Surprising South Africa: Part 1, KwaZulu Natal

zebra reflection kampala south africa

If you follow me on instagram or facebook, then you had a taste of my amazing journey through South Africa earlier this month.
hout's bay

My blessed husband held down the fort while I joined Isoul Harris, Chadner Navarro, and Colleen Friesen for two weeks touring this wonderful country and experiencing so much of the culture and activities it has to offer.
sandboarding south africa

We started in KwaZulu Natal, then on to Cape Town, and finally four mind-blowing days on safari in Limpopo.
african penguins at bolders beach

I’d like to share some of my journey with you; I hope it inspires you to visit South Africa – it truly is an amazing experience. I am already planning to go back with my daughter. Today I’ll start with the first leg of our Journey, the province of KwaZulu Natal, including the city of Durban and the South Coast. Come away with me to South Africa after the jump…

To get your bearings, let me give you a few details. South African time is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles time (PDT)/6 hours ahead of East Coast time. The journey is long, about 14 hours on a direct flight from New York to Johannesburg, but totally and completely worth it, as I hope to show you in my series of three posts about my trip. Once you get to South Africa you can travel in luxury for rates much, much cheaper than you would expect to pay based on US standards. It’s sort of shocking how much travel bang you can get for your buck, so the cost of the plane tickets evens out over many other destinations.

We started our journey in Durban, on the coast in the province of KwaZulu Natal. South Africa has nine provinces, of which I visited three. I can’t wait to go back and see the other six. Today’s post will focus on the adventure and sights I saw in Durban and the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal, which is not usually the biggest tourist draw, but is where most South Africans spend their vacations. This means you will get a really authentic South African experience, and that you will spend less on your hotel, food, and activities. In Durban we stayed the legendary Oyster Box Hotel and enjoyed the amazing curry buffet. I was surprised to learn that South Africa is home to more Indians than any other country outside of India, and since I adore Indian food I was in heaven.
Oyster Box Hotel View Durban South Africa

The great thing about jetlag is being up in time to see the sunrise.
Oyster Box Hotel Sunrise Durban South Africa

And also to eat a breakfast buffet featuring giant cheese.

In Durban, our tour guide Thami shared with us his experience as a Zulu man before and after the end of apartheid. This was very powerful. We visit the Kwa Muhle Museum which has a wonderful exhibit that brings to life the hardships and struggle of black South Africans under apartheid.
kwa muhle museum durban, south africa

This sculpture represents Zulu men, who were forced to come to the location to be approved to enter the city of Durban, by waiting naked and being evaluated for health, proving they had work, etc. before they could get their passbook stamped. If they did not have this stamp they would be arrested and sent out of the city. It is a very moving sculpture, I’m not sure my photo does it justice.
Kwa Muhle Museum sculpture, durban south africa

This sign was enforceable until only 19 years ago. It’s quite shocking to realize how recent this injustice was. The effects of apartheid are still very apparent throughout South Africa, but the country is working hard to right these wrongs.

Thami also let me record a video of him speaking Zulu – the Zulu language is amazing, they use a variety of click sounds that were very hard for me to emulate but lovely to hear. Every Zulu persons’ favorite joke seems to be to answer your request for their name with an insanely complicated series of click sounds so all you can do there is stand there dumbfounded and ask him to repeat it five times. Then he’ll laugh and say “my name is Richard.” I met like 27 people named Richard in KwaZulu Natal.

Thami is welcoming us to South Africa, and says to start your tour in KwaZulu Natal because if you haven’t seen KwaZulu Natal you haven’t finished your trip. At least that’s what he told me he said 🙂

After our city tour of Durban we had a delicious lunch of local specialty, bunny chow. This is a curry served in a 1/3 loaf of white bread with the bread scooped out, no bunnies are eaten. You can choose meat but I went vegetarian because I love me some lentils.
bunny chow south africa

Next we headed to the Victoria Market. Victoria Market is a wonderful assortment of shops and vendors offering traditional Zulu clothing, souvenirs, and spices with great deals to be had.
Victoria Market Durban South Africa

My favorite booth sold these amazing Zulu baskets. I brought one home, but would have bought 1,000 if I could have fit them into my suitcase. The baskets are water-tight and the medium sized ones were traditionally used to serve Zulu beer (which zulu women make), and passed around for everyone to drink from.
Zulu baskets south africa
zulu baskets durban

These baskets are woven from recycled telephone wires. Yeah, I brought home one of these as well.
zulu telephone wire baskets

Selling herbs outside the market…

victoria market durban

Next to the Victoria Market is a Muti Market. Muti is the traditional Zulu medicine, and the market is not really a place for tourists to visit and gawk, so we went with Thami but were respectful not to take pictures unless invited to. Most people did not want their pictures taken, so I only have a few. This is a Zulu medicine man. He was very kind to me, and with translation I described to him my problems with my hip joints and he gave me a medicine. He looks like he is drinking, but he is not, they re-use the alcohol bottles to hold medicines. The medicines are made of a variety of herbs and sometimes animal products.
Zulu Medicine Man at Muti Market Durban

The market is a very different experience than anything we would see in the US, with many animal parts or skeletons on display. A lot of the medicine is based on the idea that you can transfer the properties of an animal or plant to people through the medicine, so an animal with strong bones will give you strong bones. It was fascinating. This is the medicine I got, I am supposed to take one tablespoon a day. I took it once, it tasted truly terrible, as medicine usually does, but it gave me extreme energy.

Next we drove down the coast to San Lameer. This area is a common place for South Africans to vacation, but less so for international tourists, which means you can get great deals. We stayed at the Peermont Mondazur San Lameer, which was lovely. Here is the view to the right from my balcony…
Mondazur San Lameer South Africa

And to the left…
mondazur san lameer south africa south coast

There were vervet monkeys everywhere.
vervet monkey south africa

Do not feed the monkeys.
do not feed the monkeys.

Out hotel was lovely, as was the spa there, but if you visit the South Coast you must stay at The Gorge Private Game Lodge and Spa. Look at this view! And each of the rooms is an individual house with five star luxury including a private indoor/outdoor shower with this sweeping view.

And only about $100 a night! GAH!
the gorge hotel south africa

The restaurant there was fantastic,

as was relaxing by the pool.

If you enjoy adventure travel than the South Coast will be your idea of heaven on earth. We spent a day depleting our adrenaline reserves, starting at Oribi Gorge.
oribi gorge south africa kwazulu natal

This gorge is 3,000 feet deep. THAT IS REALLY DEEP. So, jump into it. Yes, it is the “world’s biggest gorge swing” (I didn’t even know gorge swings were a thing? And they want me to leap into it?). A gorge swing is a lot like bungee jumping, except that when you reach the end of your rope, you don’t bounce, instead you swing back and forth. The rope is ONE THOUSAND FEET LONG. SO YOU FREE FALL 1,000 FEET. When we arrived, everyone was ready to chicken out. There was an absurd amount of duct tape on that thing. But one thing you will hear over and over again on your trip is… “Africa is not for sissies”

So we asked our gorge-swing-operator-guy to do it once to show us how it worked. Everyone was still not convinced. I could feel the momentum of the group dwindling and I knew we would be dissappointed in ourselves if we didn’t do it. With my muti-fueled burst of energy, I volunteered to go first. I was like DO IT NOW BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND. So I signed away my life and wrote down my next of kin, strapped into the harness, and descended the ladder to the jumping-off point.
oribi gorge swing kwazulu natal
Try to tell me that does not look terrifying.

He attached me to the rope, then told me to walk to the edge of the cliff. He said he would count 1-2-3 then I would jump. I was not convinced I would do that. Turns out, it didn’t matter because he totally just pushed me into that gorge.

It was terrifying, but amazing. About 3 seconds of freefall, then swinging back and forth in the unspoiled nature of the gorge, followed by being pulled up through a waterfall. It was the most exhilirating thing I’ve ever done – even scarier and more exciting then sky diving.

I was high afterwards, I’ve never smoked crack but I imagine that’s what it is like. I started screaming at everyone that they had to do it! So Chadner went next, and I crossed the waterfall to take this picture of him. Imagine doing this! It’s crazy! Your very human nature tells you not to jump off tall things, right? But I say DO IT, ALL OF YOU.

We were amped up.
oribi gorge swing

Immediately after the gorge swing we headed to further deplete ourselves of adrenaline by ziplining. The drive through Lake Eland Game Reserve was lovely. This zebra was just chilling on the side of the road. That was a new one for me.

The zip line course had 15 lines that started at the top of the hill and ended over that lake you see in the distance.

We were all still high from the gorge swing, and we were running behind schedule, so we elected to skip the “warm up” lines and start with the biggest, highest line. MISTAKE. SO SCARY. I have ziplined before and I loved it, it seemed very safe and effortless, but this particular zip line system employs ABS – also known as African Breaking System. Which consists of a giant leather glove that you wear as you hold the line, then pull the line when it’s time to slow down. This also prevents you from spinning, and makes it extra terrifying because you have to think about what you are doing. But it was also extremely awesome.
Zip Line south africa

Later that afternoon we visited Beaver Creek Coffee Plantation. The owner (his great grandfather started the farm) gave us a tour and showed us how coffee is grown and made. It was fascinating. From coffee sprouts,
coffee sprout

come coffee trees. From coffee trees,

come coffee berries. From coffee berries come the two beans…
coffee berries

This machine shells them.

Then they need to go in here and lose their hard coating.

Then they go into this hot room and rotate in this machine, i can’t remember exactly what it does but it’s more about getting the hard coating off the bean, it’s not roasting.

Then they sit outside under these tarps for a long time,

before roasting! It smelled so good.
beaver creek coffee

I also thought this tire-swing-horse was a nice DIY touch.

The next morning we thought we were going whale watching. South Africa has AMAZING whale watching… that starts in June when there are whales. I should have suspected something when I saw the boat… and no dock.

It turns out we were actually on another adrenaline-fueled adventure on a jet boat with a salty sea captain intent on terrifying us as he wave jumped and did donuts in the ocean.

So if you like jet boat adventure tours, then definitely do this. If you want to see whales, wait until June. If you want to see one single seagull, you’re in luck in May.

Later that day we visited Botha House, which is a former sugar plantation turned bed and breakfast.
botha house south africa

Swimming in this pool would not suck.
pool at botha house

After our tour we headed to the Durban airport for our flight to Cape Town, undeniably the most beautiful city I have seen.
Departing for capetown south africa airways

See more of my journey to South Africa here:
Surprising South Africa Part 2: Cape Town
Surprising South Africa Part 3: Kapama Safari

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17 Comments

Colleen Friesen

Wow Jaime! You nailed it. When I want to look back and remember everything we did, I’m coming straight to your site. I strongly second your recommendation to visit South Africa sooner than later. What a fantastic place. Did we have fun or what??

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Marty

Thank you for the beautiful pictures. Many years ago I was a Foreign Exchange student to South Africa (Tzaneen). I LOVED it there…in fact, that is where I met my husband. We both greatly miss the country (neither of us has been back to visit). We are hoping to be able to visit with in the next couple of years and take our kids so that they can meet their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. These pictures really make me miss the country.

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Jaime

I hope you are able to go back soon, it really is wonderful and I’m sure the changes over the last few years will make it an even more magical experience for you!

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Colleen

Monkeys!! This all looks so cool and your photos are beautiful! I want to book a flight right now.

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Jacinda

I’ve never thought much about visiting South Africa but these gorgeous pictures have moved it to the top of my wishlist. The coffee tour looked so interesting and The Gorge Private Game Lodge and Spa looks dreamy.

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Marcy Massura

I am stunned. Such beauty and diversity. I have been looking for an adventure trip to take my 14yr old on next summer. And THIS IS IT. Seriously- this post, your photos…your experience sealed the deal. South Africa is my new vacation spot!

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Eva

Never thought of going to South Africa but now I’m seriously considering it. Gorgeous.

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Macki

I cannot believe that gorge! It must have felt like flying, I want to go! What an amazing trip, now I’m dying to visit South Africa.

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Caroline

I came to your site via another as she raved about your double welt, when I saw your post on South Africa. I am a South African, married to an American & living in Ohio, so it piqued my interest. Amazingly, I realized that we could have been at the Oyster Box at the same time. Although sadly I was there to give my mom a quick vacation as my father had just passed away a month earlier (6 May 2013) after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. The hotel and their employees were simply wonderful. I just loved it when it was suggested to me to enjoy a glass of champagne with my breakfast buffet (which is to die for)…..silly me. Why not? They made my mother feel so special during a very difficult time. Anyway, what a small world.
My patents (now my mother) live on the South Coast of South Africa (Margate) & so often overseas tourists miss out on this incredible gem. Thank you for highlighting a beautiful place in the world. I’m pleased you had a marvelous time.
Caroline

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Jaime

Wow that’s so fascinating, it is a small world after all. I am so glad you had a lovely vacation with your mother at such a difficult time. Thank you for sharing this with me!

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