Five Things Pax Learned About Durban, South Africa
Originally Published in PAX magazine
PAX travelled in and around the coastal city of Durban, South Africa. From segway rides along the Golden Mile beachfront promenade to riding up 106 metres on a SkyCar that stops at the peak of the boldly designed Moses Mabhida Stadium, we got both panoramic views and up close and personal with what Durban has to offer. We were shown around by Julnic Tours and as PAX discovered, this beach town is about way more than just surf and sand.
Here are five things we learned about the thriving city:
1) Zulu guides know their history
“I am a proud Zulu,” our guide to Durban, South Africa explained to us. “Zulu means heaven.” He laughingly claimed that made him an angel. His name is Thamsaqa Ndlovu, and he was born and raised in Durban. He spoke passionately about its history, including the Zulu who were forced out of Cape Town and settled into the government-built housing projects in the area. He also drove us to a “Zulu village,” which was recreated amidst the Valley of a 1000 Hills, where we were treated to a courting ritual. One suitor waxed poetic about the object of his affection’s beauty, and she called him ugly in return.
2) Visitors are in the know
According to South African Tourism, Durban had more than 5.4 million visitors in 2015; about 463,000 of them were international and 0.2 percent from Canada. The average age was 25 to 45, with most of them being luxury travellers staying in five-star hotels. But according to several people in the industry, a lot of travel professionals don’t even mention Durban as an option unless clients specifically ask about it.
3) Durban is the “real” South Africa
Durban is where Nelson Mandela cast his first vote and where Ghandi arrived in 1893. It was his experience with prejudice in South Africa that contributed to him developing the peace movement of Satyagraha. Ndlovu prides himself on showing tourists the “real” South Africa. In our case, it’s a visit to the city’s medicine market, called the Muthi market. Ndlovu said that for some locals this was like going to the pharmacy. With stalls made of brick walls and corrugated steel roofs, the market had a shanty town feel. Hanging to either side were dried out snake skins, wildebeest, and an eviscerated monkey. Shoppers Drug Mart this wasn’t.
4) Curry is king
The city is home to South Africa’s largest Indian population because between 1860 and 1911 more than 150,000 people from India came to Durban as indentured labourers. We went to the Oriental restaurant for “bunny chow,” a hollowed out quarter loaf of bread filled with currie (either meat or beans). It used to be eaten by poor labourers as a hardy yet affordable fare.
5) Luxury can be found in hotels...and on trains
For a truly luxurious experience, head to the Oyster Box, a beachfront colonial-style hotel that has hosted Charlize Theron, Sean Penn, and one Kardashian. Its standouts include a striking red and white exterior palette, a functioning beach lighthouse, a beautiful hammam, and signs warning of monkeys. Our other sumptuous experience was dinner on the 1920s style Rovos Rail, self-described as “the most luxurious train in the world.” There are seven routes, including one from Pretoria to Durban. With its wood paneling and posh sleeping cars (the royal suites have claw foot bathtubs), the replica cars felt like we were in an Agatha Christie novel.