Day 8: Rovos Rail Journey Ends at Durban, South Africa

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Travel / Africa, World Travel / Day 8: Rovos Rail Journey Ends at Durban, South Africa

Today was the last day of the Rovos Rail train journey. Our morning excursion was at the Ardmore Ceramic Gallery. Following that, the final route of the train went through the Valley of a Thousand Hills before reaching Durban. There, we checked into the Hippo Hide Backpackers Lodge.

Filed Under: Africa, World Travel by admin November 14, 2010, 9:12 pm

There was no early morning wakeup call today. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Breakfast would be served until 10 AM and our optional excursion today would start at 11. So, I leisurely got up at 9 and went out to the dining car for the last breakfast of the Rovos Rail journey. As the train continued toward Durban, the weather became more foul and rain clouds started to form, although no precipitation was falling just yet.

At 11 AM, the train stopped at the station in Lions River in central KwaZulu-Natal province. This little side trip was described to us as visiting a ceramics factory where all of the art is sculpted by local artists. It seemed like a marketing ploy to get us to buy trinkets at a local business. Excursions like that go on all of the time where a local merchant would have an agreement with a transportation or tour company to stop off at their shop and let the guests look around. The accommodating business would then earn a small commission based on the amount of money the tourists spent.

Anyway, the business in question here was the Ardmore Ceramics Gallery. The gallery was started by a woman named Fee Halsted in the 1980’s and she has turned it into a place where she has helped quite a few local Zulu and other artists with an avenue to cultivate and grow their artistic talents and allows them to earn a respectable living. Fee gave us a quick history of Ardmore and some of the artists who have come and gone, including a very gifted artist who died of AIDS in the early 1990s. Fee also pointed out some of the many types of ceramics and styles that the artists use in addition to general information on the ceramic making process. Out in the back of the main gallery and museum hall was the workshop studio where a few artists were at work and there were dozens of pieces of work in various stages of completion. Obviously, there was the opportunity to purchase ceramics and other pieces of art followed by a tea and snack reception in the cafe area. The land that Ardmore sits on is quite charming in it lushness of vegetation and the river that runs through the property. Overall, we spent around two hours at the gallery before returning to the train.

Main building of Ardmore Ceramic Gallery

Local Sculptor at Work on Figurines

Upon our arrival to the Rovos Rail, it had started to rain. After lunch, we returned to our suite to pack up our bags and have them ready for the train staff to remove them once we arrived in Durban later in the day. Once I was all packed, I spent the last few hours of the ride in the back of the Observation car so that I could watch our journey through what is called the Valley of a Thousand Hills that lies between KwaZulu Natal’s provincial capital city of Pietermaritzburg and the port city of Durban. The scenery travelling through this area is quite magnificent as the train winds through the hills and mountains that traverses the Umgeni River on its way to the Indian Ocean. The ambiance of the rain and mists on the hilly summits added to the mystical aura surrounding the end of the journey.

Prawn Salad As My Last Meal on Rovos Rail

Travelling Through Valley of 1000 Hills

We finally arrived at the Durban train station around 4:30 PM, or about 30 minutes behind the quoted arrival time — not that it was a big deal or anything, since that meant we just spent more time on the train. Once there, our bags were delivered out to the pick-up area in front of the train depot where the cars, taxis, and other vehicles could come by. Most of the Rovos Rail staff who had journeyed with us came out to the parking lot and waited with the passengers until they had all left. Sure enough, we were the last ones to be picked up as our taxi didn’t arrive for almost 30 minutes. The pick up had been arranged for us by one of the staff members on the train who had called the hostel we wanted to stay at and also arranged a taxi pick. We said our good-bye’s to the staff members and then left the train station. We would go from a five star accommodation to a two star backpacker lodge in a matter of 60 minutes — nice transition, I must say. I’ll give my overall thoughts about Rovos Rail in my wrap up blog post to South Africa after our trip ends, along with other opinions and observations.

Durban is South Africa’s third biggest city. It has a population of around 3.5 million and is the largest city on the eastern coast of the entire African continent. Furthermore, Durban has the largest concentration of South Asians (India, Pakistan, etc.) anywhere in South Africa and was recommended in the guide book as being a center of Indian culture. Considering that we come from the San Francisco Bay Area which already has a huge Indian/Pakistani population, we were interested in comparing how the Durban South Asian community would stack up to our own.

We were dropped off at the Hippo Hide Backpackers in the Berea neighborhood. This area was higher up in the hills of Durban and was also deemed to be a safer area than down in the city center or around the beaches. Of course, the downside to this is that it is also further away from most of the action and so it can be a quieter and more boring locale. That, of course, turned out to be true once we were told by the manager that the nearest restaurant area was about a 15 minute walk down the hill towards the city center. By this time, the rain was coming down pretty good, but since we were pretty hungry, a quick walk was something we really needed after three days of extravagant living on the train. So, off we went and did find a pretty good sandwich and pizza dive to sink our teeth into. We did find a few people while wandering around. They were South Asian Muslims and one of them owned the restaurant that we were about to eat at. He told us that Durban did have a big Muslim and Hindu population and that has been the case for well over a century. He gave us some more tips about the city and where to go. Finally, he gave us his phone number in case we needed anything during our time here, which was nice of him. His wife, whom we also met, had an art gallery near the beach and she gave us her business card in case we were interested in stopping by.

After dinner, we walked back to the backpackers lodge, and checked in for the night. Each room at this place cost R270 for two people, which was still cheaper than what we paid at Pretoria Backpackers before the Rovos Rail trip.

Tomorrow, we’ll head out into Durban and see what the city has to offer.

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I've always felt that a life full of experiences is far more valuable than a life full of material goods. I have yet to come out of one of these experiences poorer than when I first went into it.

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