Written by Steven Goff, The Washington Post
I never made it to Cape Town (the San Francisco of Africa) or Nelspruit (the remote city on the edge of Kruger National Park). I spent too many days in bustling Johannesburg and too many hours on the road to and from Rustenburg.
And now with the World Cup winding down, with four teams and four matches remaining and my departure a week away, I have discovered what is surely South Africa's most appealing venue: Durban. It's Miami Beach with a world-class stadium a few hundred yards from the Indian Ocean. It's surfers and sandcastle artists, beach soccer and beach cricket, art deco hotels, a casino, seaside Indian restaurants, soft winter breezes and temperatures in the 70s.
Beach Festival offers carnival rides, jugglers, artisans, surf lessons, an official FIFA Fan Fest viewing area and seven piers -- essentially, a boardwalk scene without the boardwalk. Or fried dough.
Cargo ships the size of El Salvador interrupt the horizon on their way to Durban Harbor, the busiest in Africa. Hotels and apartment buildings line Marine Parade, the beach road.
Like any resort stretch, there are upscale blocks and downscale sections. You'll find me in the dumpy high-rise with 1970s-era, brown-spotted design curtains and an air conditioner lodged into the wall on the alley side of the building. (Steps from the sand, what do you expect for $110?)
The crowds strolling the promenade are a mix of white, black and Indian. There are local families, pasty World Cup fans, street performers, fast-talking hustlers ("official" Adidas sunglasses for 50 rand -- $6.50? Sold!), aggressive beggars, gossiping teenagers, and a heavy police and security presence.
A 15-minute stroll north brings you to Suncoast Beach, where colorful rickshaws and their entertaining owners await customers. It's a service dating from the early 20th century. Behind a casino/mall/multiplex theater stands seven-month-old Moses Mabhiba Stadium, site of seven World Cup matches, including Wednesday's semifinal between Spain and Germany. It's a gorgeous sight. (For $450 million, it better be.)
From the beach, a wide walkway passes under the M4 road and surfaces across from the east entrance at Masabalala Yengwa Avenue. The arch above the field, 344 feet high at its peak, is accessible by funicular. (For security reasons, it is closed during the World Cup.)
For many fans, buses and taxis are not necessary. Unlike Soccer City Stadium, stuck in a dirt/dust bowl in an industrial area near Soweto, or Ellis Park, in a gritty downtown Joburg neighborhood, the Durban facility is within walking distance of hotels, cafes and bars. For many others, a train station provides service just beyond the northwest gates.
Next to 62,760-seat Moses Mabhiba is 52,500-seat Absa Stadium, home to the Natal Sharks rugby club and a venue during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The Shark Cage team shop rivals any American merchandise store.
I've got three more nights in Durban before returning to Jozi for the final weekend. It's not going to be enough time.