Durban is awesome!
I actually found it to be the most beautiful and interesting city in South Africa – definitely more interesting than Cape Town (though that’s almost sacrilegious to say….;-)
Cape Town is nice, don’t get me wrong. And the scenery around it, the Cape Peninsula and the beaches are breath taking! – no question about it. One of the most beautiful regions in the world.
But the city of Cape Town itself didn’t blow me away.
Nice – but not extraordinary.
Durban on the other hand, totally surprised me.
It is actually a beautiful city. Beautiful to look at and really interesting! – a vibrant melting pot.
Beautiful old colonial homes, tree lined alleys and avenues. The superb ocean front “Golden Mile” – and the beach itself.
This combined with the most sunshine and fabulous weather in the country – and without the heavy winds you have to endure in Cape Town – made Durban to me an amazing city.
What Tourism Office…?
The 2 noticable downsides are:
1) a high crime rate. I was fine during the day, but you should know where you are going and apply the usual precautions. Less than in JoBurg, but definitely more than in Cape Town.
2) the region is Zulu and Zulus tend to be a lot more standoff-ish than the otherwise so warm and welcoming South Africans.
It was a noticable difference. People don’t smile, not even when you buy something, and the worst was the tourist office – if you can call it that….
While Cape Town and JoBurg run the popular Red Bus tours – well organized and a great way to get to know the cities – Durban only had a regular 2 hour bus tour of which half an sshour was wasted dropping us at a shopping mall for snacks and a pit stop (really unnecessary).
The tour was actually quite good – the guide was the only friendly person I had met so far that day – but when I later asked in the tourist bureau about tours to Gandhi/Mandela sites, there were none.
Well….there were, but not officially run and they expected me to call around myself to find a guide and negotiate a fee. There were about 10 employees in the tourist office, no other tourists around, yet everyone pretended to be busy and was clearly annoyed when I asked for some assistance.
Not sure what they were doing – but definitely not assisting tourists! As government employees, they could apparently get away with this, but it was sad to see and a bit of a disgrace to this wonderful country – and VERY different from any other tourist outfit I had seen in South Africa.
All usually very polite and well run!
It was only when that friendly tour guide came back, that I received some assistance and he arranged a tour for me in the afternoon.
While everywhere in South Africa, payment with credit card was normal – even in small town gas stations during my road trips – this was the one time during 2 months in South Africa that I had to get cash – and the tour was ridiculously overpriced!
I had always wanted to see the places where Gandhi started his rebellion and so agreed, and that guide was very good, too (and friendly…;-).
So….. don’t expect too much warmth and friendliness in Durban – and you will probably exceed your expectations….;-)
In this article, I will share a few of the more unusual things to see in Durban and one of my favorite neighborhoods: Morningside.
A magnificent Skyline
A nice feature of the bus tour was the fact that we were shown some of the lesser known jewels in Durban, including a loop around beautiful Morningside with wonderful old houses and tree lined alleys.
and….magnificent views of the skyline and stadium:
Moses Mabhida Stadium:
tree-lined alleys and parks….
Trendy Florida Avenue
A popular highlight in Morningside is trendy Florida Avenue with an abundance of restaurants, shops and cafes that visitors and locals love to flock to:
On the Footsteps of Young Gandhi
A wonderful experience was my visit to Gandhi’s house and office – far away from the city center.
Durban has a huge Indian population and the influence is tangible everywhere. This was Gandhi’s house:
The government created a little park that people can visit (if you can find a guide….;-) and this is the Gandhi bust near the entrance:
Another well preserved building is the printing press that Gandhi started to publish the Indian Opinion newspaper, an important tool in his fight against the racist Apartheid regime.
Next, we drove over to another nearby site of historic importance….
Mandela’s first Vote
One of the most important places in South African history is the school where Nelson Mandela cast his first vote in 1994 – Ohlange High School.
A monument to the powerful transformation that came over the country in the early 90s, culminating in the first free multi racial elections – and the first black President!
The school had been chosen because it was started by John Langalibalele Dube, founding President of the African National Congress (ANC) and a friend and mentor of Mandela. His grave is nearby.
On that grand day, Mandela stood at Dube’s grave and famously said:
“Mr. President, I have come to report to you that South Africa is free today.”
So much to see and do….
There is obviously much more to see and do in Durban. I will definitely spend more time there next time and also drive up the coast, dotted with lovely villages and towns and leading to Zululand……