Sun & surf – a city for all seasons!
Durban, also known as eThekwini in Zulu, is the gateway to the Drakensberg and Zululand and one of the most dynamic South African cities. This multicultural metropolis combines culture, entertainment and nature with a sub-tropical climate and rich heritage which ensures that its reputation as a prime holiday destination and the top beach resort in South Africa remains unrivalled.
Discovered on Christmas Day (1497) by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama and named Rio de Natal (Christmas River), this region has a rich history of pirates, slave traders, shipwrecks and Zulu warriors. In 1823 the first settlers from the Cape arrived and by 1844 Britain annexed Natal, prompting a steady influx of Europeans who, seeing the potential for sugar cane, obtained a workforce from India. The descendants of these Indian labourers, Zulus from the Nguni tribe and Europeans of English colonial extraction have formed the unique cultural mix of the region.
In 1835 Durban was established as a township and named after the governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. 100 years later it would become a city (having become a municipality in 1854) and also a major holiday resort. Port Natal, as the harbour was initially known, was accessible only to small craft but in the late 19th century a protective sea wall was built and it has since developed into one of the biggest and busiest harbours on the African continent. South Africa ranks as one of the top five global producers of sugar and the coasts either side of Durban are lined with cane plantations, subsequently the Port of Durban processes millions of tons of cargo each year.
The Bay itself is virtually landlocked by the Bluff in the south and the Point in the north. South of the CBD you will encounter the bustling Indian community, to the north there is Berea and to the west are the suburbs of Kloof, Hillcrest and Westville as well as the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which is a mere 30 minutes drive inland from Durban via the N3 and is the setting for two of the most popular sporting events in South Africa, the annual Dusi Canoe Marathon and the well-known Comrades Marathon. There are also opportunities to visit authentic Zulu villages, view traditional dances, experience African cooking and gain an insight into crafts such as spear-making, beading and thatching. A visit to the Phezulu Safari Park is highly recommended.
The southern shores are divided into the Sunshine Coast which stretches from Amanzimtoti (25km south of Durban) to Mtwalume and the Hibiscus Coast, which stretches from Hibberdene (97km from Durban) to Port Edward and includes a number of excellent golf courses. To the north is the 90km long Dolphin Coast which stretches from Umhlanga Rocks (18km north of Durban) to the Tugela River. Recommended itineraries include Dundee for exploring historical battlefields, Margate for its superb beaches and Howick to view the Falls and discover the Natal Midlands. Umdloti, Ballito and the Shaka’s Rock area (approximately 52km from Durban) are also well-worth exploring.
Durban is well served by rail links and has an International Airport which is located roughly 15 minutes south of the CBD. There are ample buses and taxis which, as is common in South Africa, do not rove the streets but are stationed at taxi ranks near the hotels. The topless Ricksha bus is a popular method of sightseeing and air-conditioned “People Movers” provide transport between the city and beach at roughly one Euro per day pass.
Most international car rental agencies are represented and a number of bus tours are available, including intercity coaches which link Durban to other major cities. Regular services to Cape Town (38 hours) and Johannesburg (14 hours) are available aboard the ShosholozaMeyl and Premier Classe trains. Between November and May boat cruises from Durban to Maputo and Bazaruto are also popular and options range from a 2 night cruise-to-nowhere to a 3-week cruise via Port Louis and the Suez Canal to Genoa.
There are a number of popular beaches and the Golden Mile, which extends from Rutherford Street to Playfair Road at North Beach, boasts theme parks, nightspots, entertainment centres and pavilions. Attractions include Waterworld with its landscaped gardens, swimming pools and chutes, Funworld which has a variety of rides for both adults and children and Mini Town which displays replicas of local landmark buildings and is adjacent to the Fitzsimmons Snake Park. To the south is the very popular uShaka Marine World which features dolphins, sharks and stingrays, seals, penguins and a varied selection of marine life including colourful corals and anemones. The Natal Sharks Board is the only shark research centre worldwide and is well worth a visit. Educational material including a shark dissection is presented and replicas of various species are on display.
Durban Ice offers various extravaganzas during the holiday season and there is a paint ball arena on Tara Road as well as bowling alleys at the Pavilion and Gateway. The latter also offers an amusement arcade, go-carts, mini-golf and a science centre. Hiking trails are available at many of the nearby parks and nature reserves and helicopter flips over the city, various boat cruises and a trip with the Umgeni Steam Railway ensure that visitors don’t get bored. Numerous tours are also available, including an eleven-day itinerary which offers game reserve accommodations and visits to the battlefields at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift as well as the annual Zulu Kings Reed Dance at Nongoma in the heart of Zululand.
The Jumma Musjid, which is sometimes called the Grey Street Mosque and dates from the 1880’s, is the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere. Durban also has a number of Hindu temples and a visit to the Hare Krishna Temple at Chatsworth is recommended. The Mariannhill Monastery just outside Durban was built in 1882 by Trappist monks and boasts carved wooden interiors, frescoes and sculptures. It is also home to St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
A wide variety of ballet, theatre, opera and orchestral music shows are regularly presented and there are plenty of galleries, exhibition centres and museums such as the Killie Campbell Museum which is located at the original home of Sir Marshall Campbell in Muckleneuk and includes an Africana library, a selection of Zulu crafts and period furniture. Both the Natural Science Museum, which features exhibits on wildlife and natural history, and the Kwa-Muhle Museum which is dedicated to 20th-century African urban life, are also noteworthy.
A collection of Indian jewellery, icons and costumes can be viewed at the Cultural and Documentation Centre and exhibits include a photographic display relating to the two decades Mahatma Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893. Other places of particular interest include:
* Warriors’ Gate
* Port Natal Maritime Museum
* Elizabeth Sneddon Theater
* Alayam Hindu Temple
* Emanuel Cathedral
Gateway Theatre of Shopping is the largest shopping complex in South Africa and one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. Facilities include the Barnyard Theatre and the Wave House which features a skate park, artificial waves and live entertainment. Other places of interest to shoppers include the Workshop with Victorian-style barrow stalls, the Pavilion and the Musgrave Centre. There is also the Wheel, which is a large shopping and entertainment complex with speciality shops, cinemas, bars and restaurants and the Victoria Street Market which is a great place to haggle for bargains and features numerous spice stalls as well as meat, fish and fresh produce markets. A variety of flea markets can be found along the beach-front and at the Durban Exhibition Centre.
Dining & Nightlife:
For an unusual dining experience book aboard the Allen Gardiner and enjoy a cruise of Durban Harbour whilst dining. Other popular options are The Cargo Hold Restaurant and the Roma Revolving Restaurant. Morningside is also particularly well-known for its dining options and includes venues such as the Quarters Brasserie and the eclectic Bean Bag Bohemia.
There are many nightclubs, discos, dinner-dance and cabaret venues throughout Durban. Options include favourites such as the Casablanca, China White and Joe Cool’s, as well as Blue Bottles at the Point Waterfront. A popular choice is the Suncoast Casino, which also houses the Cafe Vacca Matta theme bar.
Art & Culture:
A notable collection of local art is displayed at the African Art Centre which is housed in the Old Station Building. This is also home to the KZN tourist information bureau and the starting point of various walkabouts, including an Oriental walkabout and an architectural tour to view historically significant buildings. Sunday afternoon Jazz recitals are presented at the City Hall and tours of the building, which houses a library as well as the Natural History Museum and Art Gallery, are available and offer visitors the chance to enjoy its 1910 architecture. Various Art Deco buildings such as the Colonial Mutual Building and Adams Building are located in West Street, which is also the main commercial street where many African crafts are sold by street vendors. Nearby Smith Street boasts Hollywood Court, which was the highest building in Durban when it was completed in 1939.
Adjacent to the Hilton Hotel you will find the Durban International Conference Centre and the Durban Exhibition Centre, which is one of the largest in South Africa and offers a venue for various shows, sports events and annual festivities. The Durban International Film Festival (July) and a Contemporary Dance Festival are only some of the highlights on a full calendar of events. The Playhouse offers lunchtime concerts, exhibitions and a variety of theatrical performances. The BAT Centre (Bartle Arts Trust) is located near the Maritime Museum and provides studios for artists, sculptors and musicians. Evening theatrical productions are presented and facilities include shops, galleries and a bar which overlooks the harbour. The nearby Wilson’s Wharf also houses the Catalina Theatre and is the starting point for NSB boat tours.
The Mr Price Pro surfing championship is part of the annual Durban Beach Africa Festival which is held along the Golden Mile in July and includes activities such as jet skiing, body-boarding, volleyball and night surfing events. Indoor board-sport can be found at the Wave House and other options include cricket at Kingsmead, rugby at King’s Park, various squash courts, fitness studios, hang-gliding and skydiving for adrenalin junkies. There is also racing at Greyville and the July Handicap is an annual highlight on the social calendar. Golf enthusiasts will enjoy the Durban Country Club or Royal Durban Golf Club.
The Umgeni River Bird Park is highly rated and boasts roughly 300 exotic and local species in a setting which features gigantic walk-through aviaries and waterfalls. There is also a small zoo at Mitchell Park and both the Botanic Gardens which were founded in 1849 and the Japanese Gardens with its pagodas and wooden bridges are of particular interest.
A selection of small reserves and conservation areas such as the Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve which protects a number of estuarine species, the Bluff Nature Reserve with its many pathways and hides for bird-watching enthusiasts and the Silverglen Nature Reserve with its angling and sailing options, ensure that visitors can relax in natural surroundings.
The Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Trail is a hour-and-a-half trail with picnic sites and offers visitors the opportunity to explore dunes, swamps and forest and to view the remnants of an early Iron Age midden circa AD 600. A 25-minute drive from Durban leads to the Shongweni Resource Reserve, which offers game drives to view the buffalo, buck, wildebeest and more than 200 species of birds. This Natural Heritage Site includes picnic options, 15km of hiking trails and a dam for fishing and canoeing.
Situated in KwaZulu-Natal Province, Durban is the third largest metropolis in South Africa and, in keeping with its status as a top vacation destination, offers a wide selection of accommodation options which ranges from B&Bs and Guest Houses to upmarket establishments such as The Royal. For visitors who wish to gamble and enjoy a range of entertainment options the SunCoast Hotel & Towers is particularly recommended.
The Southern Sun Garden Court South Beach is a pleasant mid-range hotel, whilst a slightly more upmarket option with equally stunning sea views and good business facilities is the Southern Sun Elangeni. Convention attendees and businessmen would be well served at the Durban Hilton which is in very close proximity to the ICC. The Golden Mile offers some of Durban’s most elegant hotels such as the Edward, Balmoral and Tropicana, where there is a number of rickshaws bedecked with beads and furs.
Due to its great climate, vibrant community, golden beaches and proximity to a number of marine resorts and game reserves, Durban remains a top destination for both tourists and South Africans from inland. Washed by the warm currents of the Indian Ocean, winter temperatures rarely drop below 15 degrees Celsius and Durban beaches are popular all year long.