“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.” – Toto

Durban

I think that anyone with a serious love of wildlife has Africa on their bucket list. It is the mecca, one of the last places on earth to witness species of that magnitude in their natural setting. I was extremely fortunate to have visited South Africa, specifically Durban, as a graduate student. One of my conferences was being held in that magical country.

At the time I thought this might be the only chance I get to visit this wonderous land so I better make the most of it. Durban isn’t known as a big tourist hub, necessarily, and can be quite dangerous. We were instructed that if you are going to leave your hotel, drive only to your destination and back, no strolling the streets, no detours. I had heard horror stories of people smashing into people’s car’s while they were stopped at a stop light to snatch their purse on the back seat.

I didn’t have any of these encounters, however, even when we visited a large market. Not once did I feel unsafe. Durban is a really interesting city with a cool Afro-Indian vibe and beautiful beaches. It is the third most populous city in South Africa and the second biggest manufacturing hub next to Johannesburg. To learn more about the area I did a city bus tour and it really was worth it if you are interested in diving a little deeper into the history of the area.

Bus tour

Not only did you get the history, they also stopped at the Durban Botanical Gardens and the beach. The Botanical Gardens is Durban’s oldest public institution and Africa’s oldest surviving botanical gardens. The gardens, not only had an abundance of plant life, it also had several bird species in the area. It was a beautiful place to walk around and we even stumbled upon a wedding in progress while we were there.

Birds

Flowers

I am not typically into these types of tours, but the stop at the beach and the trip to the botanical gardens was a nice touch. What I really wanted was to experience the wildlife in this country. So, I signed up for several wildlife tours, one was a safari tour of Thula Thula private game preserve, the second a hippo and croc boat tour, and the final a safari tour of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.

Thula Thula

Thula Thula

The Thula Thula tour, started at their lodge, where we were offered drinks for a fee and some lovely views from the patio. You can stay at this lodge and they also have some camping options for a true Africa experience.

While I was there the rangers had found a dead rhino that poachers had killed for it’s horn. With the ever dwindling and critically endangered status of this magnificent animal it is somewhat disheartening to see that even a game reserve can’t keep these criminals out.

We took a safari jeep around the reserve and were lucky enough to see giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, nyala, elephants and so much more. The most impressive and possibly most intimidating were the elephants. We found a pack of female’s and their young and stopped to watch them, while being mindful of several bull elephants watching close by.

Zebras

As we sat there in awe of the pack I turned around just in time to see the biggest of the males coming straight for us. I yelled to the driver, who had stopped the jeep and he turned around. As soon as he saw the bull I could see the urgency in his eyes as he started the jeep.

Elephant

All I could think in that moment was that the jeep was never going to start and we would be stomped to death by this mammoth of an elephant. But it started right away and we moved along, the bull giving up as he saw us leaving. Talk about close encounters with the locals!

Landscape

The reserve was spectacular and definitely a must-see if you are in Durban. The landscape and the animals living there are awe inspiring. The beauty breathtaking. And even though it was winter in South Africa the weather was perfect.

Hippo and Crocodile Boat Tour

Hippo tour

The second tour was a hippo and croc boat tour in St. Lucia, South Africa. On this tour you take a pontoon boat up one of the largest Estuarine systems in Africa, which is South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

This was a fantastic tour. You get onto a pontoon boat when you arrive and from there the guides takes you on a two-hour tour of the area, where you will see some 800 hippos, around 1000 crocodiles as well as a plethora of bird species.

Hippos

The boat travels lazily down the river, while the guide tells you about the native plants and animal species and the might of the hippo bite. It is another world and a fantastic compliment to the safari, seeing wildlife from another perspective. And let me tell you, there were so many hippos! It was fantastic.

Hippo tooth

Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve

My final tour was of Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. This iconic park boasts 96,000 hectares of land housing the African big 5, Cheetah, Wild Dog, Nyala, Giraffe and more. The park is best known, however, for its rhino conservation. This reserve has the option of taking a guided jeep safari or driving yourself through the park. The roads are well kept and there is a ton of wildlife to see. I managed to see everything except the big cats, which tend to be seen more during the sunset tours or early dawn tours.

Giraffe

Wildebeast

This park has a lot to offer, however, if you find an animal of interest close to the roadway it can get rather crowded with jeeps and personal vehicles as everyone tries to get that perfect photo.

Too close

Close up

All the tours I did in total cost me around $400 CAD, some included lunch and drinks and all the shuttles to and from the location. It was worth every penny and I think that Durban is a totally underrated city, with wildlife in their backyard, a booming metropolis with plenty of things to do, and fantastic beaches if you are into surfing.

Have you been to Durban and on safari? Let me know your experiences and what places I am missing.


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About the author: Nicole

20 Comments

  1. Love the intro! The funny thing is when I landed in Ghana last year that song was sort of in the back of my head. Haha. And thanks for sharing the photos of your safari and time in Durban. At $400 CAD it seems really reasonably priced. How was the lunch on the tours that included food?

    • That food was fantastic actually. Nothing big and you could purchase snacks and alcoholic drinks during the trips too, which was a nice bonus.

  2. I have never been on a safari tours, but I would love to see the animals in their natural environment! That bull elephant would have given me a bit of a scare, but not enough to put down my camera!

  3. It is such an enjoyable post to read. I could feel your excitement while you were narrating what happened on your trip. I admire you for having the courageous heart to visit and see the animals up close. My boyfriend asked me if I wanted to see the Safari in the Indonesia, but I have been afraid of big animals since I was young. My unforgettable experience was when I was chased by a carabao. I was too young then to know that animals with horns hate red and that time, I was wearing red. If I were not alert enough to run as fast as I could, I guess I already died from that encounter.

    • Wow that certainly sounds like a scary experience! I am sorry that you had such an experience that it put you off from these beautiful animals but I totally understand why you would feel that way. I hope you have a wonderful animal encounter in the future that is more memorable than your previous experience.

  4. This looks like such a great experience! I really appreciated how you included some of the behind the scenes pictures and descriptions as it really gave a feel for what your trip was like.

  5. Durban does sound like it has a lot to offer and not to bad in cost on tours. The Safari looks like it will hold a lot of great memories for you. I can not wait to experience Africa!

  6. You included so many pics and info! The croc and hippo tour looks so unique. Would love to do this one day!

  7. Okay I was hooked from the Toto lyrics onward. It’s kind of mind-boggling you could do all this for $400 CAD.

    Also, in my experience traveling, a lot of places are not as dangerous as their reputations make it seem, but the once in a while offense outranks the stories of all the safe travels. It’s good to be cautious but not to a point of limiting your travels in such a way that you couldn’t go visit the market like you did.

    Love your photos by the way, “mecca” is right.

    • I completely agree, this was just one example of being told the place was dangerous. I read that about Barcelona too and had zero issues. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  8. This sounds like an amazing adventure, and crazy that you were able to all of this for only $400! South Africa is definitely near the top of my bucket list.

    I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to have an elephant charging towards you though!

  9. Wow the safari and the game reserve look absolutely incredible. That is an incredible price for all those tours also! South Africa is definitely on our Bucketlist. We will look at these tours!

  10. Love the raw close up pictures of the animals, Nicole! And what a moment of panic it was when the elephant went charging at you guys! Thanks so much for sharing!