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

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