Eshowe Things to Do
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To my knowledge, the Dlinza Forest hosts the only aerial boardwalk in South Africa, and what a glorious experience it is!
The Dlinza Forest is a pocket of pristine indigenous forest, and the boardwalk offers a unique perspective on this fantastically interesting ecosystem. It is a tranquil place, with a serene, timeless atmosphere that makes it hard to believe that it is situated right on the fringe of a sizeable town.
Birdwatchers will know only too well (as I do, having married into a family of 'twitchers') that forest birds are notoriously hard to spot, and ascending up into the canopy gives you a much better chance of seeing the many woodland species represented - such as the beautiful and uncommon Nerina Trogon, which we were lucky enough to come within a couple of metres of on our first visit.
Even if you're not a birdwatcher, the boardwalk across the forest floor, and then up into the canopy allows you to appreciate the beauty and intricacy of this fascinating ecosystem. In addition to the wonderful plants, memories that I will treasure are watching a duiker (a small solitary antelope) furtively tiptoeing through the undergrowth and gorgeous butterflies fluttering beguilingly in and out of the sun-dappled shadows cast by the foliage.
On a hot and humid day - and there are many in this part of the world, particularly over the period between January and March - it is a particularly attractive prospect to retreat into the relative cool and shade of the forest, and to catch what little breeze there is up in the canopy.
On both occasions I have visited, the reserve was all but deserted. Sad given the effort and expense involved in establishing such a touristic gem - and an absolute bonus for those few tourists enterprising enough to find it!Related to:
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Of all the craft museums I've ever visited - and, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, there've been a few - the Vukani Craft Museum is the place where I have learned most.
I have a passion for basketwork, and on my first visit, the museum was closed, and I could only press my nose to the window and peer in longingly. I was so desperate to visit the museum that I sneakily rescheduled my German clients' programme - we had a weekend break between auditing industrial minerals facilities, which was about as exciting as it sounds - and it was well worth the subterfuge and juggling of itineraries!
Zulu basketwork has the dual virtues of being both beautiful and functional. Even the uninitiated can marvel at the exquisite quality of the workmanship, but it's only when you have the symbolism and function of the designs explained to you that you can fully appreciate that this craft embodies the overlap between art and functionality.
The lady who runs the museum - and I very much hope that she is still there - is absolutely bonkers about basketwork, and has worked closely with local artists over decades to develop an understanding of, and market for, their amazing produce. To hear her wax lyrical about the items on display is intoxicating, as you start to see the baskets through her eyes and appreciate the detail and imagery that you would probably have missed if left to your own devices.
Some of the baskets on display are for sale: don't be surprised if they seem pricey, because they are made by women who are acknowledged to be virtuosos in their own field, and are therefore works of art rather than the sort of curios that you can pick up by the roadside (although these too can be lovely). If you have the budget and do decide to buy - lucky you! - bear in mind that baskets need to be kept under specific climatic (and vermin free) conditions to ensure their preservation, and as they are made of natural materials, you need to ensure that they meet the customs requirements of your home country (Australian customs officials, for example, would have a pink fit at the mere prospect!)
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Fort Nongqayi comes as a complete surprise: the approach is shaded by large trees, and as the fort comes into view - especially in sunshine - you are dazzled by the brilliant whiteness of the exterior.
The fort looks like a set from a movie about Beau Geste and the French Foreign Legion, and you could be forgiven for half-expecting the boggle-eyed Marty Feldman to emerge from a doorway accompanied by the click of a clapperboard! The impression of a movie set is enhanced by the dinky size of the fort - compared to European forts, it is tiny, but this just reinforces how small the garrisons were at the time of the Zulu Wars.
The fort is now a museum complex and the exhibits have been well chosen to illustrate the sparse, isolated life of a Victorian colonial military outpost. But ultimately the main attraction of the place is the atmosphere, and the opportunity to let your mind conjur up what this place must have been like over 100 years ago.
There is a small shop offering a reasonable range of curios - and of course it is possible to buy premium quality baskets from the amazing Vukani museum which occupies part of the complex (see my other travel tip).
My only gripe on both occasions that I have visited is that the on-site restaurant seems to have very short and inflexible hours. I suggest that if you want to take advantage of the lovely setting and eat here (and the menu certainly looked reasonable), check the opening times in advance to avoid disappointment.
The fort is a popular location for school outings, so if you want to have the place to yourself, consider visiting out of the school term and/or in the afternoon (since South African school hours only extend to the early afternoon).
The George Hotel is a fantastic old building that transports you straight back to the Victorian elegance of the colonial era. The hotel is located adjacent to the beautiful Dlinza Forest (see my other travel tip) and was built on the site of the British Residential Commissioner's residency. The present hotel dates back to 1906, and has had a colourful history, even serving a brief term as a stock exchange during a short-lived mining boom in the 1920s!
I mention all this because it is impossible to describe the atmosphere of the George's pub and restaurant without setting the historical context: here, the setting is all, and the fact that the food and drink are excellent is merely a bonus! It is a splendid place to stop off for a drink and a bite to eat, and I would imagine that it is also a very interesting place to stay (although I haven't done so myself).
It's some time since I've eaten there, but when I did, the menu had a distinctly colonial feel, with lots of roast meat and comfort (almost 'nursery') food - whether the emphasis has changed since then, I can't say. I believe that they have micro-brewery beer on tap from the local Zululand Brewing Company, although as with most microbreweries, the supply cannot always be guaranteed (especially after a major event). People interested in this subject might like to follow the following link to a website on the KZN brew route: http://www.eshowe.com/article/articlestatic/23/1/15/
Entering the bar is like stepping back in time. If you're around when there's a major rugby match on, it's worth going to the pub to watch it on the big screen even if you're not in the slightest interested in the match. Rugby is a religion for white South Africans, and chances are that half the town will be there watching it with you, so it's a great way to get to meet the locals!
Eshowe Local Customs
"A place of new beginnings": I had to smile at this wildly optimistic sign outside Eshowe Correctional Services Facility - aka Eshowe Prison!
South African prisons are probably not as grim as those on the rest of the continent, but they are still overcrowded, dilapidated and fall far short of the standards in the developed world.
Being inclined towards the cynical (I prefer to see it as 'realistic'), I would think it more sensible to view South African prisons as places of incarceration rather than rehabilitation. The statistics depressingly endorse the suspicion that petty criminals are more likely to emerge from our prisons as upskilled felons rather than model citizens, hence the misguided optimism of the sign.
Needless to say, this is the sort of place that you'd like to avoid experiencing as a tourist, so be sure to avoid falling foul of the law!