A bit of background: Ray and I planned a trip to the Wild Coast, which you can read about in this dramatic series of posts. The Wild Coast is too far from Joburg to drive to in one day so we stopped in Durban along the way, and then again on the way back. (In fact, we realized that some parts of the Wild Coast are also too far from Durban to drive to in one day. Refer to the dramatic series above.)
As we were on a tight budget for our Wild Coast trip, I used my travel blogger status to negotiate free stays at two different Tsogo Sun hotels one on either side of the journey. (We paid for the rest of the trip on our own. Someday soon I’m going to write a whole post about the politics of blogger freebies.)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I used to shun big-chain hotels but I’ve recently come to realize that they have their advantages.
On our first night of the trip we rolled into “the Golden Mile” (the local name for Durban’s beachfront) and checked in to the Garden Court Marine Parade, a mid-range hotel with rooms starting at R1250 ($100).
Our newly renovated room at the Garden Court Marine Parade.
I couldn’t get good photos outside the Garden Court because the hotel is finishing a major renovation and there was construction chaos outside the hotel and in the lobby. But basically, this is a traditional high-rise hotel right in the middle of the Golden Mile. Some people knock the Golden Mile for being run-down but I personally love it — I wrote a whole post about it here. So I was happy to spend the night there.
I was especially happy when I saw the view from our room.
The Garden Court is right behind the amusement park and the rooms have huge windows that actually open. We were on the 17th floor — the hotel is more than 30 floors high.
The Garden Court is also right next to Al-Mehran, one of my favorite Indian restaurants in Durban. I wrote about it briefly in my very first blog post about Durban, nearly five years ago. Ray and I ate there and the food was just as good as I remembered. The decor was just as bad. (Sorry, no Al Mehran photos. Decor is too ugly.)
After the Wild Coast, on our way back through Durban, we stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The Beverly Hills on Umhlanga Beach. A friend of mine refers to Umhlanga, which is known for its luxury hotels and pristine beaches, as “the Sandton of Durban”. I’m pretty sure Umhlanga is the cleanest place in South Africa.
I did almost no research about these Durban hotels before we arrived. Ray and I were vaguely aware that the Beverly Hills is a nice hotel. But nothing could have prepared us for what we found when we entered our top-floor suite.
I stood on top of the TV stand to take this. Still, I didn’t have a lens wide enough to capture this suite’s magnificence.
The Beverly Hills is one of the top five-star hotels in Durban, if not all of South Africa. I can’t express the joy that Ray and I felt when we arrived there. We had spent the previous five days driving thousands of kilometres on South Africa’s roughest roads, getting lost, getting flat tires, and staying in backpackers and self-catering chalets without electricity. We enjoyed the adventure and all, but the Beverly Hills was a nice change of pace. (That’s the understatement of the year.)
The Beverly Hills lobby. So many orchids.
The heated pool.
Morning coffee on our private balcony. Made with our Nespresso machine.
I hope you’re not offended by this semi-nude photo of my boyfriend. But how often does a guy get to eat biltong from a martini glass while taking a bubble bath?
Preparing to leave the Beverly Hills after the best night’s sleep of our lives. The staff washed our filthy rental car and pulled it around to the entrance for us. (Photo: Marc from the Beverly Hills)
We were so happy to be relaxing in balmy Durban, not driving on terrible dirt roads and getting flat tires, that we decided to stay an extra day before driving back to chilly Joburg. I tried to score another free night at the Beverly Hills but that didn’t work out. (Only later would I learn that the suite that we stayed in costs at least R7800 [$630] per night.)
So I asked some friends to recommend a nice, affordable backpackers in Durban. That is how we landed at the Happy Hippo.
I think Ray’s face says it all.
We booked an en-suite double at the Happy Hippo (payment up-front required) for R520 ($42). There were no orchids in the lobby.
The common area at the Happy Hippo Backpackers. Don’t get me wrong: It’s clean and cheerfully decorated. But…no orchids, ya know? And we were virtually the only people staying there, which felt weird.
Our room didn’t have a Nespresso machine.
Our not-so-happy-Hippo room. A sign on the wall instructed us that no food was allowed in the room.
The Happy Hippo is sort of near the beach. But we couldn’t see it.
The view from our room.
There was no bubble bath (in fact there was no bathtub) and no martini glass full of biltong. We did our best to improvise.
We walked to the Engen station and bought a packet of biltong, specifically for this photo.
The Happy Hippo was, well, mildly amusing. I can’t really call it happy. I’ve stayed in better backpackers’ hostels and I’ve stayed in worse. I probably (okay definitely) won’t go back. But the Happy Hippo made us laugh, and provided an appropriate conclusion to this crazy trip.
Ironically, we saw the best sunset of the week through our smudged window at the Happy Hippo.
There you have it: three nights in Durban through the eyes of a quirky travel blogger and her boyfriend. I’m headed off to Zanzibar now so there will be more quirky tales to come.
My stays at the Garden Court Marine Parade and the Beverly Hills Hotel were provided by Tsogo Sun. Opinions expressed are my own.