Things I like about Durban

As much as I love Joburg, when that first bite of winter makes itself felt (temperatures drop below 18 degrees C) I am ready for migration. And so we set off for a short pre-winter break. While freeway management aimed at reducing the high rate of road accidents seems to have made the trip longer and longer (with a few too many maximum-speed-of-80km zones) Durban is still a pleasant 550km+ drive away. Beach, mostly blue sky, warm April weather and the best curries in the land are only a few reasons to head for the car. Here’s a longer list…

1. Marco Cianfanelli’s ‘Capture’. About 86km outside of Durban at Howick, marking the spot where Nelson Mandela was captured in 1962 after having been on the run from the police. Cianfanellis’ remarkable sculpture sits along the roadside, a series of steel columns that when viewed from a particular angle merge to form the face of Mandela. There is a small museum that takes you through the life history of Mandela and the struggle against apartheid.

Marco Cianfanelli 'Capture' - Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela

Marco Cianfanelli ‘Capture’ – Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela

Marco Cianfanelli 'Capture' - Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela

Marco Cianfanelli ‘Capture’ – Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela

Marco Cianfanelli 'Capture' - Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela

Marco Cianfanelli ‘Capture’ – Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela


2. Sunrise. Tropical Island Umhlanga

Umhlanga sunrise


3. Beautiful beach fronts. Over the past few years the beachfront areas from Durban to Umhlanga have been redeveloped creating fantastic promenades for walking, cycling and socialising along with some interesting piers.

Umhlanga Pier


4. Sand artists along North Beach, Durban. Young men like Skhumbuzo and Allen employ themselves on North Beach by creating incredible sand sculptures. An entrepreneurial crew, I watched as couples made their way to have a name signed in the sand heart for a few bucks a time.

Sand Art 2

Sand ArtSand art 3

5. My childhood memories of the Sands hotel are just that and maybe the touch of glamour I had previously associated with the place was all in my head.  Still, what the interior of the Umhlanga Sands hotel now so thoroughly lacks in charm is made up for by its extraordinarily picturesque pool areas and views.

Umhlanga Sands Hotel

6. 9th Avenue Bistro, 2 Avonmore Centre, 9th Avenue, Morningside, Durban. Tel: +27 31 312 9134

This much acclaimed restaurant – one of the top in the country – never disappoints. The service was excellent, the meal sublime. The homemade roasted butternut squash ravioli with  Madeira cream, mushrooms, candied pecans, parmigiano beyond description, the grilled norweigian salmon with ramen noodles, smoky tomato, saffron & spring onion, white onion cream & cumin utterly delicious. It is wrong to visit Durban without eating a fine meal here. Just wrong.

 7. The fascinating mix of Indian and Zulu culture makes Durban unique

market 1

market 8

9. Warwick Junction with its 9 markets that take you under highway bridges on the edge of the city is a fascinating place to explore African Durban. From pinafores used in lobola ceremonies to lime bought to mark the faces of sangoma initiates and professionals the place will give you insights into culture, customs and history while offering incredible bargains on beautiful beaded artefacts, fabrics and spices. The music blares out of portable TV sets while hundreds flock to buy religious ceremonial garb with tailors working 24/7 over the Easter period. Our guide Thembalihle Nyawo has a salon at the Brooke Street Market and so was extremely knowledgeable not only about the history of the place but the politics of market trading and the ongoing battles to get the municipality to provide electricity and sanitation for the thousands of traders here. We were shadowed by Vincent, an extremely broadly built man with a genial demeanour that didn’t for one second create any double as to his abilities to handle a tough situation if one came our way. Vincent is one of 50 traders who have volunteered to secure the markets for visitors and we are told this approach has been working well, with crime no longer a daily reality. The Victoria Street Market is over 100 years old, and sells spices, animal skins, cloths and beaded goods from its 180 shops. The bead Market opens once a week on a Friday, the women traders arriving at 4am with their wares. Many of the other traders at the markets sleep in their stalls or under the commercial Road bridge enduring rain and shine. At the Bovine Head Market visitors feasted on the delicacy of cow’s head while in the background scenes from a horror movie were being enacted out (this part is better not described if you like your cow with a head on, and mooing). For R35 you get a filling piece with a dumpling. Markets of Warwick, +27 31 309 3880


Warwick Junction Markets

The transistor radios that were once a staple accessory of Zulu night watchmen. As a child I remember these from the men who used to take care of white grannies in Killarney’s flatland.


market 7

White lime  is used to mark Sangomas in training, brown qualified sangomas

Market 10


This flower-selling couple told us they had worked at this stall for 60 years

market 6

Mats being woven


Market 2 market 3 Warwick chickens


10. At 1299 Umgeni Road you will find the Brittania Hotel, set next to a highway on the city’s outskirts, and possibly the best mutton, chicken curry and kebab (full of green chilli) in all of Durban. Built in 1879 the place was once a liquor wholesaler that only served white customers. The story goes that two little rooms were earmarked as places to serve Indians and black people (in far more derogatory terms) – in fact, hatches from the main bar. Today Brittania Hotel, owned by the Moodley family serves everyone who has a taste for hot food. Brittania Hotel, 031 303 2266.

Joburg’s new city guide is in print – AUDIO INTERVIEW



Nelson Mandela mural by Ricky Lee (aka Freddy Sam) on Staib Street, Maboneng. Photo by Justin Lee.

Nelson Mandela mural by Ricky Lee (aka Freddy Sam) on Staib Street, in Maboneng. Photo by Justin Lee.

Johannesburg In Your Pocket is in print!  In Your Pocket is a European-based city-guide series currently in more than 100 cities, and Johannesburg is the first city outside of Europe to produce an In Your Pocket guide.

So this crazy mining camp of a town finally has a  city guide Continue reading

Next step: Johannesburg in Your Pocket

I know it’s been too long – but since October I have been at work on the first edition of  Johannesburg In Your Pocket, a brand spanking new quarterly city guide that is due out in February. With so many things to do in Joburg I realised the next step had to be to share this city with a wider audience.



It will be available in selected hotels and bookshops – list to follow.  Follow the updates on and keep watching this space.


Graffiti artist Mars takes it off the streets for a gallery show


Mars is a Joburg icon. Drive around Newtown, Fordsburg, and along Barry Hertzog Ave and you’ll see his telltale signs. The 25-year-old graffiti artist has pretty much made his mark across the city. This week his exhibition From The Ground Up is on at Two By Two Gallery in Newtown. It’s definitely worth seeing. Before Instagram and inner city gentrification there was Graffiti and with it came the mingling of exhaust and paint fumes, the scraping away of rot and unearthing urine-stained sidewalk weeds for the perfect spot. There was finding the best wall and owning it, but most of all burning the rest. This is graffiti and it all started from the ground up.”

This is the story of #Mars… Continue reading

Desire in Joburg’s suburbs: the photographs of Huw Morris

KITCHEN  © Huw Morris.

KITCHEN © Huw Morris.

A long overdue post on an exhibition that came and went but one that has stayed in my imagination… There is no better word than Huw Morris’ own descriptor of “murky” to describe the territory of his photographic series So, this is desire? In 11 photographs the 30-something photographer’s narrative of love set in a 1970’s South African home pulls at a small thread in the fabric of South Africa’s domestic story and as the viewer you are left with the feeling of helplessly watching something unravel.

Continue reading

The Cronut comes to Joburg

Belle's Patisserie

Belle’s Patisserie, Blubird Centre, Birnam

When historians turn over the major events of 2013, among Egypt’s implosion, popular revolts and the tragic Shakespearean makeover of a famous and much-loved sportsman who shot his future, will be the cronut. Continue reading

A night out in Hillbrow and Yeoville

Hillbrow iconography

Hillbrow iconography

We are on Yeoville’s Raleigh Street at Kin Malebo Village. The doorman greets us in French. The rhythms of Congolese singer Fally Ipupa’s “Bicarbonate” escape the bar into the crisp winter night, as the door swings open. Inside it’s warm and inviting. Continue reading

Friday night in Braamfontein

In full Joburg City Festival mode we took to the streets of Braamfontein on Friday night, a pack of travel and food bloggers – among us @mzansigirl, @2summers2010, @hasmita, @wisaal, @hitekani_m@SarahDuff  and others -  in search of a night out. Around 5.30 pm  you could find us at The Grove, the piazza in front of Braamfontein’s Easy Hotel, formerly Hotel Lamunu, sampling craft beer. Truly. beer is not something I usually consider a beverage although I would be lying if I said I have never cast an envious look at people who drink the stuff on a hot day. But the taste usually never lives up to the image. My brew of choice was the Dragon Fiery Ginger Beer, from the Dragon Brewing Co one of many new craft beer companies that have popped up from Joburg to Cape Town. I think I might be a convert. Continue reading

Newtown graffiti walk

Solo one

Sunday morning in Newtown. We joined the lovely Jo Buitendach from Past Experiences, the original city walking tour company for a graffiti walk. Jo’s in the process of writing her M.A. thesis focusing on the heritage value of graffiti in Newtown. Hopefully it will end up as a book. She has an anthropological take likening it to early human’s need for self-expression once realised in rock art.

Continue reading

Weekend alert! Joburg City Festival kicks off Sunday, August 25 2013

It’s been a while in the making, and now it’s just a few days until the Joburg City Festival (an initiative of the Joburg City Tourism Association) kicks off. See my earlier posts Joburg gets an inner city festival and Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra outside the Rand Club. On the programme is music, art, walking tours, a film festival, sundowners with sumptuous views of the city, food, ballet performances, a food and craft beer pairing at Restaurant Lamunu in The Grove, Braamfontein plus the incredibly successful Critical Mass cycle through the city (it happens on the last Friday of each month and attracts thousands of people). And added to that  is the Mail & Guardian’s Literary Festival from August 30 to September 1, featuring a star-cast of Nobel prize-winner Nadine Gordimer, award-winning novelists Niq Mhlongo, Imraan Coovadia plus Booker short-listed author NoViolet Bulawayo. The full lineup of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival.

One of numerous public artworks in the city - Pigeon Square, Newtown

One of numerous public artworks in the city – Pigeon Square, Newtown

Nothing left to do but offer an annotated version of  some of the programme highlights – which is fully downloadable at Joburg City Festival 2013 Programme Continue reading