By Susan Roberts
As a Durbanite, I am used to the summer heat of my home town with its excessive humidity levels. For the rest of you poor souls who live in Johannesburg, Cape Town, the UK and other parts far north and south of the tropics, let me explain: That means that you get used to stepping out of a shower, drying yourself off and feeling immediately damp again as the 80-110% humidity levels kick in and saturate your skin as if that towel was a figment of a deluded imagination.
After the first few summers in Durban you learn to live with the feeling of wet, clammy skin through the heat of December, January and February. Somehow it’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of mild winters when you don’t need electric blankets and hot water bottles like the rest of the country. A single snug fleece from your favourite camping shop and an attractive scarf or trendy pair of boots are more like a fashion statement than an actual concession to the weather, and you wear them because it’s fun to pretend it’s cold.
Aah, Durban – the place to be at any time of the year.
Two years ago when I visited Australia for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to stand the extreme summer temperatures in Melbourne. These temperatures soared way above the 28-29° Celsius that I was used to, up into the mid and high 30s. At first I imagined my energy levels to be a by-product of my eagerness to explore the beautiful city against all odds, but I gradually realised that it was because the humidity was absent. As I stepped away from my bath towel, I stayed dry despite the heat.
The lack of water in the Australian air made the heavy mugginess of home seem like a distant memory. With relatively low humidity, I could endure anything. As long as I armed myself with lashings of sunscreen I could soar – like Icarus – close to the Australian sun without fear. For four glorious weeks I flew around Melbourne drinking in the delights of the city, no matter what the weather.
I assumed that my second trip to Australia would be no different. And I was right… Until the second week of January 2014.
I had arrived in Melbourne on the 9th January, full of the same eagerness to explore my favourite city, ready to face the same dry heat and high temperatures. A few days later, after I had caught up with my jetlag, I stepped outside – armed with sunscreen and loose cotton clothing – into the worst heat-wave Australia has suffered in living memory.
At first I thought it was just me. I was two years older and maybe not as fit as I had once been. Gritting my teeth, I steeled my determination and insisted on dragging my sister around in the heat of the day while she muttered things about mad dogs and Englishmen (or the fourth generation descendents thereof) and sang odd little snippets once penned by Noel Coward. We persevered as best we could, determined not to let a little bit of heat get the better of us, but on the day when Adelaide was declared the hottest place on earth since 1908, we had to admit that we might have made a slight mistake.
On that same day, when it was still 46.9º C on the veranda at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we finally admitted defeat and decided to retire indoors where it was a cool 32° instead. After four days of weather that wilted my resolve and melted the glue on my Icarus wings, the temperatures finally dropped to a more manageable 26º on the evening of Friday 17th January.
I’m looking forward to the rest of my stay in Australia, but I think I’ll do it at a more leisurely pace, and spend more time in those air-conditioned shopping centres and art galleries. If the weather turns nasty, I have my camping fleece, a bright scarf and those brand new UGG boots that I bought during my second week. Funny that – I wondered at the time why I was the only person in the shop who was trying on all-weather, sheepskin-lined, winter footwear in 45º heat…