The Stepsister – Durban on your Bucket List

Cape Town has its mountains, wine and beaches, Johannesburg has business going for it and the Kruger National Park but for some strange reason Durban in KwaZulu Natal, has been left out of the equation. It’s not exactly the first stop on tourists’ priority lists when visiting South Africa. As a native of this part of the world, I’ve always thought this unfair. One thing’s for sure, the Durban City Council is taking this personally and doing a lot to improve the situation.

Sun Coast Casino on Durban beachfront
Sun Coast Casino

Beaches abound along the Indian Ocean shoreline and its year-round warm waters give it one step up from the cold Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town. The promenade stretches 5 km turning it into a great big playground for runners, Segway riders and cyclists. The casino at one end keeps the slot machine addicts entertained, the hungry fed with its huge food court and the movie goers occupied. The paddling pools near North beach provide a safe splashing spot for kiddies and uShaka at the other end is a shopping paradise, restaurant complex and more pools and adventures for the whole family. The entire area is kept pristine and security is strict. Then there are other unique features that make it stand out. The car guards at North Beach take care of your keys while you go swimming or surfing, a service not to be found anywhere else as far as I know. They’ll even Whatsapp you to give you a surf report if you live some kilometres away. The rickshaws are iconic and perform their jumps and shouts wearing native costume for gleeful tourists.

Durban and its colourful rickshaws

The football stadium built for the Soccer World Cup, aptly called The Bread Basket because of its shape, houses huge international concerts and sports meets nowadays. Right next door, a superb outdoor market called I Heart Market fills the lawns under the trees at the weekends selling everything from mohitos to delicious curries, jewellery, clothing and lots, lots more.

African jewellery made out of cloth and recycled paper

Up the road, about 20 km inland, the Valley of a 1000 Hills is jaw-droppingly beautiful for its views while Zulu dancers and cultural ethnic events drum up the native in you at PheZulu. And then there’s the food and the incredibly cheap prices that put a smile on your face when you’re presented with the bill. The standard is high, the quality good and the portions generous not just at PheZulu but everywhere you go.

Valley of a 1000 Hills from Phezulu

And while you’re in Durban, take a trip up north where the Hluhluwe Game Reserve houses the Big Five and where the wild of Africa grabs you as much and which might even be less expensive than the Kruger National Park. And we haven’t even touched on the spectacular mountain range about a 3-hour drive west called the Drakensberg.

African dancers at uShaka, Durban beachfront

Bathe in the warm Indian Ocean, enjoy the good weather and immerse yourself in the multi-culturalism that is Durban and surrounds.

You Play, They Guard – Durban Beachfront’s Parking Attendants

Eddie is as proud as he looks. He wears a reflective vest and a cap to protect him from the harsh African sun. His day starts at 4.45 and ends at noon. He works for himself and his job description includes holder of the keys, protector, predictor and catcher of thieves. He’s a car park attendant on the ramp leading down to North Beach.

Ed, the car guard
Ed, the car guard

“I love my job. It’s an early start but I get to know so many people and over the nine years that I’ve worked here, I’ve formed relationships with lots of surfers, bikers and regulars that use this beach and promenade.”

“Do you work for a boss? Is there some kind of a union you belong to?”

“No, not really. All the money we earn in tips goes into our own pockets. We have to pay for our own bibs (the reflective vests), we have to do a fingerprint test and get police clearance and then there are 3 senior guys who organise the shifts – 8 of us during the day and 12 at night.”

A guy drives past, opens his window and says,

“Thanks a lot Ed. Forgot my wallet at home but I’ll make it up to you later. Sorry man!”

“No problem Bevin. See you next time.”

Durban beach promenade
Durban beach promenade

Bevin is a surfer who lives in Kloof, about 27 km away from Durban. By 7.30 am Ed has already sent out 16 Whatsapps to various guys giving them a wave report and whether it’s worth the drive to catch a wave. On this particular Monday morning, conditions have been particularly favourable. Huge swells, gentle peeling waves, calm waters, no choppy ‘white horses’.

Another guy collects his key. He asks me what I’m doing and he tells me in no uncertain terms what he thinks.

“Ed is one of the incredible blessings of this f…ing promenade. He does a fantastic job, taking care of our cars, standing in the heat of this scorcher while we’re having fun. What’s it going to be Ed, coffee or Coke?”

I ask him what’s the hairiest experience he’s had.

“Last Saturday, a guy parks his car at the top end, takes his son to the beach and the next minute I know, his car is slowly rolling backwards. I run up there and stop it with my body when suddenly, the engine starts and I see a guy behind the wheel. That’s when I realised it wasn’t just a handbrake problem.”

He flagged down one of his ‘regulars’ and asks him to chase after the guy while he’s alerting the police. Minutes later, the car has been stopped and the perpetrator caught. See what happens when you don’t give your keys to Ed!

North Beach, Durban
North Beach, Durban

This unique situation only happens at the beach parking lots, nowhere else in town, sadly. These unsung heroes are doing a sterling job of taking care of things in a country where robbery is a daily occurrence and car theft, second to none. I felt a little nervous about handing over my car keys, but when you think of it, Ed’s carrying a bunch, he has his pick if he wanted to steal one, but he’s smart enough to realise that being there day in and day out is more sustainable than a one-off and far more personally satisfying knowing that you are trusted and a valuable member of your community. Wish there were more Eds around.