Durban City Walking Tour
BEING A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN CITY IS SOMETHING TO BE EMBRACED. WHY SHOULD ONLY VISITORS TO DURBAN HAVE ALL THE FUN ANYWAY?
As 2015 came sprinting to an end, my colleagues (read work friends) at WildWeb and I slowed down to strolling pace for our end of year function. We donned comfy footwear, applied lashings of sunscreen and headed out to get better acquainted with Durban… on foot.
Instead of the conventional Christmas party we opted for a day outing in the city that we love but are embarrassed to say we don’t know too well. Street Scene is a company that organises just such outings and we threw ourselves into their option of a Durban City Walking Tour. During the 4hours of exploring we were faced with the city’s history and diverse character which is a fusion of colonial, Eastern and African influences. The city has a story and such an original one.
Khuliliwe was our gorgeous local guide. Beautifully and proudly dressed in her traditional Zulu bead ware and a constant smile she led and talked us through a few interesting sites and areas in Durbs.
From our meeting point at the Saviour Brand Coffee café on Station Drive, overlooking the railway line we jumped into a minibus taxi bound for the city centre. I’m ashamed as a South African to admit that it was my first taxi ride. The vibe (and heat) inside was fantastic and the perspective of the humming city life going by outside the window was totally different to what we see when driving our cars. We sat back, felt the taxi’s sound system’s base vibrate our entire beings and took in the sights.
We tumbled out the taxi and the walking commenced. Our first stop was The Workshop– now a popular shopping centre that is also a landmark and smothered in history. Built in 1860 it used to be the railway workshop and still boasts its original iron girders. It still has the structural charm of the Colonial Era, but in a very-Durban way it is now a meeting, shopping and mingling place with European, Indian and African cultures all stirred in together. It’s also known as one of the best spots for a traditional Durban bunny chow lunch which we weren’t about to deny ourselves.
We walked off that big bunny in our tummies over the next few hours starting off with a sampling of Durban’s British influenced sites. Across the road from the Workshop is St Paul’s Anglican Church. Its stained glass windows, impressive organ and immaculately kept interior whisper about its long standing and proud place in the city. It opened for its first service in 1855 and still serves the community. In keeping with Durban’s British past, across from the church is Medwood Gardenscomplete with fountain and inviting lawns which are well used by people moving through the city, in need of a little sit down in the gardens to regroup before moving on with their day.
We walked along the paved walkway next to the gardens lined by stalls selling everything from fruit and clothes to ones overflowing with customers for manicures and jewelry engraving. Durban shouts out its diversity proudly around every one of its corners. The path led us to the City Hall Precinct, beaming with colonial architectural impressiveness.
From there we moved onto a more African focused part of the tour as we navigated through various street markets and shopping lanes, marveling at some of the oldest and most prominent buildings leering over us along the way too. The shopping streets were busy with local folk selling household wares, clothes and services- the most popular seeming to be hairdressers beautifying clients for their December festivities and barbers making the gents look smart as they selected haircuts from the classic 70’s style drawings. Weddings are a big deal and there are shops to cater for every aspect of them, with African flair. From shops with white wedding attire calling out to shoppers to Labolashops providing all the items required for this tradition. It felt good to move with the rhythm of the city as we passed through it and took in its characteristics.
We moved along to experience some of the more Eastern influenced sites. We got a bit of insight into the Muslim religious tradition when we visited the historic Juma Masjid Mosque in Grey Street. It is wham in the middle of Durban’s central Indian district and was the first mosque to be built in the city. It is non-denominational in nature, welcoming everyone into its sanctuary. It is also the oldest and biggest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere.
Outside in the streets again, the Medressa Bazaar met us. It was built in 1927 and the busy little shops which line the road give off an authentic oriental vibe. The Victoria Street Market is an authority on spices and wandering through it, the mesmerizing aromas made us feel we’d stepped into India. I bought some spices to take home and was entertained by some of the creative names given to the different spice mixes in that shop. My favourites were “Just like Nando’s” and “Skop ‘n Donner.” You just don’t get more South African than that.
After a very quick look (and smell) into the fish and meat market, which was enough to make even the strongest stomach’s lurch, we were off to the final leg of our walking tour: The traditional markets of Warwick. These markets lie on the outskirts of the inner city amidst the major public transport interchange. They are busy and very much alive. Walking past the street vendors stalls selling beads and gadgets, chips and luggage and everything in between we also absorbed the views over the city and highways from a higher vantage point than usual.
The most unique of the markets was the herb and medicine market. A real eye opener with no sign of Western influence at all. This section has vendors and medicine men and women displaying and making traditional medicines from crushed herbs. Traditional African medicinal products comprising of clays, unfortunate animal parts and some very scary looking unnamed items in jars are also for sale, each with the aim of curing ailments under traditional beliefs.
We got off our tired, happy feet and into another taxi shared some fellow city commuters as we headed back towards our starting point. We glugged down a cold beer at S43, a gourmet burger and craft beer spot in the Station Drive precinct, and reminisced about how rewarding it had been to be a tourist walking in our city.
DURBAN CITY WALKING TOUR
- DURATION– +/-3 hours
- COST– R440pp (Discounts available from 5pax+)
- INCLUDES– Bunny Chow Lunch
- HIGHLIGHTS– The Workshop, Medwood Gardens, City Hall precinct, Victoria Street Market, Madressa Arcade, Markets of Warwick, and Authentic Bunny Chow Lunch
Blog originally written for Thisis KZN and published on 28 December 2015