For those planning to travel to South Africa in the next couple of weeks, please be advised that there is major strike action in progress at the time of writing (15 July 2011). The strike action that has most potential to affect tourists is that being undertaken by chemical workers, which has restricted/halted production at oil refineries, and severely constrained fuel transport by both pipeline and tanker, resulting in country-wide fuel shortages.
Currently many service stations have run dry of both petrol (gas) and/or diesel, which clearly has implications for anyone planning a trip which involves self drive and/or has a road based component.
Sadly, I have little advice on how to deal with this. One would hope that tour operators have made contingency plans (although how effective these might be should the strike be prolonged is debatable). The only advice that I can offer is that if you can avoid travelling whilst the strike is on, then you should try to do so.
I will provide updates on the situation as soon as information becomes available.
Update: 28 July 2011: Happily the strike was resolved today, and fuel supplies are pretty well normalised already.
Travellers to Durban should be aware that the International Airport is moving from its current location south of the CBD to the new King Shaka airport at La Mercy north of the CBD at the beginning of May 2010 (timing as indicated at the time of writing in March 2010).
Given the major traffic expected in June/July 2010 for the Soccer World Cup, this provides a ludicrously short period of time to sort out teething problems, but 'just in time' management is what this World Cup seems to be all about! The switchover (and its timing) may not be reflected in older travel guides, so be sure that you bear this in mind when booking accommodation and making logistical arrangements if proximity to the airport is to be a consideration.
Obviously those planning to travel over the transition period need to keep themselves updated so that they are sure which of the two airports they are arriving at/departing from.
Well, we held a collective breath at the prospect of Durban opening its new international airport only 6 weeks before the start of the World Cup, but here we are on Day 4, and we have yet to hear horror stories about the switch over ... I can only conclude that the transition has been extremely smoothly planned and executed. Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), well done!
For those intending to travel to Durban, bear in mind that the new King Shaka airport at La Mercy is located north of town (the previous airport was south of the city). It is a bit further out, so bargain on slightly longer travel times into the CBD (I have heard figures of an extra 15-20 minutes quoted, which means that you should probably allow about 45 minutes out of rush hour) and proportionately higher taxi/bus fares. As with its predecessor, there is no rail or subway link into Durban, so road transport of one form or other is your only option (I can't resist smugly adding that we in Jo'burg are the only African city to have a rail link to the airport!).
It is important to note that hire cars in South Africa generally do not come with maps or streetfinder atlases, and few hire companies are willing to lend these out (presumably as these have not been returned in the past?).
In general, South African cities are not well signposted, and the confusion is compounded where roads have been renamed to reflect the new political order, which the maps may not yet reflect. Navigating around central Durban is particularly nighmarish at the moment for this reason, with some streets bearing both old and new names (the old one crossed out), some with the old name, others with the new and some without road signs at all!
Tourists are particularly vulnerable when they are lost and either pull off to try and work out where they are, or stop to ask for directions. I would therefore strongly recommend hiring a GPS with the car (all reputable hire companies should offer this, but be sure to specify at the time of booking as they may not have enough units to satisfy demand) - for a very small additional amount, you are making a major investment in your own security.
If you have to ask for directions, I suggest that you pull into a petrol station and ask either the petrol attendents - or even better - local motorists. I can't guarantee that they will give you good directions, but at least they are well lit and secure locations where you will be less vulnerable.
Yesterday (20 May), I flew into the brand new King Shaka airport, and am happy to report that I have only positive things to say!
I travel to Durban on business a couple of times a month, and had been nervous about how the switch between old and new airports would be managed, especially as this was taking place less than six weeks before the start of the World Cup. It is therefore a pleasure to be able to say that the transition has been exceptionally well managed and that the new airport is magnificent.
The new airport is several times larger than the old airport, and the architecture is a triumph - airy and spacious, with enormously high ceilings and lots of natural light. Durban in high summer can be oppressively hot and humid, but you get the distinct sense that even at that time of year, the airport would create a pleasant microclimate for travellers.
As ever with brand new, 'out of the box' facilities, there are downsides, fortunately most of which are minor. For those used to its pocket-sized predecessor, I estimate that it will take you 10 minutes longer from dropping off your hire car to reaching your boarding gate, simply because things are even more spaced out (pun intended). There is also currently a shortage of seating in the public lounge areas, because delivery has apparently been delayed by the volcanic interruptions in Europe (not sure if I believe that they were really going to incur the cost of air freighting these in, but that's the official line), although this should be a temporary glitch.
More insidious is the toll plaza on the highway towards Durban, literally only a couple of kilometres south of the airport: admittedly the toll is currently only R4 for a standard sedan car, but it's not a welcome welcome to Durbs, and sends the unfortunate message that tourists need to be prepared to start paying almost as soon as they arrive (payment can be made with either cash or a credit card).
Durban has a beautiful, new airport which seemed to me to be almost too large for the area where it is situated. On my master South Africa page, I shared some of my research on Kulula Airlines, a low-cost airline which flies only within South Africa. I certainly hope to get to try them the next time that I am in South Africa. There was one anecdote which I found that was particularly apropos to Durban.
A plane was taking off from Durban Airport . After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.
"Welcome to Flight Number 293, non-stop from Durban to Cape Town. The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax... OH, MY GOODNESS!" Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!"
A passenger then yelled, "That's nothing. You should see the back of mine!"
A Scenic drive along the South Coast road to Port Shepstone. Transfer to the Banana Express steam train for a scenic journey through spectacular indigenous forests and rolling green hills - Barbecue lunch at Paddock - Drive through Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve.
Durban can be reached by train from Cape Town and Johannesburg, though train journeys in South Africa take quiet some time. The duration from Cape Town is more then 30 hours and 12 hours from Johannesburg. Yet the journey is comfortable and inexpensive.
Public Transport in Durban, is not as good as the rest of the world.
The most popular mode of public transport is the Mynah Bus.
There are 84 Mynah Buses which are controlled by the Department of Durban Transport. They operate to and from South Beach, North Beach, Albert Park, Market, Morningside, Berea, Tollgate, Musgrave, Mitchelles Park, Botanic Gardens, Ridge and Vause Road. Timetables are free and can be obtained from Pine Street bus terminal, opposite the Workshop Shopping Mall and the Metro Information Centre, Shop 12 Old Mutual Arcade, 303 West Street, Durban
There is a great new bus service in Durban called the Durban People Mover. It provides a safe and regular bus service within Central Durban and the main beaches, from Suncoast Casino down to Ushaka Marine World.
A single journey costs R4, or you can buy a day pass for R15. Buses run every 15 mins.
I cannot really recommend any public transport here as it might even be danger to be left alone in the bus stop. The most continence is of course to use a car equipped with GPS that took me direct to my destinations without getting lost in this big city.
The fastest ways to get to Durban is by plane.
Durban International Airport is only about 10 minutes outside the city centre and caters for both International and Domestic flights.
Airlines serving Durban as part of their routes are: South African Airways, British Airways, Nationwide, and then also served by 2 no frills airlines Kulula and Onetime.
Flight times from Johannesburg are about 80 minutes and 2 hour 20 mins from Cape Town.
One of the fun things to do is RIDE A RICKSHA. Rickshas were brought to Durban by the Hulett family. By 1904, there were 2000 registered ricksha pullers. Our "puller" made it a lot of fun for us as he jumped up and down like an animal would and made all these funny noises. We had a great time, even if it was just for a few minutes. The posted price at the time was 5 rands per person. Tips appreciated.
Sunday, September 18, 1994
Here I will give you an idea how long it took to get to our final destination --Durban, South Africa. Our first leg of the journey began in Toronto with a flight on Delta Air Lines to Washington Dulles Airport.
From there we boarded US/AFRICA AIRWAYS which would bring us to Johannesburg, but first stopping on Cape Verdi Island for refuelling. US/AFRICA AIRWAYS was a new service when we went and we were thoroughly spoiled on the plane which wasn't completely full. We had wonderful service and food (served with real silverware), a package with slippers & head phones and any kind of drink that you desired. My favourite at the time was Amaretto. We finally arrived in Johannesburg Monday, September 19 and now had to take a plane to Durban, which was a short 45-minute plane ride. Our brother-in-law picked us up at the airport. We were both prettty tired after almost 17 hours of travelling time.
South Africa's national airline SAA offers regular air services to Durban from Johannesburg, Cape Town, East London, Port Elizabeth and other cities. The full route network and reservations can be done online at the web page address below.