South Africa... East vs West

| November 5, 2018

South Africa’s Western Cape and Cape Town often overshadow KwaZulu-Natal and Durban. Cosmopolitan Cape Town allures many with its interesting history and culture, world-class vineyards, idyllic beaches and penguins. However, Durban is Cape Town’s newest rival, with an up-and-coming culinary scene and being the entry-point to the remarkable KwaZulu-Natal region; an area brimming with ethnic culture, idyllic beaches and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, birdlife and marine life.

Sunset over Cape Town

Cape Town and Durban have many similarities; the coastal cities offer pristine beaches, there are opportunities to spot marine wildlife, wildlife-rich national parks for safaris, eclectic cuisine as well as intriguing cultures that have been shaped by their history. Find out what makes them stand apart here:

Cape Town and Durban: their history, culture and cuisine

Located between the iconic Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town has a spectacular setting. The city offers a mix of modern living and old world charm, with Dutch influences that date back to 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck arrived with the Dutch East India Company. In 1654, the first wave of Asian immigrants arrived in Cape Town, followed by slaves, who were brought over from Madagascar and Java in Indonesia in the 17th and 18th centuries. These influences created the Cape Malay fusion cuisine that the city is famous for; dishes are aromatic with distinct flavours and made using oriental ingredients. The best place to taste these dishes is in the multi-coloured and multi-cultured neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap that perfectly represents the Rainbow Nation.

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

A trip to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without learning more about the anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela. Take a boat trip from the vibrant V&A Waterfront to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years of his incarceration. We recommend joining the Footsteps of Freedom walking tour, as you can delve further into the history and visit the locations of many secretive meetings. After which, enjoy the laid-back cafe culture on the beachfront of Camps Bay.

View of Robben Island and Cape Town

View of Robben Island and Cape Town

Just under an hour’s drive from Cape Town are the renowned Winelands of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, where some of the world’s finest wines are made. Stay at one of the serene estates and learn about the production process before tasting some of the most illustrious vintages. Alternatively, for walkers the Cederberg Mountains are 212 km from Cape Town on the southern fringes of Namaqualand. The Namaqua spring flowers bring a riot of colour to the surrounding valleys. Once home to the Bushmen, you can see their rock art that recalls the European settlers who introduced diseases and guns.

Cape Winelands

Western Cape Winelands

For many, Durban’s main attraction is the glistening tropical coastline, yet there is so much more to uncover. The city acts as a springboard to the rolling hills and mountain ranges of KwaZulu-Natal; known as the Garden Province, the area has a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Wilson Wharf, Durban

Wilson Wharf, Durban

Ceded by Shaka the Zulu king, Lieutenants James King and Francis G. Farewell charted Port Natal in 1824, which was renamed Durban in 1835. After Durban’s Zulu population, the Indians who arrived between 1860 and 1911 for manual work, make up the second largest ethnic group. The blend of cultures can be seen through the bazaars with sari shops and spice merchants, the colonial centres’ Victorian buildings and the modern skyscrapers. The cuisine has been largely influenced by the Indian population, with its breyanis, pilaus and samoosas. Bunny chow is the city’s most famous dish; a quarter of a loaf of white bread is hollowed out and stuffed with either a mutton or chicken curry stew. While the Zulu version of a braai – South African barbecue – are called shisha nyama.

Bunny chow, Durban

In Durban, visit the neo-Baroque City Hall where the city was established, followed by the Kwa Muhle Museum where the indignities of apartheid in the city are shown. The Nelson Mandela Capture Site on the outskirts of Howick, which is less than a two-hour drive from Durban, commemorates where Mandela was arrested in 1962 when he was travelling between Durban and Johannesburg. The monument is a clever series of vertical lines that make up his features and can only be seen from a spot at the end of ‘the long walk to freedom’ from the museum.

Nelson Mandel Capture Site, Howick

Nelson Mandela Capture Site, Howick

Escaping the city centre for some serenity, Umhlanga Rocks is the perfect place to enjoy the warmth of the Indian Ocean. On the southern coast of KwaZulu-Natal you will see the prosperous sugar cane and banana plantations. Alternatively, drive 180 km north of Durban to the Drakensberg Mountains, which means ‘Mountains of Dragons’ in Dutch. The Drakensberg are South Africa’s highest mountain range, popular for walking, trout-fishing, ancient San rock art and incredible scenery and wildlife.

Walking in the Drakensberg mountains

Walking in the Drakensberg mountains

Wildlife opportunities

Boulders Bay on the Western Cape is set between granite boulders, and home to a colony of African penguins. On the verge of extinction, Cape Nature conservation has helped the colony grow from just two breeding pairs in 1982 to around 3,000 birds. Between June and November, Hermanus is Africa’s prime spot for whale watching, with migratory southern right whales, great white sharks, humpback whales and seals. Approximately 122km from Cape Town, it’s a perfect day trip.

Penguins, Boulders Bay

African penguins, Boulders Bay

The Sanbona private reserve is approximately a three-hour drive from Cape Town. It is home to elephants, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, lions and plenty more. With guided tours around the reserve, you can learn about the diverse flora and fauna, go birdwatching and search for wild animals on a wildlife drive. The reserve also has rock art that dates back more than 3,500 years, drawn by the San and the Khoi-Khoi people. At night, why not observe the stunning constellations through a high-powered telescope, accompanied by a ranger who can point out the planets?

White lion in Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

White lion, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Over in the east, Kwazulu-Natal’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is the oldest nature reserve in Africa, and just 280km from Durban. Originally a royal hunting ground for the Zulus, it was established as a park in 1895. Since then, the state-run park has focussed heavily on conservation; looking after the vulnerable white rhino in particular. There are many opportunities to spot the big five, made easier by Hluhluwe-Imfolozi being a more compact reserve than the Kruger.

Baby cheetahs in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (credit Craig Howes)

Baby cheetahs, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (credit Craig Howes)

As you venture up the long, dramatic coastline to the Mozambique border, you will encounter a variety of marine wildlife. From loggerhead and leatherback turtles nesting in the St Lucia wetlands and dolphins and whale sharks along the Elephant coast, to whale watching on the Mozambique border, the area has bountiful wildlife. The iSimangaliso wetlands, freshwater lakes, woodlands and coastal forests provide the perfect habitat for animals, while the tropical reefs offer fantastic snorkelling with an array of colourful fish.

Kosi River, iSimangaliso Wetlands

Kosi River, iSimangaliso wetlands

Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout South Africa

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