Soaking in the endless beauty of South Africa
Asmita Mukherjee | Durban
While boarding the flight from Hyderabad to start off my journey to Durban at the invitation of South African Tourism, I was bombarded with a multitude of thoughts and emotions and was getting adrenaline rushes just thinking about the time that I was going to spend over the next ten days in the Rainbow Nation. I had read and heard much about the country’s famed wildlife, culture, adventure sports, and of course, the food & wine. No wonder, I was expecting a lot from my next few days of bliss.
The flight from Hyderabad dropped me off in Mumbai, from where I boarded another flight to Dubai, and then hopped onto another one that finally reached me in Durban via Johannesburg. Upon landing at the King Shaka International Airport of the beautiful Rainbow Nation, I was instantly amazed by the glittering sunlight in the beautiful winter of the KwaZulu-Natal province. Friendly host Fundi and driver cum guide Nthato welcomed me at the airport and the adventurous trip to explore the country slotted into first gear. The crystal clear blue sky filled with fluffy, white cotton ball clouds accompanied us on our journey to the Capital Zimbali Hotel.
Day 1- A first date with the golden beach, Zimbali
After a 30-minute drive filled with mesmerising views of the country, I reached the first stay of my trip – The Capital Zimbali, located at Ballito town in KwaZulu-Natal. The property had a vast and expansive backdrop of the golden beach and the deep blue Indian Ocean beyond. After a refreshing warm bath, I headed to Grimaldi’s at the Dolphin Coast for dinner, and oh boy! the menu was so extensive – Crayfish, Pork Belly, Oyster, Beef, Prawn – Grimaldi’s vast range of food and wine offerings led me to have quite a grand feast. After the heavy dinner, I called it a night as day two’s itinerary was supposed to be filled with adventurous activities and I needed the energy to enjoy it to the fullest.
Day 2 – Fear is Temporary, Regret is Forever
The day started quite early, as early as 3 am in the morning as a lot of activities were planned for the day. It started with Shark Cage diving at Rocky Bay. Instructor and guide John Miller who operates The Shark Cage Diving KZN first briefed me about the various do’s and don’ts of Shark Cage Diving. I quickly changed into diving gear to have a date with the sharks. After a boat ride of around 4 kilometres into the sea, I descended into the shark cage, which was by then surrounded by sharks of various types such as Blacktips, Hammerheads, and Duskies. John was kind enough to click underwater pictures and videos of the sharks while they encircled the cage giving me a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Although cage diving in close proximity to these predators sounds scary, in reality, it is fun, and even non-swimmers can enjoy the experience.
After an hour we reached back to the shore, dried up, had some hot coffee, and got rejuvenated, before heading out to experience another thrilling activity. My host took me to Wild 5 adventures at the Oribi Gorge featuring the highest swing in the world which is equivalent to launching off a 55-story building. The height was enough to freak me out. I carefully descended the stairs, reached the spot, and mustering all my courage I jumped from the edge with my eyes wide open. The exhilarating free fall combined with the sound of the Lehr’s Waterfall sent me into a state of nirvana which I just didn’t want to end. But alas, good things didn’t last and my activity was over in around 5 seconds. For this life-changing experience and the courage bestowed upon me by the almighty to take the dive, I was awarded a certificate of achievement which made me really proud and made it one of the most cherishable moments of my trip. The next activities on the list were walking on the 85-meter-long suspension bridge and zip-lining on the wild slide were merely child’s play in comparison to the Gorge Swing activity. After filling my soul with all these adventure activities, I ended my day by having dinner at Lupa Osteria Restaurant in Ballito, where I had Risotto and Caesar Salad with sparkling wine to celebrate my achievements of the day.
Day 3 – Day out at the Mangrove swamps
The 3rd day started early at around 6.30 am in the morning by bidding goodbye to the Capital Zimbali and starting towards KwaZulu-Natal’s Mangrove Swamps – The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park for a boat cruise journey. The swamps are home to an impressive array of animal species such as mighty hippos and crocodiles.
After the boat cruise, I started off on my journey to the Thanda Safari – Private Game Reserve situated in the heart of the Elephant Coast at Umkhanyakude District. Upon reaching, I had to bid bye to my guide, Nthato as Thanda had its own modified Land Rover specially designed for the difficult terrains of the game reserve. The luxurious Thanda tent with meals and drinks was to be my camp for the next day and had much to offer including sightings of the famed Big Five.
Day 4 – From Thanda with love
This private game reserve – Thanda not only presented the crown jewel of Africa, the Big 5 animals but also treated me to relaxing body massages and scrumptious food. Game ranger Peace and trekker Zeblon took me on safaris where I witnessed majestic lions, mighty elephants, beautiful rhinos, strong African buffaloes, and wily leopards, all in their natural glory. The wow moment for me was catching a glimpse of the lions. Other animals which graced me with their presence were the spiral-horned antelopes and zebras. On the game drives, Peace introduced me to Amarula – a cream liqueur from South Africa made with the fruit of the African marula tree, whose taste still lingers with me. Thanda truly opened my eyes to the beauty of Africa.
Day 5 – Ride with the Tide
After the morning game drive and breakfast, it was time for me to bid goodbye to the Thanda Lodge, Peace and Zeblon. Nhatato straight away took me to the Durban south beach, where Sheldon the owner of 101 Surfing was waiting to give a brief lesson on surfing. With my surfing gear on, I learned the basic surfboarding skills, like paddling on the waves, but quickly understood that riding the waves was not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, the lesson itself was quite fun. After the adventurous surfing tuition, I checked in at The Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel, Durban which was to be the last stay on my African sojourn.
Day 6 – South Africa’s Indian connection
Early next morning after a filling breakfast, my next stop was to witness the long and eventful journey of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa. Durban holds the record of having the highest concentration of Indians outside of India at the Phoenix Settlement, which was the home of Mahatma. While exploring the Inanda Heritage Route, Durban, I was taken on a journey to experience the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, John Langalibalele Dube, and Nelson Mandela.
After this insightful session, I headed out to my last adventure activity of the trip – the Canopy Tour at the spectacular Karkloof Forest Reserve, which consists of zipline slides over the forest canopy, with stops below a 15-meter waterfall offering breathtakingly beautiful views of the Karkloof valley.
Day 7, 8, 9, 10 – A Bag Full of Memories
Days 7th, 8th and 9th were spent attending Africa’s travel event – Travel Indaba Africa at ICC Durban, in a supercharged atmosphere showcasing African culture. Finally, my exciting and super adventurous African trip came to an end on the 10thday but not before a few more activities that Nthatho had planned as a surprise for me. Starting off with a cruise ride at the Albert Park, Durban, it ended with a visit to the Victoria Street market, which is an ideal place to shop for souvenirs. My bargaining skills came in handy here. With this, it was time to bid goodbye to the lovely people and colourful country of South Africa with a promise of returning soon, as Africa had lived up to my expectations and had definitely marked its place in my heart.