"If nature here wishes to make a mountain, she runs a range for five hundred miles; if a plain, she levels eighty; if a rock, she tilts five thousand feet of strata on end; our skies are higher and more intensely blue; our waves larger than others; our rivers fiercer: There is nothing measured, small nor petty in South Africa." -Olive Schreiner [1855-1920, South African writer, feminist.
KwaZulu Natal Province is one of South Africa's richest and most culturally rich. The majority of the people are Zulu, but there is a good blend of Indian and European ethnic groups as well. The province is blessed with extreme beauty from its hilly north to the majestic and rugged Drakensberg Range, which lines the western side of the province. KwaZulu was added to the provincial name in 1994, in recognition that the Zulu homeland comprises much of the state. The name Natal is foreign - Vasco da Gama gave the European name "Rio de Natal" when he spotted the harbour on December 25 1497 after a harrowing trip around the Cape of Good Hope. He also named the cape as an expression of his relief in surviving the voyage. Durban's unique cultural blend is a treasure. The name recalls Sir Benjamin d'Urban, governor of the Cape Republic in 1835 when the city was officially established. Unlike the rest of South Africa, Durban's climate is subtropical, so it has always been a resort. Showcasing some of the finest remaining art deco architecture, the buildings are stunning. There is also a preponderance of Edwardian and Victorian style, but art deco was popular in the 1920's when architects were looking for ways to break from more traditional, but staid British styles. The second South African War brought the nation into the British Empire, but Afrikaaners participated in local government. As Afrikaans power increased, Britain's allure waned. Not only commercial structures, but also residential homes were built in art deco style. The Berea District has many examples. So does Grey Street, where merchants have operated family businesses since 1900.
Just beyond Durban's highlands kloof district, the majestic Valley of 1000 hills surrounds the Mngeni River Valley. The region is filled with small villages and many artists have been attracted by the region's natural beauty. The valley is also a place of small guesthouses and inviting cafes and tea gardens allowing visitors to enjoy sweeping views of the hilly district. Several "cultural villages" bring Zulu tradition to life.
However unashamedly "cheesy", the charming [weekends only] 1000 Hills Choo Choo offers steam train trips from Kloof station to Cato Ridge. Several important dams in the district provide water for the metropolitan region and the main waterway supports several important game preserves.
We arrived in Durban at 6am on this Good Friday morning and docked at Ocean terminal. As we ate an early breakfast we could see through the restaurant window a most magnificent group of Zulu dancers who had come to greet us. Lesley and I were to visit the Tala Game Reserve today and I was reminded many years ago Don Carroll used to have a large magnificent photograph [not painting] hung on his office wall. The photograph was of an old bull elephant drinking water at a small watering hole. Five female lionesses were trying to persuade him to leave but he was having none of it. The caption under the photograph read:- "Lion - king of the jungle but the elephant does not agree." For years I had tried to persuade Don to give me the photograph but of course he refused.
Late one night at one of my retirement functions Don turned up worse for wear and just off a plane from Jo'berg. Under his arm was a large brown paper parcel. In it was the framed photograph.
Our route from the docks to the game reserve first took us through the centre of town where we saw hundreds of "Two more" Toyota cars transporting 80% of the cities population. The name "Two More" comes from the driver's habit of saying "just two more" and thereby seriously overloading the vehicle. We later drove through a stunningly beautiful area named by Mark Twain on his journey through Africa as the "Valley of a 1000 Hills". Here we saw thousands of acres of sugar cane known as Green Gold and some of the most magnificent race horses which had been bred locally.
Our guide in the game reserve was a young white ranger called Ashley. We were transported in a nine seated open sided land rover powered by a 4.2 V8 engine. Ashley's knowledge of the animals, birds, trees, shrubs and flowers was amazing. It was obvious his heart was with the animals he so lovingly protected. The photo opportunities were tremendous leading us to photograph almost all the major game in the park. Many were at alarmingly close quarters and this included among others:- Rhino, Hippo, Water Buffalo, Giraffe, Impala, Wart Hog, and Zebra.
Ashley explained only the Rhino and the Buffalo were members of the big five family [lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo] that lived in the park. Plans were in place to include the leopard in the next year.
Ashley shared much information with us about the animals and the vegetation in the park. This included:- [.] If a crocodile attacks a baby hippo the mother can break the crocodiles back by biting it in half. The hippo secretes a red coloured fluid to protect its skin. [.] The skull of a water buffalo is so thick an ordinary bullet would bounce off it. [.] Swallows in the park were getting ready to migrate back to England. [.] The Impala deer were know as MacDonald's on legs because of the black coloured M shaped fur on their rear and the fact that they had to be culled weekly because of their prodigious mating habits. [.] The black and white stripes on the Zebra enabled all the animals in the herd to blend into one image thereby confusing the lion [the lion only sees stripes and therefore cannot distinguish between strong, old, young etc] [.] Rhino are capable of running at 70 mph for short periods and have been known to knock over small family cars. They have tremendous hearing but poor eyesight and it is always wise to approach them downwind. [.] Because of their height giraffes have a sponge-like vessel in their skulls which acts like an accumulator for blood thereby smoothing out the variation in blood pressure when the giraffe raises and lowers its head. [.] As we returned to the hunting lodge we passed by a tall cactus like tree. Ashley explained this was called a Bitter Aloe and had several valuable properties to human beings. These included water in the leaves which were also edible, therapeutic properties in addition to the sap being used to heal wounds. When burnt the scent from the leaves warded off mosquitoes.
We returned to the ship mid afternoon, had a very late lunch with Sandy and then watched the movie "Bobby".
Cocktails were taken with Chuck and Joan before supper and retiring for the evening.
Tonight we set sail for Cape Town