Durban, S.A. in transition as new airport opens near wealthy suburban areas
Star Travel writer Adrian Brijbassi continues his South African adventure, checking out preparations for the World Cup. Today he looks at the air transportation situation and Durban's new airport.
UHMLANGA, South Africa – I flew into Durban at 7 p.m. local time on Friday and three hours later the last flight into the airport touched the tarmac. Minutes afterwards, a curtain came down in the lobby and desks and trolleys were removed.
The King Shaka International airport opened Saturday with South African Airways flight A340-600 making the first arrival at 6:30 a.m. from Johannesburg. The $950-million facility replaces Durban International, which served South Africa’s second largest city for 55 years. King Shaka International is located north of the city’s core; Durban International was to the south.
Durban sits on the Indian Ocean, a warm blue expanse of water that stretches island-free to the horizon. The sand is golden brown, the vegetation is green, the temperature is 25 Celsius and it’s late fall here. It’s one of the more beautiful settings you can see, but on land the story is different.
Crime is high and there are stretches within the city where you’re advised to stay clear of. One reason the airport was located north, in the area called La Mercy, is because that’s where many of the wealthy and middle-class in this part of KwaZulu-Natal province live.
One of the safer areas is Uhmlanga (pronounced Ooom-schlang-uh). It is like a ritzy California suburb, with large houses painted in sunny colours and situated on small hills that slope down to the ocean. It’s got a hopping nightlife scene on Chartwell Drive, which will be closed during the 2010 World Cup to create the atmosphere of a street party.
More than 70 bed and breakfasts are in Uhmlanga. I’m at Tega Tata Lodge, owned by a former South African rugby player. It’s a six-room B&B that has openings for most days during the World Cup, which runs from June 11-July 11. Property manager Monica Blomefield is a wonderful host with a sunny personality who took the time to show me around Durban and Uhmlanga. On a hot day with the ocean breeze blowing in off the water, it was easy to see why people rave about the potential of this area.
The biggest draw to Uhmlanga is the Gateway Theatre of Shopping, marketed as the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere. Yorkdale Mall has nothing on this place. Gateway features 380 stores, loads of restaurants and a massive cinema complex. There’s also a mountain-climbing area, an indoor soccer stadium, hotels and a fashion institute. More than 1.8 million visited the mall last year.
During the World Cup, a shuttle service will take ticketholders to new Moses Mabhida Stadium and back. There are Park & Ride facilities at Gateway.
Moses Mabhida Stadium will host some key matches in the World Cup, including a semifinal game. Along with having the largest non-resident Indian population in the world, Durban also has a large Portuguese community. That’s one reason the game of the Group Stage was slated for Moses Mabhida Stadium. Brazil will face Portugal on June 25 in a match that could determine which of the two soccer powers – both are in the top five of the world rankings – advances to the Round of 16.
It is already among the hottest sports tickets in the world.