This time I was whisked from King Shaka International Airport to Empangeni - a fairly long drive with endless fields of sugarcane on either side of the freeway - then to nearby Richards Bay, and finally to Morningside in Durban.
Halfway between Durban and Swaziland, in the region they call Zululand, Empangeni in particular caters for the business traveller and is very popular for conferences. It can cater for up to 230 delegates in four meeting rooms, although with the pretty garden greenery that comes with a warm and humid tropical climate, weddings are often booked here too. There is even one special honeymoon room.
The 50 standard rooms (with the all-important mosquito nets) are modern and stylish, filled with the necessary amenities and offering garden views; four spacious family rooms, each with one twin bedroom and one king bedroom, en-suite bathroom, and work desk, round out the accommodation complement. There is a restaurant and a bar adjoining the main hotel building, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Richards Bay is a 15km hop, skip and jump from Empangeni, and the BON hotel there stands on the edge of the sandy beach overlooking part of the harbour. Here there are 75 rooms and every one of them has a view of said harbour. Day or night, this is pretty to look at as you watch the tugs come and go about their business. Sixty-three are standard king rooms, plus there are eight executive king suites, and four deluxe king suites with two bedrooms and separate lounge.
Should you think the word “king” has been overused, you might be interested to know that an actual real life king comes to stay there from time to time
While the on-site restaurant caters for your dining needs, to either side of the hotel there is a string of restaurants for variety with cuisines ranging from Portuguese and Mexican to Greek and Cuban. Here, as well as in Empangeni, the local lifestyle is very outdoorsy and over weekends the banks of the harbour and its multiple inlets are lined with families fishing, braaiing and generally relaxing. You’ll see this from a gentle harbour cruise which tootles along the calm waters, and later you can have sundowners at the poolside and watch the tide come in and go out.
And so it came to pass, on the third day, Siyabonga - Siya for short - the driver from ING Travel & Tours assigned to me for the trip, bundled me back into the car to head to Durban.
64 On Gordon is in a quiet residential road (called Gordon, funnily enough) in the Morningside area, a few minutes’ drive from the beachfront attractions. It’s immediately apparent the building, painted steel grey with bold red accents throughout, is old. The façade retains the style from when it was flats, while at the back, modern wings have been added.
My room - one of 35 - was one of the old ones at the front, with a deep balcony overlooking the small garden. Travel tip: always read the in-room literature. In this case, I was warned to close the windows when I went out, because there are monkeys. “Oh sure, whatever,” I muttered to myself.
They were not joking.
Around dusk there was a small commotion outside, which was a fairly large troop (other collective nouns include barrel, carload, cartload and tribe) of the critters leaping from rooftop to air conditioning unit to tree as they made their way to wherever they were going.
The man next door was spraying a couple of them who had perched in his palm tree and I couldn’t help wondering how long it would be before he makes peace with this intrusion, because the monkeys (which I thought cute, probably because I don’t live with them) didn’t seem to give a fig.
The on-site restaurant, PL8, makes such a great steak I had it twice, but Florida Road is walking distance - a safe stroll, I was assured - and lined with dozens of restaurants and bars so you’ll never get bored.