My Rough Guide: Beware the strange little country museums

Most memorable meal

Given its terrific location on one of the few deserted bits of coast anywhere near Durban, it's surprising that the Sea Bell Indian restaurant at La Mercy, with its views of the Indian Ocean, hasn't been jazzed up at all. But then it doesn't really need to attract tourists, as its reputation is firmly established among Durban's cognoscenti and, besides, the peeling wallpaper and curry-stained table-cloths somehow add to the charm. There's no question that the menu is first class - especially the seafood curries. But best of all, you could look up from your plate, as I did, and see a school of dolphins frolicking in the surf, just metres away.

Best live performance

Talk of "battlefield tours" conjured up images of crusty colonels with handlebar moustaches discussing military tactics against a bleak muddy landscape dotted with the odd grave. David Rattray's account of the Battle of Isandlwana proved to be hypnotic - a narrative tour de force of Homeric proportions. The battle itself, in which a Zulu army armed only with spears and shields wiped out a well-armed British force in 1879, sent shock waves all the way to Westminster. Rattray sits his audience on Isandlwana hill, a looming sphynx-shaped formation overlooking the battlefield, and gives a spellbinding three-hour account of the battle (which itself only lasted just over an hour). His words are so evocative that you get the real illusion that you're watching the events unfold below.

Most bizarre museum

South Africa is awash with strange little country museums full of Boer War memorabilia and bits and pieces donated by Afrikaner farmers. In order to ward off a loss of funding from the new government, and to qualify for Reconstruction and Development Plan money, many have attempted to tack on a few token displays from the point of view of the country's African majority. One that hasn't is the Fort Beaufort Museum in the Eastern Cape, where the collection still consists of some incoherently-labelled rock samples, a few ancient farm implements, and a display case with some field glasses usefully labelled: "A very old pair of binoculars."

Favourite hotel

There aren't many really remote hotels in South Africa, but Rocktail Bay Lodge, near the Mozambique border, makes up for this. You don't go there for flash foyers and five star service, but for the supreme solitude and the truly deserted beaches. The only way to cover the last 10km to the lodge is by 4x4 vehicle across sweeping dunes. The beach is endless and because it's South Africa's closest coast to the tropics, the water is beautifully tepid. And of course, there's Gremlin, the not-so-cute bushbaby with a serious addiction problem, who props up the bar, steals sweets from children, and will down your lager the minute you turn your back.

Most soiled bed

If you ever find yourself at Letaba Camp at the Kruger National Park avoid chalet 17. I don't know what the rest of the accommodation is like, but 17 has been taken over by a family of bats that have carefully positioned their nesting site above the beds on to which they cheerfully spend their days aiming their droppings. Only after we had shaken the funny little black pellets off the bedclothes several times, and they kept reappearing during the day, did we realise what the score was. The one consolation was the fact that these poorly house-trained flying rats spent their nights out on the town refuelling on insects for a fresh day's carpet bombing of unsuspecting guests.

Most unexpected beggars

Beggars go with the turf in Third World countries, but you'd be forgiven for hoping to shake them off on a wilderness hiking trail. We had no such luck when we walked the route from Greyton to McGregor, in the Western Cape. It was a hot day to be taking such a steep route - even a beautiful one passing through protea forests. So the rock pool filled by a gushing waterfall was certainly a welcome sight. No sooner had we dunked ourselves in the water and pulled out our sarnies, than a cohort of pleading froggy eyes broke the surface. I know I'm a sucker, but I couldn't just sit there and polish off my food without handing over most of it to these accomplished con-artists.

fact file

Where to stay

You can stay at David Rattray's Fugitive's Drift Lodge (Tel 00 27 3464 21843; Fax 00 27 341 23319) for pounds 80 a night and join his tours of the Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift battlefields for pounds 30.

Prices at Rocktail Bay Lodge inclusive of all meals come to pounds 120 per night and can be booked through Wilderness Safaris (Tel 00 27 11 884 1458; Fax 00 27 11 883 6255; email: wildrsa@iafrica.com).

Accommodation at most of the Kruger National Park's 13 public rest camps are well-maintained, bat free and should be booked ahead through the National Parks Board (Tel 00 27 12 343 1991; Fax 00 27 12 343 0905), especially during the December/January peak season.

The Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail passes across 14km of mountainous terrain between the Western Cape towns of Greyton and McGregor.

The Sea Bell Restaurant at La Mercy is 28km north of Durban.

Tony Pinchuck wrote 'The Rough Guide to Southwest South Africa'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam