Having been to the city many time, I’m always surprised by the new offerings, the added activities, mix of cultures and endless Summers. Hot in climate, character and local curry, this east coast city lays itself bare with a relaxed and uncomplicated confidence.
Populated by a mixed people, yet dominated by a Zulu and Indian culture with remnants of early Colonialism and English influences, here we find impressive architecture and hipster retailers alongside street vendors selling colourful beaded works and delicious chilli samosas. Which ever it is you’re after, you’ll find its offered up with a raw and friendly honesty.
Take a stroll along the promenade and catch a surf with the locals. Have the best conversations with taxi drivers and find the Victoria Street market, African muti stalls and rows of colourful and rather cheap imports from China, all within easy striking distance of each other.
Then venture up to Florida Road where the restaurants are top class, the shopping options impressive and the English just a little more pronounced.
I’ve always liked Durban. Its an African city that smells of spice and sunblock. Holds memories of melting soft serves and lovingly crafted sand castles. Beachfront holiday apartments and ships bobbing on the warm Indian ocean. And there was that time I dated a boy here. He drove a beetle with a surfboard strapped on top, the Beach Boys bursting from the tape deck as he drove me around his city …
Now my visits take on a different focus as I look to the core of the city, the great men and woman who have left their mark on the land, the unique flavours and tastes, the thrill and infectious energy of the ocean, chilled time spent on the beach and people watching.
When you get to Durban, these are some of the things I recommend to you.
– For a good introduction, consider a city tour on the Riksha Bus, which operates every day between 9am and 1pm. 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, as should visits to the attractions be. To help get around and to save on entry fees, get an iVenture card. It covers most of the must-do’s at a reduced rates.
– 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.
– Lunch with your feet in the sand and head out for a kayak in the evening.
– Take a rickshaw ride with pride. Linger in Mini Town which is honestly the cutest place to spend a few hours, whatever your age. Swim at North beach.
– At the end of the South Beach jetty there’s a great restaurant and 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.
– 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. I did it. Crazy!
– Take a trip on the SkyCar or make the 550-step adventure walk to the top of the arch to enjoy the panoramic views.
– 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 or Street Scene to see you through stalls of drying skins, snakes, jars of lion fat and different medicinal herbs, among other. Here with the right guidance from a Sangoma (traditional healer), you will find all you need to heal any imagined ailment. A fascinating look at African traditional medicine.
Note: No photography is allowed unless by special permission.
– The Warwick Junction 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.
– Stop for long enough to watch the world go by.
– 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. I opted for the vegetarian beans, my guide Thabo for the lamb.
– Learn some of the history 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. I had their extraordinary guide Thabo Mokgope as my companion for the day and we started our day with a 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 and I was humbled anded by the global significance. Ghandi’s House in Phoenix is an ideal place to start.
My guide at Ghandi’s House, the incredibly charming and briliiant Andrias Mkhize.
– 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 the crew did a dance for me when I stopped for a coffee. I’m sure this can be requested and you can offer a tip in exchange for their talent and vibrancy.
Take a look at the other tours on offer with Street Scene, from walking to guided and even cycling tours available.
– 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 building situated on Station Drive and home to many collaborative projects and exciting tenants including Street Scene.
– 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 one of the smartest ideas I’ve seen in a long time. A workshop full of all the cool gadgets for every creative dreams from laser cutting machines, 3-D printers and extensive tools. A couple of restaurants and incredible coffee at Savior Brand Co. and Savior Coffee Co.
– 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.
– Especially if travelling with kids, enjoy time at uShaka Marine World to learn about the inhabitants of the Indian ocean. There are loads of attractions from snorkelling to village walks, restaurants and Africa’s largest water slide here. A great day out for the family. (Note: I do not endorse the animal encounters or believe they should be holding dolphins captive). Other than that, loads of fun to be had.
– Take a canoe paddle on the uMgeni River estuary, one of the most important biodiversity assets in the area. You can experience the combo of beach, estuary and river with great bird watching in particular and the beautiful mangrove swamps. If green is your preferred colour have a look at the Durban Green Corridor for more info on their authentic cultural experiences that embrace the natural beauty.
– 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. There is excellent curio shopping!
– Just North of the city is Umhlanga Rocks with it’s inviting beaches, upmarket hotels, excellent restaurants, lighthouse and high-end shopping. Take a walk to the tip of the ‘whale-bone’ themed pier, watch the sun rise and set, take to the promenade first thing and if you’re staying on the beach front make sure you sleep with your window open and take in the rhythm of the Indian Ocean.
Getting there is easy with daily flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town offered on kulula.com. It will be hot and a little sticky in Summer and even if you’re there in Winter, pack shorts and t-shirts. It’s called ’the warmest place to be’ for good reason.
Go on, let’s spread the word that Durban is a city that deserves a closer look and discovery. 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, as I am.
Till we walk and talk again. Sala Kahle.
On the jetty that goes out towards Moyo just off South Beach, you’ll find these love making hands, a good photo opportunity spot.
Zulu 101. Learn the language:
Street Scene equipped me with some useful Zulu words to help get by. If these are too difficult for you, there’s always the colloquial bru for brother, to fall back on.
Hello – Sawubona
How are you? – Unjani
Thank you – Siyabonga
Hello friend – Heita
Goodbye if you are staying – Hamba Kahle
Goodbye if you are leaving – Sala Kahle
Drink – Phuza
To embrace the Durban Indian culture, here’s a Curry Recipe from Christina Martin School of Cooking as given to me by Delhi Delight where I bought some curry powder to bring home.
Curried Beans Recipe:
Ingredients – 1 kg green beans | 4 medium sized onions chopped | 6ml Salt | 500ml Sugar | 400ml White Vinegar | 20ml Delhi Delight | 40ml Maziena (Note: When white vinegar is used, a clear colour is obtained, which is ideal for salads)
Method – Cook the beans and onions in salted water for 5 minutes and drain. Add the sugar and vinegar and boil until soft, about 5 minutes. Mix the curry powder and maizena and mix with a little water. Stir this into the beans to thicken and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Stir continuously and set heat lower to prevent burning. Bottle hot in sterilised jars and seal immediately. Ready for use after one month.
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