Segway by the sea
It’s 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and Durban’s beachfront is all colour and action, the sunlight startlingly bright. People look happy, relaxed and on holiday. Teenagers sleep in the sun and fool around on skateboards. Little children in luminous costumes play near the water with buckets and spades. A bar advertises cocktails. Another sign says, 'Ride a rickshaw.'
Traders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Lesotho sell beaded jewellery, plastic beach balls and wooden bowls. The smell of burnt sugar is distinct in the salty air, and its colour is echoed in the candyfloss buildings of the Sun Coast Casino that I’ve just passed.
The scene is surreal and cinematic, with the action running like a reel of film as I glide along on my Segway, a 2-wheeled self-balancing cross between roller skates and a golf cart that I’m using to tour the beachfront. You control your speed with your feet, pressing down on the ball of your foot to accelerate, and leaning back into your heels to brake.
It's surprisingly easy to get the hang of it during the short briefing session outside the Moses Mabhida Stadium, where the Segway Gliding Tour begins. We practise starting, stopping and turning, and then we're off, accompanied by Siya, who assures us that so long as our wheels don’t touch and we look where we were going, we’ll be fine.
He's right, and after a cautious start and a careful road crossing, I'm ready to test the battery-powered machine, which reaches a maximum speed of about 20km/h before it self-corrects and slows you down.
The Segway responds immediately as I lean forward slightly to accelerate, and I feel incredibly cool and agile as I navigate the small dips and rises and gently weave wide of people wandering along the busy walkway. I follow Siya onto the Bay of Plenty pier, where we pause to watch the waves and take in the city’s distinctive skyline. Three orange kayaks struggle against the swell to the right of the pier, while to the left of it, surfers hang suspended, waiting for an eligible wave.
Further on, a man on crutches is standing between 2 police vans that are stopped in the road. He is singing to them: 'Doo, doo, it just keeps me satisfied, I’m gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, I can’t lie...' I hear them laughing and clapping, and he breaks into Who Let The Dogs Out, except he meows, like a cat, to more hysterical laughter.
The scene is surreal and cinematic, with the action running like a reel of film as I glide along on my Segway, a 2-wheeled self-balancing cross between roller skates and a golf cart that I’m using to tour the beachfront.
Further on, close to uShaka Marine World, there’s a girl sitting in a tree playing with a yo-yo. An old man, carrying a mountain of plastic bottles on his old shoulders, stops and lights a hand-rolled cigarette. Two men, dripping with seawater, stop and bum a light from him.
It’s an animated, ever-changing scene and the Segway is a fantastic way to take in the life and bustle – the music from pavement cafes, kites flying over the beach, and joggers, cyclists and swimmers enjoying the Golden Mile and Durban’s gorgeous weather.
The tour lasts about an hour and 45 minutes and ends back at the stadium where a semifinal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held. As well as being fun to do, a Segway tour is probably the best way to get an impression of the area. You can’t really stop too much en route, so it's the perfect option for anyone pressed for time. The tour left me with a very distinct idea of the of what the beachfront has to offer. I’m going to be looking out for more Segway tours when I travel in South Africa and beyond.
Tours leave daily at regular intervals, and there are tours at several venues around the country. Visit www.segwayglidingtours.com for more information.