I love Durban. It’s an African city.
One that smells of spice and sunblock and holds childhood memories of dripping soft serves and carefully built sand castles, rickshaw rides and views towards ships bobbing on the warm Indian ocean.
Populated by a mixed people, yet dominated by Zulu and Indian culture, here you find beautifully bearded hipsters retailing alongside street vendors, colourful beadwork for sale beside delicious chilli samoosas, designer wear and excellent homegrown music, all offered up with a raw and friendly enthusiasm.
Hot in climate, character and local curry, this east coast city lays itself bare with a relaxed and uncomplicated confidence, inviting you to make discoveries old and new. It will be hot and a little sticky in Summer, but that just makes packing easier when you venture there to explore all it offers. These are my recommendations.
Walk the Golden Mile beachfront which runs from North to South Beach. There are cycles for rent too and African traders selling beautiful curios along the way. The water is warm and you could walk one-way feet in the sand, the other along the promenade, to get a different perspective.
For a good introduction, consider a city tour on the Riksha Bus, which operates twice a day, seven days a week. A perfect orientation and overview that will help you plan your time there. Bear in mind that the city is divided into Central, North and West, which can guide your visits to the attractions.
At the end of the South Beach jetty, you’ll find MOYO restaurant, a great spot to linger, whether it’s to watch the light softening on the day or for a meal. Remember to check out the sand castle artists too.
The LEARN 2 SURF Durban surf school is based at Addington Beach just North of uShaka Marine World. Small waves and tropical warm water make this the best location in Durban to learn to surf and will give you a taste of the local surfer scene as you hone your skills.
Take a guided uShaka Kayak low-intensity activity and educational experience just north of the Durban harbour in KwaZulu Natal, paddling through the magnificent Vetjies Reef, where on a clear day, you can see the reef and in all its splendour. Cruise over the shark nets and amble towards Limestone Reef where an abundance of life has grown over an old 1940 shipwreck.
Take a boat trip with KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board which leaves Wilson’s Wharf daily to join the crew checking the shark nets. At the same time learn more about the fragility of these apex predators and the conservational challenges that sharing the waters with them bring.
Visit the Moses Mabhida Stadium which stays vibrant all year round and has a personality that extends far beyond its obvious use for concerts, events and football games. For an in depth look there are all-access tours on offer too, a variety of restaurants, shops and even a gym. But for the most fun, try plunging off the 106 metre arch on the Big Rush Swing.
More fun than you can imagine, book a Segway tour of the Moses Mabhida Stadium, which you can extend to the beach promenade and ocean piers. They offer training and once you’ve got your balance and start zooming, you won’t want to stop. Take a trip on the SkyCar or make the 550-step adventure walk to the top of the arch to enjoy the panoramic views.
Remember to get your African bangle, woven basket or gorgeous beaded souvenir while there. Either at one of the markets or at South Beach where many traders are offering their handcrafted wares.
Taste the heart of the city
Go shopping for Indian spices, incense, authentic fabrics and delicious food at the Victoria Street Market which opened in 1910 and creates an illusion of the Maharajah’s palace. Also on offer in the dry market are African curios, carvings, brass treasures and clothes. To me the main attraction here is the people. Be sure to engage in conversations and learn about their rich history.
Just around the corner is the African muti market, not for the faint hearted. I recommend you hire a guide from Durban Tourism to see you through stalls of drying skins and snakes, jars of lion fat and different medicinal herbs to heal any imagined ailment.
Note: No photography is allowed unless by special permission.
Visit the colourful Warwick Junction that sees 45000 people commute through there each morning and night, which means street food, clothing, fruit and veg and traditional herbalist vendors thrive under the captive audience and there are about 6000 shops embracing the colour.
Eat Bunny Chow, that fast food dish consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with the curry of your choice for which Durban is famous. If your fingers don’t turn orange, you’re doing it wrong.
Moving from the old to the hip and modern, if you want a taste of what the locals are up to, stop in at The Design Factory, a newly established creative hub situated on Station Drive and home to many collaborative projects and exciting tenants, coffee shops, photography studios and restaurants, in particular, try Savior Brand Co. and Savior Coffee Co.
Among the collection you’ll find The Distillery 031, a working distillery for artisan spirits with natural light, great design and excellent flavours. Also the Brewing Co. which smells just incredible. The Makers space is described as ‘gym for the creative’, a workshop full of all the cool gadgets for every creative artist’s needs, from laser cutting machines, 3-D printers to extensive tools.
Delve into the History
Learn some of the histories by visiting the Town Hall, Emmanuel Cathedral, Cato Manor Heritage Centre, Juma Musjid Mosque, Old House Museum, Francis Farewell Square. I highly recommend that you book one or more tours with Street Scene, in particular look at their Heritage Tour.
Walk in the footsteps of five of Africa’s most influential leaders from President Nelson Mandela, to King Shaka, from Nobel laureate Albert Luthuli to peaceful revolutionary Mahatma Gandhi, and the man who helped shape a nation, Dr John Dube. This is a historical and cultural tour of mammoth proportions that I can’t recommend enough. Ghandi’s House in Phoenix is an ideal place to start.
The Ohlange High School founded in 1900 by Dr J Dube continues to inspire young minds. This is where Nelson Mandela voted in the county’s first democratic elections of 1994 and where John Dube is laid to rest. Their visitor centre supports local craft and there is even some traditional Zulu dancing available on request.
Durban is a city that deserves a closer look and exploration. I know that each time I visit I uncover a new aspect to it that draws me further in and leaves me wanting for more. And remember, don’t be confused by its brave diversity, be intrigued by it, I am.
To help you get by, here is some useful Durbs slang: ‘skrik’ – fright | ‘smaak’ – like | ‘bru’ – brother | ‘dop’ – alcohol | ‘pozie’ – house | ‘shot’ – thanks and get yourself invited to a ‘jol’ or party while there …
Check out the most popular hotels in Durban on SafariNow to guide you to where best to stay when visiting Durbs.