Picasso Chateau Gateaux

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

Tsitsikamma and Transkei

Plettenberg Bay

The drive from Hermanus to KwaZulu-Natal was an adventure! I underestimated it, got lost during side excursions, and was challenged every day. The N2 is the “safe” route, but for most of the journey, there’s no median separating opposing traffic. You face the onslaught of erratic oncoming traffic, including drivers passing slower vehicles, and swerving trucks loosely piled with goods.

Before Tsitsikamma Hike

I quickly learned that “leisurely” side trips would be a luxury. Driving solo required constant focus and full concentration. I broke my rule of no advance bookings – a mistake that added stress to getting from point to point by a certain date.

Tsitsikamma Vista

Treacherous Rural Roads

Unpaved side roads in the Transkei and Wild Coast were dangerous and rough. Chaos in the villages and unexpected people, cattle, potholes, and debris popped up everywhere, sometimes scarring me out of my wits! Seeing small children crossing the road near curves with poor visibility was unsettling! I drove slowly and carefully but almost hit a pig, goat, and cow. Undaunted by honking cars, Transkei cattle graze oblivious to automobiles. Some describe them as “beach bums” – wish they’d spend more time on the beach and less on the road!

Thesen Islands Knysna

In between small towns like Mossel Bay, George, Knysna, and Port Alfred, this part of South Africa consists of rugged coastline, rural African villages, and grazing cattle. Both animals and humans randomly walk in and cross the highways. Large speed bumps are strategically (??) placed throughout for traffic control. The bumps are poorly marked, and they could do damage.

Grahamstown Architecture

Speed bumps must be the best way available to protect people and animals and ensure that reckless drivers slow down. Along these stretches of road, sometimes it’s necessary to drive at 5 – 10 mph to pass over rows of substantial bumps. A few times thought I’d damaged the rental car by not slowing down enough in advance. Driving at night would be crazy, as there is no light except for headlights, the stars and moon.

Tsitsikamma Forest

During the drive, I learned South African “rules of the road” and toward the end, became more confident. The length of the entire drive was roughly like driving slowly from the Oregon coast to Chicago.

Coffee Bay Beach

Knysna, Harkerville, and Plettenberg Bay

Scenic Knysna is a popular holiday destination. The few days I spent there were plagued with wild weather and heavy rain, prohibiting prolonged outdoor activities. With drought, the needed rain was welcome.

Tsitsikamma Vista

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“….. a set of circumstances triggered a disastrous wildfire of unprecedented proportions in Sedgefield-Knysna-Plettenberg Bay…..”

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Knysna is a tourist town with craft shops, restaurants, and cafés. Popular attractions include Woodmill Lane – the historical timber factory, the waterfront / yacht harbor, and Thesen Islands – a modern marina development linked to the mainland by a causeway and bridges.

Masescha View

Thesen Islands include “19 man-made islands linked by arched bridges and surrounded by tidal waterways”. A separate island has houses and apartments in Dutch colonial maritime style.

Coffee Bay

In June, Knysna suffered a devastating forest fire. “A set of circumstances triggered a disastrous wildfire of unprecedented proportions in the Sedgefield-Knysna-Plettenberg Bay area. The wildfire consumed vast areas of commercial plantations, and lives were lost. It caused billions of Rands in damage to properties and infrastructure and was the largest fire disaster in South Africa in modern times.”

Masescha Butterfly Courtesy of Celia Lily

I enjoyed the diverse, eclectic atmosphere in Knysna and interacting with locals. Not being able to explore more of the recreational areas was disappointing. In the heart of the small town, I noticed homeless people and panhandling addicts.

Blue Duiker

Next stop was Harkerville, a small settlement in the Eden District on the outskirts of Plettenberg Bay. I spent the night in a rustic cottage – Masescha Country Estate. The birds and exquisite natural beauty of the area were captivating, but getting there was a challenge. A British couple – Ray and Angie – purchased Masescha about 13 years ago. The name is a Hebrew word meaning “hidden”. The entrance is a few miles down a rough, unpaved road which was muddy after recent rains.

That night I had dinner at an African restaurant – Zinzi – meaning an abundance in Swahili. It was near Masescha, but when returning in the pitch-black night, I got hopelessly lost. The turnoff is marked, but the sign is only visible in daylight, as there are no streetlights. I left the GPS with latitude and longitude coordinates at the cottage, thinking it would be easy to find my way home. It was a terrifying experience as I pulled to the side while fast-moving trucks barreled down the highway almost grazing my car. After several tries, I found the entrance and my way back.

Dieu-Donneé River Lodge

Harkerville forest is an indigenous paradise where “the smallest creatures have right of way”. Interestingly it also includes “the remnants of an experimental plantation of Californian redwoods, planted in 1925”.

Transkei Cattle Christopher Rimmer

I stopped in Plettenberg Bay, another popular area along the Garden Route. “Plett” is built on a hillside near the border of the Western and Eastern Cape. There are spectacular views of the bay and mountains.

Masescha Treetops

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Plettenberg Bay is known for dolphin pods playing in its warm coastal waters.

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“For a South African town, Plettenberg Bay has a long history. Portuguese explorers first visited during the 15th and 16th centuries.” Shipwrecks, Cape Dutch architecture, and historical relics like the Old Rectory, built by the Dutch East India Trading Company, are points of interest. Plettenberg Bay is known for beautiful pristine beaches and dolphin pods playing in its warm coastal waters.

King Protea Tsitsikamma

Hiking Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail

In late October, I began a short hike along the Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail. It was a fantastic wilderness experience walking through forests, mountain fynbos, and gorges, and traversing rivers and mountain streams. The hike began in Nature’s Valley and included from 2 to 6 days. I opted to join in the middle for 3 days.

Wild Coast

“Along the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail little contact is made with the outside world. Baboon, vervet monkey, caracal, honey badger, large-spotted genet, bushpig, and bushbuck are often found along the route and at overnight huts. Leopard, serval, and blue duiker also occur, but are seldom seen.”

Forest Buzzard

Tsitsikamma’s forest habitat is ideal for South Africa’s “lesser-seen bird species” – Rameron pigeon, Narina trogon, Sombre bulbul, forest buzzard, sunbirds, and flycatchers. The “fynbos harbors elusive endemics such as Victorin’s warbler, protea canary, and the Cape siskin“. We heard and saw many birds but never spotted their nests. One person in the group was good with bird calls, and the birds responded.

Masescha Birdsong Lodge

We heard, but did not see animals, including the remains and sleeping nests of baboons who often come out of the dense forest using the hiking trails to move quickly. The baboons made warning calls as hikers approached, but I never saw them. At one point I became separated from the group and wondered if the baboons were eyeing me from the bushes!

Cape Siskin

My group included 12 strong, experienced hikers – all South African. The hiking was challenging, and for me, it would have been difficult carrying a heavy backpack. I hiked with a day pack and hired a porter to move my gear between overnight huts.

Bushpig

The other hikers were from the Cape Town area. We had interesting evening conversations and shared facilities with another group of about 14 Indian businessmen and their cook. The cook prepared incredible campfire meals which were generously shared with everyone. There were two separate sleeping huts with 6 – 7 three-high bunk beds in each. There was no electricity.

Zinzi African Restaurant Harkerville

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“Along the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail little contact is made with the outside world. Baboon, vervet monkey, caracal, honey badger, spotted genet, bushpig, and bushbuck are found along the route and at overnight huts.”

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Transkei Cattle

More difficult than the hiking was sleeping in a small room of heavy snorers… There were several Muslims in our group who were up each morning around 4 am for prayers. Dawn prayers – salat al-fajr – begin before sunrise. In such close quarters, their early rising awakened everyone. The lack of sleep affected my hiking ability, but I’m grateful for the experience. The magnificent scenery was worth any discomfort!

Transkei Cattle

During the hike my new lightweight Sony camera malfunctioned… I took a few iPhone photos and others in the group agreed to email theirs. The camera has a flashing error message that refuses to disappear. After checking online and visiting camera shops in Durban, I discovered there are no Sony dealers in South Africa. Guess I will send the Sony in for repair and purchase another camera. I have several more months of travel before returning to the US and will sorely miss the light little camera.

Tsitsikamma River

Grahamstown and Coffee Bay

After the Tsitsikamma hike I drove to Grahamstown, where they were experiencing a power outage – common in South Africa. A much-needed shower and comfortable bed were on my simple agenda, and I slept well!

Narina Trogon

Originally, I wanted to stop at Addo Elephant Park en route to Durban. I gave it up after discovering the popular park was 100% booked for the foreseeable future.

Tsitsikamma Hikers

Grahamstown is between Port Elizabeth and Port Alfred. It’s home to Rhodes University and South Africa’s National Arts Festival. Originally, the town was a small military outpost established to secure the eastern frontier of the British Empire’s Cape Colony. Grahamstown was once the second largest city in the Cape.

Sombre Bulbul

Grahamstown’s streets are wide with many trees, historical museums, and churches. It’s part of one of the “most diverse ecological regions in South Africa” and intersects “four different climatic zones”. The weather is wild and unpredictable.

Serval

Decided to take another side trip to Coffee Bay. I misjudged how long it would take to drive from point to point and didn’t know what was in store in such an isolated rural area! If I thought previous roads were wrought with cattle, humans, and debris – this stretch of territory made them look like child’s play! At one point, I almost gave up, but turning around seemed the coward’s way out, and I had already come so far…

Wild Coast Map

Coffee Bay is a small town – population of about 200. It’s situated on the Wild Coast in Eastern Cape Province about 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of Durban. The town is named after “hundreds of coffee trees which grew from beans either scattered by a shipwreck or by plunderers”. It’s along the “Wild Coast” which is appropriately named!

Tsitsikamma Sleeping Hut

Coffee Bay is a popular backpacking location. Backpackers hike there from Port St. Johns. I stayed overnight in a small rustic cottage called Seaview Cottage at Coram Deo. By the time I arrived it was almost dark, so I couldn’t see much. When I booked, the owner set me up with a local manager who was to provide keys and take me to the cottage. I had trouble connecting but we finally met. The manager, Julie, showed me to the cottage which was on a hill overlooking the coast.

Resting Hikers

I was hungry and asked if there were any restaurants nearby. Julie invited me to join a birthday party at a small restaurant down the street and explained how to walk there from the cottage in pitch dark. It sounded like fun.

Tsitsikamma

After taking a few wrong turns and meeting cattle, dogs, and locals on dark unpaved side streets, I arrived to join about 30 people and a few dogs at a rustic outdoor restaurant – hippies one and all. They were celebrating, drinking wine and beer, smoking pot, and eating fish and meat – no other dishes served. I enjoyed partying and talking with them. There were several Africans from the village who were shy but warmed up as the evening lingered. Some of the Coffee Bay locals I met sponsored orphanages and preschools. Many Coffee Bay children became orphans when their parents died of HIV/AIDs.

Later, I stumbled back to the cottage in the dark and collapsed into my bed.

View from Seaview Cottage at Coram Deo

Port Shepstone and Southport

The next day I drove to Port Shepstone – no cattle or people crossing the highway, but it took longer than expected and I arrived after dark. Port Shepstone is named for Sir Theophilus Shepstone, a British South African statesman who was responsible for annexing the Transvaal to Britain in 1877.

Tsitsikamma Ravine

I found a nearby accommodation – Dieu-Donnee River Lodge. It was a few kilometers outside Port Shepstone in Southport. I called to ask if they had vacancies. It turned out, I was the only guest!

Knysna Yacht Harbor

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“If a vehicle breaks down in that area and you don’t get help within 10 minutes, there’s a 99% chance you’ll be attacked.”

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There was no street address, so I met the owner who led me through the dark to the location – off a side road deep in the forest. The owners, a German couple, were oblivious to my exhaustion as they tried for 30 minutes to get their credit card machine to work – more power problems. I wilted and almost fell asleep on my feet. An African guard wrapped in a blanket patrolled the property. He startled me as I was moving my belongings into the accommodation.

In the morning, I retraced the route through what seemed like endless jungle terrain and couldn’t believe I drove there in the dark.

Transkei Beach Bums

Durban and KwaZulu-Natal (“K zed N”)

Durban is a vastly different experience from European-like Cape Town or coastal Hermanus! I’m glad to have “branched out” a bit to experience more of this often rugged but strikingly beautiful country.

Willen Doen HIV AIDS Orphanage Matukasini Coffee Bay

After arriving in Durban, I became aware of reports about N2 drivers being attacked along a stretch of road called “Durban’s Highway of Terror“. Now that it’s over, I won’t dwell on what might have happened. My rental vehicle is a new VW Polo, and it performed well. Driving that route in a poorly maintained vehicle would be a mistake. They say, “If a vehicle breaks down in that area and you don’t get help within 10 minutes, there’s a 99% chance you’ll be attacked.” YIKES!

Rameron Pigeon

The accommodation in North Durban is small but comfy and I’m acclimating to the change. The weather is warm and tropical, and the owners are friendly and helpful. I feel safe here. The neighbor’s parrot is hilarious. It makes authentic telephone ringing sounds and sings into the evening.

Xhosa Village Transkei

Durban drivers are brutal. They’re impatient driving dangerously and tailgating within an inch of your bumper. I’m still learning my way around, so it’s somewhat unnerving – a good exercise in staying calm and keeping on your toes!

Durban at Night by Nick Ferreira

Next

After a month in Durban, I’ll travel to the Seychelles. Lots of reflection is necessary to absorb experiences and all I’ve learned about South Africa during this trip. This blog post summarizes some of my adventures driving from the Western Cape to Durban. More from Durban later…

Seychelles

Seychelles

Harold Porter National Botanical Garden

For the past few days, I’ve been preparing for the Garden Route drive beginning next week. Along the way, I’m excited to be joining a slackpacking group (total strangers) for a multi-day wilderness adventure exploring the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail.

Red Crassula Kipblom

It’s isolated new territory for me and I’m traveling solo, so there’s some apprehension. Recalling the perils of a two-month African safari last year, I’m concentrating on packing and paying attention to detail, hoping to eliminate unexpected surprises.

Tsitsikamma Lodge

We hike with daypacks while porters transport our heavy bags between overnight huts. Hikers provide their own food and there is no electricity in the huts. Headlamps and candles are essential. Firewood is provided for cooking. The hike will be an adventure deep in the Tsitsikamma Mountains – a stunning untouched forest and fynbos wilderness!

Yesterday the weather was glorious, so I spent part of it hiking at Harold Potter Botanical Garden in nearby Betty’s Bay. October is spring in South Africa, but Mother Nature doesn’t seem to know that winter is over!

Sculpting along Circular Route

It’s not cold – 60s to 70s days and 50s at night – but the Atlantic Ocean puts a chill in your bones. Lately we’ve had strong wind, ominous skies, and much-needed light to torrential rain. Heavy thoughts are of Cape Town approaching a dry summer with water rationing.

History of Harold Porter Botanical Garden

During the 1930s, three South African businessmen purchased land in the Hangklip Area between the Palmiet (bulrushes) and Rooi-Els Rivers.  The three partners – Harold Porter, Arthur Youldon, and Jack Clarence – called it “Hangklip Beach Estates and divided the area into three townships – Betty’s Bay (named after Youldon’s daughter), Pringle Bay, and Rooi-Els”. They sold plots to interested parties.

Disa Kloof Waterfall

Over the years the beautiful nature reserve changed hands many times, but after Harold Porter’s death in 1958, it was left to the Shangri-la Nature Reserve Company. “Finding it too difficult to manage from Johannesburg, the corporate committee offered the land to the National Botanical Gardens of South Africa, which renamed it in Harold Porter’s honor and took on financial responsibility for its management”.

Nerine Sarniensis

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Harold Porter’s ashes were scattered in a favourite spot where Nerine Sarniensis bloom every March or April.

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In 1962, Hangklip Beach Estates added to the Botanical Garden property by giving it the adjoining area of Disa Kloof. Later, the Betty’s Bay Village Management Board donated another adjoining piece of land which reaches to the Atlantic Ocean.

Harold Porter Botanical Garden Vista

Today the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden stretches from the “top of the Kogelberg Mountain Range to the Atlantic Ocean, encompassing a whole river system”. Part of the land is a cultivated garden, and the rest a natural reserve included in the core zone of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

Harold Porters’ Legacy

Harold Porter “turned the first sod in the Garden” and marked out various pathways “augmenting naturally occurring plants with other special or colourful species from elsewhere”. He built the Zigzag Border Trail which leads to the top of Bobbejaanskop (baboon head) and is still used today.

Porter’s wife, Olive May, and son, Arthur, helped shape the garden. Arthur designed the entrance building from the stones of their home which burned down in 1960.

Harold Porter’s ashes were scattered in a favourite spot where Nerine Sarniensis bloom every March or April. A plaque of granite sunk into a large sandstone boulder marks the spot. Olive May Porter died in 1984, and her ashes were scattered near her husband’s memorial stone.

Rooi-Els River

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Harold Porter Botanical Garden stretches from the “top of the Kogelberg Mountain Range to the sea, encompassing a whole river system”.

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Pink Disa

The Garden’s original paths and vegetation have changed over the years. Today the centre includes a restaurant and fully equipped conference facility. “New facilities are part of a Public Expanded Works Programme, an initiative to provide wages and train previously disadvantaged individuals. South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism funds the Programme.”

Walking Paths and Hiking Trails

The Garden has seven paths and trails of varying length and difficulty:

  • Zigzag Border Trail – difficult hike taking 6 to 8 hours
  • Leopard’s Kloof Trail – permit required
  • Fynbos Trail – via the contour path to Bobbejaanskop
  • Nivenia Path – short path to Harold Porter’s memorial
  • Disa Kloof Trail – dead ends at a waterfall
  • Circular Route – trail around the Garden’s themed areas
  • Ecosystems Walk – forests, dunes, wetlands, and fynbos

Fires and Storms

Since the natural garden consists of fynbos, fires are a “necessary part of the cycle of this vegetation type”. Heavy storms in 2005 and 2014 caused extensive flooding and damage to the Botanical Garden.  The last major fire was in June 2010. A small fire occurred in November 2013 on the eastern boundary when “a young baboon climbed the electricity pylon, causing an electrical short-circuit with the subsequent shower of sparks setting the veld alight”.

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Since the Garden consists of fynbos, fires are a “necessary part of the cycle for this vegetation type”.

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“As always with disasters such as fires and floods, many Betty’s Bay residents have come to the aid of the Garden, helping put out fires and repair damage.”

Flora and Fauna

The garden is home to mammals, butterflies, insects, frogs, reptiles, and 900 species of birds. Some of the animals include:

  • Leopard
  • Caracal
  • Baboon
  • Porcupine
  • Klipspringer
  • Grysbok
  • Genet
  • Clawless Otter
  • Mongoose

Palmiet River

The variety of flowers at Harold Porter is magnificent, including:

  • Guernsey Lily (Nerine Sarniensis)
  • King Protea
  • Honey Flower
  • Red Crassula Kipblom
  • Disa
  • Sugarbush
  • Blue Star

The streams, ponds, and waterfalls are lovely – it’s an incredibly beautiful paradise. I hiked the Disa Kloof Trail to a waterfall and will return to the Gardens. There is much to explore and enjoy in this peaceful environment!

Cape Town – MOCAA and Magic Club

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

I drove to Cape Town Monday to run errands before exploring the Garden Route later this month. The scenery along the way is wonderful, but driving over Sir Lowry’s Pass isn’t my favorite. Drivers are erratic and aggressive, and most of the N2 is not divided, so there’s no median strip to separate opposing lanes. It gets to me every time, especially when it’s windy.

Cape Town is one of my favorite places (no surprise to anyone), not only because of its exceptional beauty, but also its special charm, energy, and friendly vibe. It was nice to see Table Mountain, visit friends I haven’t seen for a while, and eat at favorite restaurants. The two days were fun but hectic, and I stayed overnight at a B&B.

Garden at Sea Point B&B

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

The only disappointment was not being able to visit the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Mocaa) which opened on September 22. The museum is closed on Tuesday and free to the public on Wednesday. I peered through the windows, walked around the exterior, took a few photos, and hope to visit the Mocaa soon!

Cape Town Waterfront Silo District

The unique, magnificent museum has a five-star hotel and features African artists like Nandipha Mntambo and Nicholas Hlobo. The Silo District is Cape Town’s newest art, culture, and design area. It sounds like the opening event was quite a soirée!

“The Zeitz-Mocaa building is in a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The area was regenerated 30 years ago for retail, real estate, and tourism. Development was on the remnants of two dilapidated 19th-century harbour basins (Victoria and Alfred). The silos were built over coal sheds that once supplied steamships. They were part-funded by capital from slave compensation received after slavery abolition in Cape Colony.”

Cape Town Magic Club

Since I was in town Monday night, when many performing arts venues are closed, I decided to attend a Cape Town Magic Club performance. The show is in the “original basement bank vault of the 5-star luxury Taj Cape Town”. The small creative theater has a back entrance and is especially set up for each magic performance. The venue allows the audience to sit close to the magicians and interact with them.

Three magicians performed, and it was clear that they loved what they were doing and put their heart and soul into it. The show included two young, talented magicians:

The third seasoned magician / mentalist was impressive Larry Soffer. His magic and synergy with randomly selected members of the audience was mind-boggling!

“Larry Soffer is one of the most influential names in magic across South Africa. As his brand grows, he’s fast earning an exceptional name abroad. Larry has performed for royalty, celebrities, politicians, and sports stars. His popular live show and corporate event performances inspire his audiences to ‘Believe to See’ instead of ‘Seeing to Believe.’ In so doing, he truly opens their minds to new possibilities by believing in the impossible and thereby creating their own dreams.”

I sat next to a fun woman – Portia – and her husband. It was their first time at the Magic Show. Portia’s husband interacted on stage with magician Josue Musenge. The exceptional magic delighted the audience and blew us all away!

Nandipha Mntambo Artist

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“The Zeitz-Mocaa is in a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront……”
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Table Mountain Backdrop to Silo District

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Boats Silo District

Garden Route and Durban

On the way back to Hermanus I took a break in the lush Elgin Valley. Found out about a four-day slackpacking trip along Green Mountain Trail in the Kogelberg Biosphere.

Nicholas Hlobo Artist

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Larry Soffer inspires his audiences to ‘Believe to See’ instead of ‘Seeing to Believe’.
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I’m anticipating a slackpacking adventure somewhere along the Garden Route, if I can find an affordable one. Slackpacking is “enjoying the benefits of a multi-day hike, beautiful scenery, and fresh air – without carrying a heavy backpack”.  Sounds great – but some of the trips are pricey.

Back in Hermanus, I’m concentrating on planning the solo Garden Route drive beginning October 25th. Decided to take the N2 coastal route with a few inland side trips. I’m booked to arrive in Durban November 1, leaving 7 days to explore!