Durban (in) July! (Part 1)

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RE-Capping the travel column’s journeys during 2013, photo-journalist Dusty Miller takes readers back to Durban and the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast, where he visited last July.

Travel with Dusty Miller

THE bad news is it’s not very safe or sensible to drive to the Mozambique coast, given the re-emergence of heavily armed Renamo insurgents operating in the bush there.

The worse news is LAM no longer flies from Harare to Vilankulos, but given that one of their pilots apparently purposely crashed his plane into a game park in Namibia, recently, taking 32 passengers and crew along on his personal suicide trip to hell, the Mozambican airline is, in any case, off my “must fly” list!

But the good news is you can now fly direct to Durban from Harare four times weekly by South African Express (SAX), the baby brother airline of South African Airways (SAA).

Along with fellow regional travel journalists and travel agents, I was invited to try that route in July. Our mission was to see as much as KwaZulu-Natal as possible for the benefit of travel writers’ readers and travel agents’ customers. It was a very hectic week-long trip, culminating in attending the ritzy-glitzy Vodacom July Handicap horse-race at Greyville, just outside the Durban CBD.

We got there mid-afternoon on the Tuesday and caught up with the rest of the party at uShaka Marine World, a theme park which isn’t as naff as they can be, globally.

I thought I’d “done” uShaka before, but now realise we were simply whisked through its peripheries to an excellent brunch at a beach-side restaurant called Moyo (allegedly run by Zimbabweans) before swiftly departing on an MSC Sinfonia cruise up the Mozambique coast.

Eventually, with time to spare, I thoroughly relished most of the uShaka experience, especially the walk-through aquarium, the fifth largest in the world, built in, around and under the rusty wreck of a 1920s phantom ship.

Ragged-tooth sharks
The aquarium fills a large slab of the 16 hectare theme park on Durban’s Point, between the CBD and harbour and 32 giant tanks holding 17 500 cubic metres of water display marine fish from those the size of guppies to ragged-tooth, spinner, hammerhead and cat-sharks, enormous rays and eels.

I could have spent hours there; could have watched the fascinating dolphin display at least a second time, but found the seal display too much like a children’s pantomime. Had my grand-kids been there and not 10 000km away, we’d have lapped it up together, though!

You can learn to scuba dive there and, having qualified,enjoy ocean walks. I would love to do the shark-cage dive when the weather is nicer than the first four days of our Natal trip, when it was mainly grey, grim, guti and often unpleasantly cold.

There are scores of restaurants, coffee shops, burger joints and the like spread around u Shaka and we arrived just as our fellow guests from Botswana and Zambia had finished lunch at one of them built into the phantom ship: Cargo Hold. We were delayed because the “direct” SAX flight to Durban was overbooked, so had to travel a day later via Jo’burg on SAA. Not the greatest PR success!

Our first night was at the Peermont Mondazur Hotel in the San Lameer holiday complex estate, near Southbroom, on the KZN South Coast. It was allegedly a four-star hotel (three stars would be more appropriate) with 40 suites and rooms built in terracotta-coloured rendered brick and decorated in what is described as an Indonesian style.

The hotel is on four levels; no lifts; an awful lot of steep stairs. Definitely not handicapped friendly.

Mondazur sits on the edge of the almost unpronounceable Umhlangamkula Lagoon, surrounded by thick mangrove and forests, with a private beach on the Indian Ocean. The weather was too inclement to even think about swimming in lagoon, ocean or unheated pool, but it had been strongly suggested we take swimming kit. I did. It remained unused on this trip!

The place should have been perfect for birding, but apparently most of our feathered friends didn’t like the weather either. Despite being awoken by the haunting cry of an African Fish Eagle, I only managed to spot and photograph a pair of Hadeda Ibis, some Egyptian Geese, a noisy flock of Red-Winged Starlings and ubiquitous Pied-Wagtails.

It was maybe a little too ambitious to offer a full a la carte dinner menu to a party as large as ours was by this time. The list offered was safe rather than sensational, cooking middle of the road, service rather slow, when most of us wanted to try the deep free-standing bath poking into sleeping area, then hit soft, downy pillows on beds the size of snooker tables.

Ocean Safari
And that was before we were told we had to RV at 5am to drive to an Ocean Safari!

“Why 5am?” I asked.“What the hell time does the sun come up here?”

A big tick to allfellow hacks and travel agents, the SAX lady, Getrude Banda, and Tourism KwaZulu-Natal guides for being in reception mainly well before the dreaded hour of five o’clock.
We reached Shelly’s Beach at just after 5:30am. It was as black as Old Nick’s hatband and freezing. I heard a guy in the lighthouse tell someone that a 30 knot gale was blowing off the headland and just knew this trip was a lemon!

At 6:20am, with just a hint of a thin, reluctant dawn breaking out to sea, word came that the boat we were supposed to use hadn’t even been booked and was under routine maintenance.

By 0655 we were back at the hotel, ravenous, hungrily demanding eggs-and-bacon, thirsting for strong coffee from a dining room staff who insisted breakfast wasn’t served until 7am!

They were politely told by several Zimbabweans to think again! We weren’t waiting five seconds, never mind five minutes!
(More on KZN net week)

dustym@standard.co.zw

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