Markets of Warwick Durban Walking Tour Dane Forman
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Why the Markets of Warwick walking tour is an essential thing to do in Durban

There is so much going on in Durban, including a burgeoning creative art scene, unique live events and interesting new ways to discover the city. On a Durban walking tour with Markets of Warwick, you’ll learn about the history of Durban, greater KwaZulu-Natal and gain first-hand experience into one of South Africa’s biggest market complexes, Warwick Junction.

Looking for something fun to do in Durban? Read my guide to Durban here.

This blog covers all there is to know about the Markets of Warwick Durban city tour. It includes details on the different markets of Warwick Junction, what to expect on this Durban walking tour, and safety tips!

 

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Early morning outside Warwick Junction. Credit: Dane Forman

Why Markets of Warwick is the perfect Durban tour

All too often, travellers stick to the safe, comfortable and familiar zones when it comes to Durban. I know from personal experience, that I didn’t believe there was anything more to see than Durban’s beachfront when visiting. Markets of Warwick has made it their mission to change that perspective of Durban, and particularly in this section of the city centre.

This Durban walking tour was first introduced just ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held in South Africa. Asiye eTafuleni, the NGO who developed the tour, wants to assist vendors at Warwick Junction to acquire new skills and further their understanding of the urban development process for the area. In short, Asiye Etafuleni works towards dignifying the informal economy of the area, so that traders are involved in town planning initiatives and their livelihoods are secured.

Since then, Markets of Warwick has established itself as a leading example of how a city, local community, informal economy and tourism can work in harmony. Tour guides are selected from within the Warwick Junction community, and are often traders themselves. This allows them an insider’s perspective and the ability to answer beyond just the usual questions one expects on a tour.

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A roadside vendor grills skewers on an open flame. Credit: Dane Forman

About Warwick Junction

Also known as Warwick Triangle, this junction in Durban is part market space and part transport hub. With over 460,000 people passing through its streets, buildings and stations daily, it is one of the busiest hubs in South Africa. Warwick welcomes its first guests before sunrise every morning as residents from Durban and its outlying areas make their way to and from work. There are estimated to be between 5,000 and 8,000 vendors in the area.

The area consists of nine different markets, with the two oldest dating back over 100 years. There are train stations, bus stations, and taxi ranks woven in and around Warwick Junction that filter out to Durban’s various nodes. During the Apartheid era of South Africa, Warwick Junction was a vital hub for Indian and Black residents, allowing them access into the inner city, an area where non-white buses were not typically allowed to traverse. Informal traders set up shop here to take advantage of the large concentration of daily commuters.

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Famous South Africa graffiti artist, Faith47, was invited to paint anywhere in Durban’s city. She chose to paint six murals in Warwick Junction. Six different traders from Warwick Junction are captured in her large-scale paintings. Credit: Dane Forman

What to expect on the tour

With the sheer amount of people passing through Warwick Junction on any given day, visitors to the area will no doubt be overwhelmed by the surrounding bustle. The team from Markets of Warwick has made a lot of effort to make the tour enjoyable on foot and take security precautions to make sure their guests always feel safe.

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Because your guide will somehow be involved with the markets as a trader or community leader, guests can expect a very personable and authentic Durban walking tour. Time is taken to detail the history of the area, the cultural significance of the markets and why each market is unique. Each market offers something completely new from clothing to beads, food to footwear and of course, traditional healers complete with animal skins on display!

I have done this tour twice now, and both times I felt safe. The guides are well-informed and fun and go out of their way to tailor the experience to your interests where they can. They also help with the language barrier should you wish to make a photo request, or ask a vendor something specific about their wares.

The 9 markets of Warwick Junction

Warwick Junction has developed itself over a period of a century, resulting in nine unique markets all within close proximity to one another. Each links onto the next through a series of bridges, pedestrian walkways and streets. The Markets of Warwick walking tour starts at Victoria Street Market and circles back to end here too.

Victoria Street Market

This particular market is over 100 years old, first founded in 1910. It is a formal trading space with two levels and an underground carpark. Traders at Victoria Street Market are known for their variety of spices, arts and crafts and jewellery. Victoria Street Market is also the most recognisable of the markets, with it’s gaudy, brightly-painted exterior and pink turrets. Visitors to Durban often stop here to purchase spices, as the traders here have a huge variety and even dole out recipe suggestions with your purchase.

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I personally feel that if you don’t leave Victoria Street Market without a bag of Mother-in-Law Exterminator, you’ve failed…

Bead Market

Only open on Fridays, the Bead Market is definitely a must-see Durban attraction, so try plan your tour for that day if possible. Traders from Durban’s  coastal regions make their way into the city for the day to show off their colourful handcrafted wares, including beaded jewellery, hats, shoes, bags and traditional clothing.

What struck me most about the Bead Market was the rhythm of conversation going on. Hundreds of ladies spread their wares out and set up shop for the day, all the while continuing their beading work and talking over each other.

There is no reason or rhyme to the Bead Market. These ladies set up where they please and you’ll need to meander in between them to view their wares.

Impepho and Lime Market

Set along the course of a passageway that is below street level, the Impepho Market is the smallest and quietest of all the markets at Warwick Junction. There are only two types of products on sale here: impepho and lime.

Impepho is a mix of dried herbs used as a traditional incense that is said to relax the body and mind to allow one to communicate with your ancestors. Most of these herbs were completely unrecognisable to me, but it was pretty interesting to listen to our guide point different herbs out.

Lime traders, with red and white balls of lime stacked up on their modest tables, were further along the walkway. The lime is mined north of Durban in the iNdwedwe area and is used to identify traditional healers. Covering their skin with the lime and it’s different colours, traditional healers or izangoma, declare whether they are in training or qualified to practice.

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Lime to the left and Impepho to the right, leading into the dark walkway underneath Warwick Junction.

Brook Street Market

This fourth market we mazed into was definitely my favourite for taking photos in! With mostly clothing on sale in very bright colours and patterns, I could’ve stayed much longer too. The best view is from the balconies on the second floor, giving an aerial perspective over the traders here.

Brook Street Market lies adjacent to the Hazrath Badsha Peer Shrine, which is itself located in a famous cemetery in Durban. It is one of the few places where you’ll find graves of four different religious denominations: Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish. The shrine is a marker for the grave of a great Sufi saint, Hazrat Sheik Ahmed Badsha Peer, who is believed to have traceable lineage to the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

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Colourful garments by the thousands in the Brook Street Market.

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Just beyond the walls of Brook Street Market are the graves.

Berea Station Market

If you’re on the hunt for a souvenir of your time spent at the Markets of Warwick, then you’re sure to find it here. Berea Station Market is found within the Berea Station and is the first to get going in the morning, with vetkoek stalls offering up freshly-fried balls of dough with jam and cheese. You’ll find isiZulu spears and shields, religious attire and a variety of DVDs, shoes, belts, wallets and bags here.

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A trader readies herself for the next rush of vetkoek seekers. Credit: Dane Forman

Music Bridge

An important pedestrian link, Music Bridge is named after the loud music and music products for sale in this section of the tour. The bridge was originally a non-trading area and was a spot fraught with crime. Traders argued that their presence would bring down the number of incidents taking place on the bridge and formal trading spaces were built accordingly.

Today it’s a busy area and it is so, so loud! Traders compete by playing their music louder than their neighbour. How they don’t have constant migraines is a wonder. We made our way through here as quickly as we could.

Early Morning Market

Fondly referred to as the Mother Market, this market is a hive of activity at the start of the day, selling mostly fresh produce, spices, flowers and live poultry. Produce here is usually fresh from the farm, with over 670 stalls in operation. A network of barrow operators are responsible for moving goods between stalls, zipping through the narrow aisles carrying overloaded wheelbarrows of goods on their way to the next stop.

With over 2,000 people employed here, the Early Morning Market supports a large number of local residents’ livelihood. At present, there is contention between these traders and the City of Ethekwini (Durban) as plans for development and shopping centres threaten their trading space. A massive mall is planned for above the Berea Station which could draw traffic away from these traders.

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Fruit, veg and more veg at the Early Morning Market. Credit: Dane Forman

Bovine Head Cooking Market

This section of the tour is usually when the queasier members of the group tend to peel off. Large hunks of steaming meat are pulled from pots, and served up with doughy dumplings on wooden planks, while adept traders hack away at fresh cows’ heads to make sure they save ever last scrap of meat possible for the pot.

The flying blood spatter and meat can be a bit overwhelming, coupled with the iron-rich smell of cooking flesh, but it’s well worth popping in here to understand the economics of it all. For approximately R45, hungry commuters stop in for a big portion of food while socialising at long, informal tables.

We weren’t brave enough to try out this dish, and yes hygiene is certainly a concern here, but if you’re willing then your guide will arrange a bite-sized portion for you.

WARNING: Scroll quickly through the next 3 images if you’re a little queasy!

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Steaming meat that had just been pulled out of the pot, ready to be served.

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Bits of cow head being separated for the pot. If you look closely, you’ll spot a jaw.

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Waiting for prep.

Herb Market

Left to last, the Herb Market is definitely one of the most confusing and interesting markets in Warwick Triangle. Traders stalls are piled high with dried herbs, tree bark, rocks, lime, animals skins, teeth and bones. A pervasive smell of rot hangs in the air, and traders shift their gaze nervously over any strangers walking through the cramped aisles.

Our guide advised us to be careful of taking photos, both because of the cultural beliefs around photography and also for traders that may be selling items of a contraband or illegal nature that don’t want to be identified. As much as we wanted to take photos, we did feel uncomfortable doing so.

The Herb Market can be alarming for an outsider. As I gazed over small cats, snake skins and jars of animals parts, there’s no way to not feel uncomfortable. It’s certainly an experience, but prepare to feel totally out of place.

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Stalls in the Herb Market are packed full of supplies.

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Entry to the Herb Market. I found the pharmacy cross rather comical.

Tips for the Markets of Warwick Tour

If you’re planning on booking a tour with Markets of Warwick, one of the first queries is about safety. As I’ve mentioned, I never felt like I was threatened or unsafe, but rather just like I was in unfamiliar territory. Our guide was great at making sure we were okay and gave us a safety briefing beforehand that set us at ease. In larger groups, Markets of Warwick will send multiple tour guides and security guards if they believe it is a necessity.

That being said, it’s important to stay alert at all times on the tour. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment shooting photos and forget to look up. You really don’t want to get left behind in the maze of markets here.

Other handy things to know about the Markets of Warwick Durban tour:

  • The tour lasts for just under three hours, so make sure you’re wearing comfy shoes and are prepared for hot, cold and wet weather
  • While there are ATMs dotted around, it’s safer to take cash along with you
  • Credit cards are not accepted at the informal traders, while some traders in the formal spaces have card machines
  • It’s important to ask permission before taking a photo, not to mention polite to do so
  • The underground parking at Victoria Street Market is safe and affordable, alternatively get dropped off right outside at the start of the tour
  • Your tour guide will hand you a lanyard to wear, this is so traders can identify you as part of the tour group
  • Feel free to haggle on prices, this is one of the only places in South Africa you can
  • You can easily navigate your way to Victoria Street Market using Google Maps:

 

How to book with Markets of Warwick

Unfortunately, bookings with Markets of Warwick can’t be done online at this stage so your booking choices are by email or phone. I booked over email and got a response pretty quickly. You will need to book at least 24 hours in advance though.

Tours currently cost R100 per person, which is an absolute steal and probably the cheapest walking tour I have ever been on. For bigger groups, they do offer a discounted rate of R70 per person for groups of eight or more people. There are two tour slots each day from Monday to Saturday, one at 9:30 and another at 13:00. Friday is the best day for this tour, because that is the only day the Bead Market is open.

To make your booking, either email mowtours@aet.org.za or call +27 31 309 3880. For more information on Markets of Warwick, you can visit their website here.

So, should you book?

Yes, yes, absolutely! Rather than spending your time solely on the beach with the crowds on your next Durban holiday, opt for something a little different. It’ll give you the chance to learn more about Warwick Junction, discover this unique set of markets and give you a great story to tell.

The Markets of Warwick walking tour offers a true Durban experience beyond the usual. Learning about the culture and history of this area, coupled with the chance to purchase everything you need to make a killer curry, are reasons alone to go!

If you loved reading about Markets of Warwick, why not read a little more about my favourite Durban brunch spot, Distillery 031?

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Travel & food blogger helping adventurous South Africans find their next escape.

Comments (2)

  • Delightful blog, Kate. I find this area fascinating and loved my walking tour.

    Reply
    • Thanks Gill! It was such a fantastic experience for almost no money as far as tours go!

      Reply

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