Day three of our adventure did not begin as planned. As a result, I now feel I can lecture with great authority about the layout of Durban airport!
I learnt a valuable lesson on this trip: never ask a group of journalists to get up early. You may as well ask the cat to compose a violin concerto. Most of us missed the morning flight to Durban from Johannesburg and the few that made it enjoyed Durban airport for several hours. Still, we got there eventually and anticipation heightens enjoyment I suppose.
Driving through the centre of Durban our group felt in a completely different world from Johannesburg, Durban city centre is more familiar to the Europeans amongst us; plenty of businesses and a more diverse cross section of society inhabit it during the day. However, the real attraction of the city is its seaside location and the impressive port. One of the biggest in the world and well worth a look.
We were privileged to be given a boat trip round the harbour and the sun even came out for us. It was a glorious sight, the scale and sheer volume of ships and portside equipment designed to facilitate the shipping of cargo across the world.
There were more treats to come. For me, visiting the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban was a bittersweet experience, as England could have so easily played there in the World Cup, if it wasn’t for the appalling refereeing. I stood in awe of the scale imagining what should have been. The most impressive thing about the stadium is not the building itself, but the sky train that hoists you over the top of the Durban Skyline. The views alone are worth the ticket price.
And then there was the Oyster Box, a boutique hotel along the coast west of Durban. I had always dreamed of staying in a hotel like this, gorgeous whitewashed interiors, an inviting pool facing the coast, sew views and staff that cannot do enough for you. The food was excellent too!
If you fancy a bit of sheer bloody luxury and pampering, I can think of no better place in the world.
We were dragged (kicking and screaming) from the hotel the following Wednesday morning to visit a mountain of sugar. Another important aspect of the South African economy, Durban is a major centre for sugar refining. Standing in the massive, oil tanker size storage container was a unique experience. Surrounded by over 5 million tonnes of sugar was a diabetic’s worst nightmare. I managed to control my sweet tooth and resisted the temptation to dive in.
They say there is no pleasure without pain and the pain came in the form of a presentation from South Africa’s leading logistics company. A long lecture about the finer points of logistics made the electric chair seem quite attractive. I think the organisers wanted to make the sweet seem even sweeter.
Eventually we managed to escape our confines and ran for our lives towards the tour bus. After a smooth flight to Jo-berg we finally arrived at the Farm Inn, a hotel with a difference. How many hotels in the UK could boast a game reserve and cheetahs you are able to cuddle? Falling asleep listening to the distant roar of Lions was quite special and an experience I will never forget.
On Thursday I got as close to a big cat as you can get. Anthony is a tame Cheetah, who as a kitten claimed the hotel grounds as his own and swaggered around to the delight of guests. Anthony was a real gentleman, allowing me to stoke and pet him while he nochantly relaxed on the grass. He was obviously so used to having a group of tourists stare and photo snaps did not seem to bother him one bit. Amazing!
At that moment I realised just how much we had packed into the last three days. Game drives, coastal scenic beauty, Durban harbour and the stadium. South Africa truly is a land of diversity; no where else I had visited offered such a range of experiences and stimulations. And the best was yet to come!
Part 3 on Christmas Eve – Stellenbosch and Cape Town calling!