Newbies to SA - advice please

Feb 2nd, 2009, 09:03 PM
  #1  
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Newbies to SA - advice please

Two middle-aged women are going to South Africa for our first trip to that continent. We leave in one month (March 5). Our plan is
a 6 night safari in Zulu Nyala,
a stay at a Zulu village,
2 nights in Drakensburg,
1 night in Clarens,
2 nights in Graaf Reinet,
3 nights in Knysna,
1 night in Agulhas,
4 nights in Cape Town (with a day trip to Stellenbosch).

We'll have a car rental throughout. Is there a good way to get from Durban to the safari without paying the $365 per person the travel agent is telling us for that transfer? We would be happy not to have the car rental during the safari, but right now that seems the best way.

We're having the most trouble finding places to stay in Clarens and Graaf Reinet. Any suggestions?

Does our trip seem reasonable? Any thing we should be careful of? I've read the posts about driving and safety and feel okay about that.

I love reading everyone's excitement and enthusiasm about this amazing country we're about to visit.
Cindy
CinInDen is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 11:20 PM
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You're flying into and out of?

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2009, 07:45 AM
  #3  
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Flying into Jo'burg and out of Cape Town.
CinInDen is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2009, 03:37 PM
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I can only comment on the Zulu Nyala part. If you can, spend a day or two in nearby Phinda. You can probably even arrange such an outing once you get there.

I coworker of mine stayed in Zulu Nyala and did one whole day in Phinda. She loved the entire safari but noted that they saw way more wildlife in Phinda. I've been to Phinda and really liked it.

Have a fantastic time.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2009, 04:13 PM
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For accommodation at Clarens and Graaf Reinet try B&Bs on Portfolio of Places website http://www.portfoliocollection.com/search/bb.aspx . We have not stayed in either of these two towns, but have found some lovely accommodation using this website. Good luck.
PRLCH is offline  
Feb 4th, 2009, 12:17 PM
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This guest house comes highly recommended by friends (also 2 middle-aged travelling ladies!) who have visited Graaf Reinet

http://www.rothmanstreet.co.za/

Can't think of anything in particular to be careful of, just try not to drive after dark if you can help it.

Have a great trip!
tockoloshe is offline  
Feb 4th, 2009, 02:51 PM
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I agree with the previous poster, try not to drive after dark. However, the roads are generally superb and the scenery is out of this world.

I don't know what you have planned for Cape Town, but I'd suggest staying just outside the city centre in somewhere like Camps Bay. It's a seaside area with plenty of bars and restaurants and ideal for strolling.

The obvious attractions in Cape Town are: Table Mountain via cablecar; Robbens Island and the V&A waterfront, while you might want to try the District 6 museum, which is a vivid and moving illustration of the city's history.

Since you have a car, you'll want to drive to the Cape and, while Stellenbosch is fine, might I suggest Franschhoek as an alternative. It's also on the wine route but very attractive and noted in RSA for its restaurants.

Anyway, you'll love it. South Africa is a beautiful country and Cape Town is breathtaking.
GrahamC is offline  
Feb 5th, 2009, 09:07 AM
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I am surprised that the transfer is costing that much - the good news is that, if you decide to drive, it is a very straight forward/safe trip north from Durban along the N2.

We traveled through Clarens and it is a beautiful town. I would be surprised if there aren't some upmarket B&Bs in the area. Have a look at www.clarens.co.za. There are lots of B&Bs and guest houses listed.

We had no luck finding accomodation in the Graff Reinet area. Instead of crossing the Karoo there, we back-tracked along the N2 to George and went north to Beaufort West where we stayed at Karoo National Park - a wonderful spot with lovely cabins. The drive north along the N12 through the mountain passes (the Swartberg Pass is the best) is very beautiful.

For the day trip to the Winelands, I recommend the Four Passes route. See this link to our trip report to SA this past August (go to page 3).

http://bert-and-bin.smugmug.com/gall...61053054_KcDbR

Where are you staying in the Drakensberg? We visited the area in 2005 and loved it! Robin
canadian_robin is offline  
Feb 6th, 2009, 11:43 AM
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We're planning to stay at the Antbear Guesthouse in Drakensburg.

We're now thinking that instead of driving from Drakensburg to Knysna, we will drive from Drakensburg to Durban, spend a couple of nights there, then fly to Port Elizabeth and drive the Garden Route to Cape Town. Any thoughts on that?
CinInDen is offline  
Feb 7th, 2009, 07:36 AM
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I've lived in South Africa all my life, it's a beautiful counrty with wonderful cultural diversity.

I don't know what your plans are at each location; but you should definately spend some time on Durban's beachfront to soak up the unique Durban culture. You should also spend a day hiking in the Drakensberg, even on a short hike the views are worth the effort! Your hotel should have information on hikes in the area.

Driving yourself around is definately the best option, public transport is limited and not always safe. In general; don't be too concerned about safety - be alert and use your head, you'll be fine!

You'll have and awesome time, enjoy!!!
Michelle23 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2009, 09:58 AM
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We found the drive from the Drakensburg to PE a fascinating one, but may take some people out of their comfort zone – not many whites travel in the area. The highway is also rather winding and slow. At the end of this message, I will paste the segment of my trip report from 2005 which describes our drive from the Durban to PE. It will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. If you are going to PE, try to find a night or two for Addo Elephant Park - it is a great place (a national park). www.sanparks.org

The drive from the Drakensburg to Durban is short and there isn’t much to it – easy enough to do, but not particularly scenic. Robin

From the trip report (starting south of the Drakensburg):
…From Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, we headed 250-km south to Durban, astonished that, at times, very young herders were all that stood between dozens of cows and the four-lane national highway. We stopped briefly in hot and humid Durban for tea on Kingsburgh Beach (Laura wanted to ogle the surf again) and to visit the B.A.T Centre, partly to view the telephone wire basketry for which it is famous (this may be the first year that I have my Christmas shopping completed before June), but also to photograph the wonderful bat paintings which adorn the building. Leaving Durban around noon, we admired the gorgeous beaches that this stretch of the coastline is famous for. Just over 150-km south of Durban, where the highway leaves the coast and moves inland, we left the province of KwaZulu-Natal and entered the Eastern Cape, where another fascinating leg of our journey began. We traveled for 300-km through Transkei, the former homeland of the Xhosa. During apartheid, this area was a dumping ground for Xhosa who weren’t of any use to the Republic. Today, it suffers from overgrazing and underdevelopment and, like the former Zulu homeland, is a desperately poor region, with communal land and rondavels dotting the landscape. There is no electricity, and water is hauled great distances from communal pumps. The only transportation is by donkey cart or minibus taxi. The most noticeable difference between the two former homelands was that, unlike the Zulu rondavels, which were grey or brown, those of the Xhosa were brightly coloured, with pale pink, baby blue, and mint green the colours of choice. They gave this rural area a bright, cheery feel, despite the poverty. Once again, pedestrians streamed along both sides of the highway, children in school uniforms and women in long, brightly coloured skirts, often with horizontal black stripes placed at varying intervals, the Xhosa trademark. Most women had their heads covered with scarves tied at the forehead. Young boys sat in empty wheelbarrows at the side of the highway, waiting to meet the minibus taxies which carried their mothers home from the nearest town or market. Those mothers who weren’t fortunate enough to be met would make their way slowly along the highway, huge parcels on their heads and in their arms, and babies on their backs. Other children used wheelbarrows to transport water from the community pump to their homes, no easy task once they left the tarred highway. Animals wandered onto the road. We swerved around an elderly women and her donkey cart, which straddled the centerline of the busy highway, with a donkey that was stubbornly refusing to budge. We passed through several towns that were the sorts of places you hope to pass through rather than visit - bustling, crowded, dirty centres that serve the vast rural communities which surround them. Their best assets were their humourous names, such as Collywobbles and Hole in the Wall. Again, few whites live or travel in this region, and we drove all afternoon without seeing another white face. The two-lane highway, although the main thoroughfare between Durban and Cape Town, was a nightmare. It was narrow and winding and ran along the high inland plateau, with the result that we would no sooner climb up and up to the top of the plateau than we would find ourselves plunging back down again through one of the endless river valleys. The going was slow, with the result that we barely made it to our accommodation before darkness fell. We spent the night in Umtata, the former capital of Transkei, and not a place you would wish to be wandering after dark. The main street was in total chaos when we arrived, with hordes of people, animals, cars and minibus taxis scattered about, and none of the robots working. Laura’s only comment was to ask if there were any other white people in Umtata. She was road-weary, tired of being stared at, and in need of a good night’s sleep.

The next day we continued through the former Xhosa bantustan towards Cape Town, wondering if that narrow, unfenced, winding section of the highway would ever end. The terrain was very dry, and we passed several grass fires which the local people were trying to beat out with loosely bound bunches of grass. Women sitting by the side of the road sold corn-on-the-cob, which they were cooking over an open fire in a three-legged cast iron pot. Children sold oranges and cabbages. We felt welcome but very out of place. We arrived at our next destination, Addo National Park, mid afternoon, relieved to know that we were spending two nights there and would be free of the highway for a while. We were still almost 1000-km from Cape Town…
canadian_robin is offline  
Feb 10th, 2009, 10:10 AM
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Here is my description of the Drakensburg part of the trip:

…..After overnighting in Bloemfontein, where we sampled the local beef and found it as good as any we have eaten in Alberta, we left the N1 and headed southeast towards the aptly named “mountain kingdom” of Lesotho, the country which is entirely surrounded by, but completely independent of, South Africa. As we drew closer to Lesotho, we caught glimpses of the life of the local Basotho people. The highway bisected settlements of shacks with their tin roofs weighted down against the wind with large rocks. It was Sunday, and there were streams of people walking barefoot along the highway, heading to church in nearby tiny communities. Near the town of Thaba Nchu, we passed two cow herders, resplendent in their colourful Basotho blankets, which they wore like cloaks, as is traditional. Women and young children, who beamed and waved as we passed, sold sheepskins and apples from flimsy stick booths along the highway. The expanses of corn, sunflowers and hay bales continued, and rows of poplar trees, which were a lovely autumn gold, appeared. We passed huge fields of gorgeous mauve, pink and white cosmos. We drove through the cherry producing area of South Africa, but the cherry season was over and the orchards bare. Drat! Cherries have always been my favourite fruit.

We traveled through Free State on the Highlands Route, which hugs the Lesotho border for 280km, and is one of South Africa’s most scenic drives. Nelson Mandela once described this area as gladdening his heart no matter what his mood, and it didn’t take us long to discover why. This northeastern corner of Free State boasts spectacular mountain scenery and magnificent sandstone formations. We paused in several of the charming villages that are strung along the Lesotho border, the most attractive of which was tree-fringed Clarens, a centre for arts and crafts. We strolled around President Square and purchased several wonderful souvenirs, including two of the conical straw hats which are worn by the Basotho people and unique to this area and Lesotho. We stopped at a large township on the outskirts of Clarens to watch youngsters in colourful clothing play soccer. Spotting us, they called and waved to us enthusiastically, so typical of the way we were received in rural areas, particularly by children.

Arguably the highlight of the Highlands Route was Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State’s only national park, designated as such for the outstanding beauty of the Maluti Mountains rather than its wildlife, although we did see zebra, eland, springbok, and black wildebeest roaming the grassy plateaus. We were amused to spot several cows grazing amongst a dazzle of zebras, and wondered how the cows came to be in the park. The red and yellow striped sandstone cliffs and overhangs glowed in the afternoon sun, and Laura confessed that she would be quite content to live out her life in this part of the country. Qwa Qwa National Park was another highlight of the route, with its massive and very impressive sandstone formations and wide open spaces. The San, who lived in the park’s many caves and overhangs, called the sandstone cliffs qwa-qwa, meaning “whiter than white”, as the sandstone, when exposed to the elements, is at first a whitish colour but assumes beautiful red and yellow hues as it weathers. We stopped at the Basotho Cultural Village, which offered a glimpse of the traditional lives of the Basotho people. The village consisted of a courtyard of beautiful Basotho huts, which progressed from organic, circular 16th century constructions to modern square huts with tin roofs and bright interior decor. Although activities were winding down for the day, people in traditional dress still wandered about, and two men were busy skinning a sheep. We admired the litema, the external decoration on the huts, which are applied by the Basotho women and still visible today in rural Lesotho and Free State. The decorations varied from intricate patterns that were scratched into the exterior red clay walls, to vivid, modern, brightly painted motifs. They were simple, but very beautiful.

The view from the village across Qwa Qwa Park was amazing and, as we watched the sandstone change colour in the fading light (so reminiscent of sunset at Uluru/Ayer’s Rock in Australia), we were suddenly struck by how late in the day it was. Consulting our notes, we were horrified to discover that the gate of Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg Mountains, where we were to spend the night, closed at 6:00pm. We had a little over an hour to negotiate roughly one hundred kilometres of winding roads, steep inclines and soaring mountain passes. We left Free State, raced over Oliviershoek Pass, and flew into the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It had always been our intention to avoid traveling at night and, as darkness fell, for the first time on our journey I was truly uneasy. The 50-km route to the park on a secondary highway was poorly marked, the road was winding and uneven, and pedestrians in dark clothing returning home at the end of the day streamed along both sides of the narrow, shoulderless highway. To make matters worse, our car started acting up, sputtering and lurching in a most alarming fashion and providing little in the way of braking. It was thus with great relief that, with about five minutes to spare, we crawled through the gate of Royal Natal Park. Once in the park we felt safe, although we still faced a 9-km drive to Tendele Camp, where we were to overnight. In total darkness, we wound our way up and up a rough dirt road to the camp, silently willing the car to continue. We arrived to find reception closed and our name absent from the blackboard which listed the occupants of each cabin. Unperturbed, we wandered about in the dark, remarkably quiet camp (it was only 6:30pm, but you’d have thought it was midnight) until Robert was discovered by a patrolling security guard, who directed him to the camp manager. After perusing our reservation confirmation slip and apologizing profusely for the mix up on the blackboard, the manager directed us to a lovely log cabin. We settled in, ate dinner and went to bed, painfully aware that the nearest mechanic was likely 200-km away and that we might have to waste our first day in the mountains accompanying the car as it was towed back to civilization.

The Drakensberg Mountains, designated a World Mixed Heritage Site (natural and cultural) in 2000 for their beauty and the 35,000 San rock art paintings which are found there, are the second largest range in Africa. Known as uKhahlamba or “barrier of spears” to the Zulu, they were renamed Drakensberg or “Dragon Mountains” by early Dutch settlers for their resemblance to the ridges of a dragon’s back. Both are apt descriptions of this spectacular mountain range. We had read that the northern and central sections of the Drakensberg are the most spectacular, and this is where we were to spend the next couple of days, providing our car co-operated.

When we awoke in Royal Natal Park the following morning, the sight which greeted us from the cabin windows soon caused us to forget about our car troubles. Tendele, we discovered in the light of day, is an enchanting mountain retreat. Located at the base of Dooley’s Cliffs, the camp offered spectacular views of the Amphitheatre, a dramatic 500m high, crescent-shaped rock face that stretches for 5km and is framed by the Sentinel (3165m) and Eastern Buttress (3121m). It was spectacular! We enjoyed the splendor from the cabin windows as we ate breakfast. A small antelope grazed outside one window. While Laura and I savoured the view, Robert attended to the car. I hope that my dear husband will forgive me for saying that, while he is a man of much knowledge and many talents, automotive mechanics is not among them. You can therefore perhaps understand my surprise and skepticism when he returned a half hour later and declared the car roadworthy. He will complete the story below. In celebration, we decided to enjoy the mountains by hiking 3-km to Tiger Falls, a lovely waterfall surrounded by indigenous forest. As we made our way along the trail, we could hear baboons barking on the cliffs overhead. After a leisurely tea at the base of the falls, we had great fun scrambling on the rocks behind and above the falls, enjoying the refreshing spray. The occasional high-pitched shriek from Laura would announce that she had encountered yet another of the numerous and alarming spiders inhabiting the site. We were lucky to spy a rare (only 204 pairs remain) lammergeier or “bearded vulture”, which occur only in the Drakensberg and the Himalayan foothills.

Leaving Tendele mid morning, we switchbacked our way down the park’s steep road which we had staggered up in darkness the night before. As we admired the vistas far below us, we hoped that Robert was correct in thinking that the car, and particularly the brakes, was functioning properly. Just outside the park gate, we encountered a group of six Zulu women who were weaving baskets by the side of the road. We stopped to watch, asking questions of the youngest woman who spoke a little English. Nearby, spread out on the ground, were dozens of beautiful baskets, woven in a variety of intricate patterns from a combination of grass and colourful plastic cabbage/onion/potato bags. After much debate over colour and pattern, we purchased three lovely baskets for the ridiculously low price of R65 (~$13) each. The young woman helped us to record in my journal the name of the artist who had crafted each basket, painstakingly spelling the names for us. It was a memorable encounter!

The province of KwaZulu-Natal derives its name from kwa meaning “place of”, amaZulu meaning “people of heaven” and Natal meaning “nativity”. Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gamma anchored off the coast in the area on Christmas Eve in 1497, and named it “Natal”, not knowing that the region was already populated by the amaZulu. During the apartheid years, the province was known only as Natal, but it was renamed after the 1994 elections. KwaZulu-Natal is often described as the country’s most “African” province and, as we traveled south from Royal Natal Park through the northern part of the province, we understood why. That beautiful, mountainous area was like nothing we had seen in our travels until then. Instead of fenced-off, private farms and towns edged by squatter camps, as is found in most of rural Africa, the land is unfenced and communally owned. It is a desperately poor region known as “Zululand” which, under apartheid, was the bantustan or “homeland” to which the Zulu were forcibly relocated. Traditional Zulu homes - thatched, single-room, igloo-like huts, called “rondavels” - dotted the landscape for as far as we could see. From the highway, we caught glimpses of the everyday life of the Zulu. There were people everywhere. When we stopped to take photographs along even the remotest sections of the highway, children would invariably pop up from the long grass at the side of the road and beg for handouts. Knowing that they would have little use for coins, we wished that we had apples or oranges to give them. It was impossible to stop the car for any longer than the time needed to take a quick photograph, otherwise we would be swarmed. As a result, we never did manage to eat our lunch, which was in the boot, subsisting instead on the only two edible items that I had in my backpack, jelly tots and gum. There was no electricity. Woman and young children carried water on their heads in an assortment of amazingly large containers, often for great distances from a single community pump. Women wore brightly coloured, long skirts and blouses, and covered their heads with neatly tied scarves. Most were barefoot. Some congregated at the pump to do laundry, which they draped over nearby bushes to dry. Pre-school children laughed and played nearby. Other women used roughly tied bunches of grass to rake the dirt around their homes. Still others scavenged for firewood for cooking and heating, carrying the wood in huge bundles on their heads. Women harvested grass for thatch and baskets. Children of all ages, dressed in an assortment of colourful uniforms and often carrying their books on their heads, walked barefoot along the narrow highway to school. We marveled at the fact that, even though the children were living in such abject poverty, they looked healthy, happy, and impeccably dressed. The only men we saw, apart from the taxi drivers, were elderly. They walked barefoot and bent over along the highway. We noticed that virtually all walkers, young and old, carried a stick and we wondered why. The highway bisected numerous tiny “villages” which consisted of nothing more than a minibus taxi stop, a shack selling cabbages, maize and a few, very basic provisions, occasionally a small, well-fenced clinic, and one or more schools. The well maintained schools were large and numerous to accommodate the huge population of children. All bore large signs which indicated that they were “Clover Schools” built and sponsored by Clover Dairies. We swerved to avoid goats, chickens, dogs, cows, donkeys, and sheep, which also occupied the highway. Everyone and everything moved slowly, and we quickly concluded that the Zulu believe that the highways were built for people and animals, not automobiles. Occasionally, we encountered a dangerously overcrowded minibus taxi crawling along the highway, carrying women and their pre-school children several kilometres to the nearest town. The women carried their babies on their backs, securely held in place with blankets tied about the women’s ample waists. Few whites live in the rural areas in the northern and central Drakensberg and, when we stopped in Bergville, an unattractive, chaotic town, with tatty department stores, noisy markets, and streets strewn with people, animals, bakkies, and litter, the locals looked at us as though we had beamed down from another planet. Laura asked if she was the only one feeling terribly out of place. Robert stood out like a sore thumb as he waited in a long line of blacks at the local ATM. With rare exception, the people smiled and waved as we passed. In town, they seemed particularly pleased when we greeted them in Zulu. It would certainly be understandable if the Zulu bore some resentment towards visitors like us who fly past their homes in our air conditioned vehicles, while they struggle to survive. If they do, it wasn’t evident to us. We found them hospitable and friendly, and the tales of crime, hostile locals, and shocking roads, which are often associated with the rural areas around the northern and central Drakensberg, greatly exaggerated (well, except perhaps for the roads!). We had the feeling that we were experiencing one of the most unaffected cultural experiences available to visitors in South Africa and we were all the richer for it.

We continued south through rural KwaZulu-Natal to Cathedral Peak in the central Drakensberg, one of a 4-km line of impressive peaks, with some rising over 3000m. It was a clear morning, and the mountains seemed to go on forever. On our way in to the park, we passed many women bent over, painstakingly trimming back the grass and weeds from the sides of the highway using tiny (20cm) sickles. The central Drakensberg boasts some of the highest peaks in South Africa, and the area around Cathedral Peak was stunning. The chalets in Didima Camp, where we spent the night, were constructed to resemble caves or the transient dwellings of the San people, who lived in these mountains for thousands of years. Our chalet, with its fully-equipped kitchen, satellite TV, and cozy fireplace, offered a shocking contrast to the poverty-stricken rural areas that we had just traveled through to reach it. After a most enjoyable evening spent around a crackling fire, we retired early, waking just before dawn to the sound of baboons barking not far from our cabin. Before leaving, we visited the park’s San Art Interpretive Centre, which provided fascinating insights into the art and culture of the San people.

From Cathedral Peak, we traveled another 150-km south, past craggy peaks and grassy plateaus dotted with rondavels, enduring what must have been one of the worst potholed roads in the country. Our destination was Giant’s Castle, a mountain reserve that was once a favourite hunting ground of the San hunter-gatherers, as eland were plentiful. After settling into our cabin named “Christmas Bells”, in keeping with the camp’s izimbali (“flowers” in Zulu) theme, we hiked 3-km along the Bushman’s River through open grassland and patches of indigenous forest to Main Caves, a large sandstone overhang which shelters one of the most impressive and best preserved rock-art sites in the country. It was raining and cold, and I suspect that the interpreter was rather surprised to see us when we emerged from the forest. For the next hour or so, the young Xhosa student pointed out some of the more beautiful and better preserved paintings from amongst the over 500 which cover the rock face. The detail in the paintings was amazing, particularly in the paintings of the kudu and other animals, and we could not help but be awed by this legacy left by the San. Our guide concluded the tour with a valiant effort to teach us how to make the three subtly different clicks used in the Xhosa language, but we proved to be rather hopeless students. We spent a chilly, damp evening huddled around the fireplace in our cabin, and were eventually lulled to sleep by the sound of the Bushman’s River, which passed nearby. In the morning, we awoke to bright, clear skies, and stunning mountain scenery, which had been obscured by cloud the previous day. Dominating the scene was Giant’s Castle, an impressive 3316m free-standing basalt block. Nearby was the giant, lying on his back, with arms neatly folded across his chest. After a brief hike to admire the vistas, we left the park, amused by a sign which warned guests to be wary of crows with a rubber fetish; they like to peck the rubber off windshield wipers. Fortunately, ours were still intact.

We proceeded east and then south from Giant’s Castle, falling victim yet again to the poor rural signage, and traveling several kilometres out of our way before realizing we were on the wrong track. We were looking forward to lunch with Robin Mackey in the coastal city of Durban, South Africa’s largest port and just over 200-km to the south, on the Indian Ocean. It was Freedom Day, a national holiday, so the roads through the rural area around the park were thankfully much quieter without the schoolchildren streaming along both sides. However, cows, chickens, goats and donkeys were not observing the holiday, and twice we had to stop and wait patiently for cows to move out of the way. When we reached the town of Mooi Rivier, some 150-km north of Durban, near the southern border of Zululand, we were struck by a sudden change in the landscape. The over-grazed communal land and rondavels of the Zulu disappeared, and the prosperous, fenced, privately-owned farms returned. We saw fewer dilapidated bakkies, and SUVs with white drivers began to fly past us.

As we drew nearer Durban, we were appalled by the smog and brown haze which hung over the city. However, we actually found it a much prettier city than we expected, having noted that adjectives such as “dirty”, “noisy”, “crowded”, and “crime-ridden” are used frequently in written descriptions. Following Robin’s instructions, we made our way to her apartment near the University of KwaZulu-Natal, observing how much lusher Durban seemed compared to parched and brown Cape Town. After taking us on a tour of downtown Durban, past the insanely busy main minibus taxi terminal (through which more than a million people pass every day) and the bustlingly outdoor market known as Mozambique Corner, Robin took us to North Beach, the favourite spot of the city’s surfers. Laura was enthralled! Eventually, we hauled Laura off the beach and, after a most enjoyable lunch with Robin, we headed northeast along the highway which runs along the east coast of South Africa, catching occasional glimpses of the Indian Ocean as we drove. I envied Robin who had just extended her visa so that she can stay in South Africa for another year.

Not far beyond the city limits, we found ourselves in sugar cane country, with kilometre after kilometre of neat, green rows of sugar cane. The highway was strewn with bits of sugarcane, which had fallen from overloaded trucks. As had been the case around Johannesburg, there were many police officers patrolling the highways near Durban. We thought of a recent headline which had indicated that 107 police officers died in the line of duty in South Africa last year. A sobering statistic! About 100-km north of Durban, the sugar cane disappeared and rondavels and unfenced land reappeared. We were back in Zululand, the former Zulu homeland, although much further east than we had been while in the Drakensberg. People walked along the highway, some carrying large bundles of firewood on their heads and others pushing shopping carts loaded with all manner of things, from scrap metal and fence posts to mattresses and water containers. Young children sold potatoes from the shoulders, sitting perilously close to cars traveling at more than 120km/hr along the busy, four-lane highway. I had long since concluded that, as a mother of young children in this country, I would have been a nervous wreck! Further north, we entered a forestry area, and the rows of sugar cane were replaced by equally tidy rows of tall, spindly, eucalyptus trees, the property of Mondi Business Paper. Just over 200-km north of Durban, at the town of Mtubatuba, we left the highway and headed towards the “tropical coast”, an area protected all the way north to the neighbouring country of Mozambique by wetland reserves and marine sanctuaries.

Our destination was the village of St. Lucia, which lies at the mouth of the St. Lucia Estuary at the south end of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, another World Heritage Site….
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FODOR'S VIDEO

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