The trip to Durban from Bangalore was a long one: partly because the departure from Bangalore airport was at 3:45am, but mainly because we had to take three flights to get to our destination. We left our place in Bangalore at midnight: the first UberXL I tried to book was a phantom, so I cancelled it (I’ve seen a number of these since arriving in Asia, for some reason). The second one I booked stayed at 1 minute away for quite some time… I ended up realising it was parked a few metres up the street. I walked up to it and found the driver sleeping inside (and really soundly)… as he’d confirmed the booking somehow – presumably in is sleep – I felt entitled to bang on the window to wake him. It took a while, but he eventually woke up and agreed to take us to the airport (after asking us to pay cash, which I found a bit strange for an Uber driver).
The driver clearly wasn’t fully awake, but we all certainly were by the time we arrived at the airport. Driving in Bangalore can be frightening enough, but when your half-asleep driver applies his “stuck in traffic” driving skills to open roads, it’s terrifying. Not only that, but the driver clearly wasn’t the one shown in his Uber profile – I’m pretty sure there was some kind of scam going on. Anyway, we were relieved to arrive in one piece.
At the airport things went fairly smoothly, although it did take Qatar Airways staff a little while to validate our documentation for South Africa – they’re clearly not used to having Swiss people flying on this particular leg. In the last year or so, South Africa has required parents travelling with children to present documentation of their familial relationships. Modern passports don’t include fields for “father” and “mother” so this usually means carrying original birth certificates. In Switzerland the closest equivalent is the “Certificat de Famille”, a document that grows as you get married and have kids. We had ours with us, but it took the airline staff a long time to decipher it (arriving in South Africa proved much simpler, in comparison, but that’s how these things sometimes go).
Other than that the flights went smoothly. We started with a 5-hour flight to Doha…
On arriving in Qatar, the kids got a real kick out of seeing men with falcons in the airport!
Next was a 9-hour leg from Doha to Johannesburg. We’d managed to sleep for most of the first leg, but still drifted off between movies on this very comfortable second leg. So by the time we arrived in Jo’burg – and had to collect our bags and pass customs and immigration – we were still surprisingly fresh.
Then it was a small hop to Durban, the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal. It was never our plan to stay in the city itself: after picking up our rental car – a Nissan X-Trail, a 4x4 with decent clearance – we drove the 20-minutes or so up to the Dolphin Coast where we’d booked an Airbnb literally a few steps from the sea.
This was a perfect place to recover from our trip before having to deal with Africa proper. We spent our time wandering along Sheffield Beach, or just staring out to sea to try to spot bottle-nosed dolphins (we did see a couple of pods on the last morning, which was pretty special. We also saw some beautiful birdlife, that a book in the flat allowed us to identify: a red bishop, a Burchell’s coucal and a redwinged starling. The birds of Africa are really spectacular.
On the beach we were wondering at the number of little plastic beads we found at the high-tide line.
At first we thought they might be worn-down pieces of plastic, but then found out Kalan’s personal theory was correct: they were beads destined to be melted down to make bottles, etc. We met a clean-up crew along the beach and learned the full story: a couple of months ago a huge storm hit Durban: it not only claimed 36 lives but resulted in a cargo ship losing a container of these beads (also known as nurdles). The beads started showing up on the beaches along the coast: some were completely white with them. The resultant clean-up operation – paid for by insurance – is a mammoth job: crews up and down the coast will be making repeated trips to the beaches until at least August of next year. Thankfully the nurdles float, which at least means they should eventually be found and collected. (It turns out they soak up pollutants, though, so make end up being quite damaging to the environment, one way or another.)
After two nights near Sheffield Beach it was time to head inland. We’d decided we’d be crossing into Lesotho on December 10th, so had two nights to kill on the way. The Royal Natal National Park – on the South African side of the Drakensberg mountains – seemed a good place to do this.
We knew there was a camp-site at the park, so headed directly for that. As we arrived it was already raining, so we decided to find something a little more hotel-like: another option would have been to stay in a very cute village inside the park called Thendele, but at around $200 a night we decided to look elsewhere. We retraced our steps and stumbled upon a B&B called the Tower of Pizza. Yes, I know… under normal circumstances there’s no way I’d go for a place with a name like that, but by this point it really was raining heavily. And it turned out to be fantastic – a complete surprise!
We had a lovely little cottage with a fireplace: a great way to stay sheltered from the weather.
It turns out we’d brought the rain with us: it was the first day of the rainy season, which local farmers had been looking forward to for months. Luckily, though, we woke up to find blue skies… after a fantastic breakfast, we went back to the park and found the Thukela (also spelled Tugela) Gorge Trail that had been recommended by our hosts at the B&B.
We weren’t sure we’d do the whole 14km of trail (7km each way), but we decided to try. The weather on the way out was simply perfect…
And we made it all the way to Thukela Gorge, which was beautiful.
In the distance we could even see the Thukela Falls, the second-highest in the world: you can just make it out in the below photo.
We had a quick picnic lunch before strarting back, mainly as we were concerned about being caught in a storm. The weather had already started to roll in… not unexpectedly, but we picked up the pace for the return, as best we could.
We were starting to get tired and low on water, so were relieved to arrive back at the carpark having only been touched by a few drops of rain.
The rain came – again, really hard – while we were taking it easy at the flat, recovering from the 16km we had ended up walking.
This time, though, it didn’t disappear the following morning. We’ve had a lovely time in KwaZulu-Natal: next we’ll be heading to Lesotho, which should be quite an experience.
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