Dear Durban: sorry, I got you so wrong

2013-05-09 00:00

I HAVE to confess to feeling just a little bemused every Easter, Christmas and long weekend, when I see the lines of “GP” vehicles snaking down the N3 to “Durbs”, like so many lemmings towards the edge of the cliff. After all, Midlands residents don’t seem to go to Durban proper, they go “up the North Coast” or “down the South Coast”. So what is it with Gautengers and Durban?

Perhaps it was memories of a visit about 15 years ago that put me off: the lingering smell of urine, grubby, run-down facilities, and overpriced beach-front food of questionable quality. Despite having lived in the midlands for more than 10 years, my experience of Durban was limited: Ushaka Marine World, the World Cup fan park at SunCoast Casino, concerts in the city hall, seeing “art house” movies at Gateway, eating out in Florida Road and getting lost around Warwick Junction.

Forgive me, Durban, but that has all changed since I spent a wonderful day at the beach front recently. I promise never to think poorly of you again. Seduced by the promise of a chance to ride Segways, we joined the last Gauteng holiday-makers squeezing the final hours of sunshine from the Easter holidays. Segways are those two-wheeled electric scooters that security guards ride in shopping centres and airports. They often look like they’re having fun at work, so I jumped at the chance to ride one.

We parked at North Beach in public parking, which proved to be the first pleasant surprise in a day full of surprises.

Official car guards presiding over a car park that was clean and orderly had replaced dodgy-looking skulkers looking like they were hovering, in wait to break into vehicles.

The beach front itself was the biggest surprise. Spruced up and shiny, I experienced momentary disorientation: “Am I on the Copa Cabana in Rio?”

It was all so civilised: families eating ice creams, seniors walking dogs, mothers pushing prams, jocks jogging and gaggles of people of all ages on all manner of wheels in motion —  rollerskates, bicycles, scooters, skate boards, ripper boards and pedal carts. Along with people having fun spilling out of the restaurants into the warm sunshine, picknicking on the sand, splashing in the waves, throwing fishing lines off the pier and whizzing around the public skateboard rink. In short, nothing like I remembered. We did not find Segways, which turned out to be based at Moses Mabhida Stadium, but we found a whole treasure trove of other, unexpected delights.

If you haven’t taken your own locomotion to ride at the beach front, you can hire a bike, scooter, pedal cart, skate board or ripper board from the Skate Store at North Beach. The experience may persuade you to buy a set of wheels, which is the stated objective of the outlet: to get families exercising and having fun together (www.theskatestore.co.za).

While the males of our family chose to ride pedal carts, the females chose a leisurely stroll. North Beach became Wedge Beach, which merged seamlessly into South Beach, and the stroll grew into a significant walk that earned us ice creams.

In a moment of unthinking enthusiasm, I agreed to a ride on the cable car and only came to when swinging far too many metres above the beach front secured into a seat by nothing but a metal bar. Once I got over a minor panic — “You are the adult and the parent here, get a grip!” — I enjoyed the ride. It affords stunning views of the beach front as far as Moses Mabhida to the north and the harbour and Bluff to the south (www.funpark.co.za).

After a brief spell on the beach, the wind got up, persuading us into a restaurant for a late lunch. We enjoyed another unexpected revelation: an excellent meal accompanied by good service. While we enjoyed leisurely coffees, the children explored Mini Town. Though I never imagined I’d say it, I look forward to visiting again, before another 10 years is up. I’m still owed a ride on a Segway and who knows, perhaps in another moment of mindless enthusiasm, I could agree to try the Big Rush bungee swing from the Moses Mabhida arch.

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