16 May 2014 by Andrea Weiss (words and pictures)

Five cool things to do in Durban

Durban is famous for its balmy weather, lush, subtropical feel and its links to the Orient. Here are five cool ways to experience South Africa’s most popular holiday destination…

Trainee life guards at Durban's North Beach

Never been to Durban before? Here are a few must-dos when you're there...

1. Dip your toes in the Indian Ocean

Durban’s claim to fame is the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean that make year-round swimming and surfing a pleasure, and it’s not unusual to see Durbanites nipping down to the water’s edge for a quick surf between business engagements. Take a stroll along the beachfront and spot the incredible sand sculptures that are a permanent fixture here, or chat to the lifeguards whose job it is to keep an eye on anyone who ventures into the water.

Sand sculptures are a fixture on the beachfront

2. Go on a city walking tour

The sprawl of Durban can be confusing and a bit overwhelming for the first-timer, so one of the best ways to acclimatise yourself to the heady cultural mix of the city is to go on a walking tour. If you’re interested in Durban’s links with the Orient, or want to see some of the historical landmarks on foot, then book a tour with Durban Tourism. It costs only R100 for an adult and will keep you occupied for several hours. The Oriental Walkabout will take you past landmarks like the Juma Musjid Mosque and the Victoria Street Market, while the Historical Walkabout will see you visiting landmark buildings like the current City Hall.

Bookings: Call Durban Tourism on +27 (0)31 3224173 to arrange a tour so that they can line up a guide for you. Tours start at 9.30am or 1.30pm, but must be arranged in advance.

An organised walking tour is a good way to orientate yourself
Durban's City Hall

3. Buy some masala for the folks back home

Thanks to Durban’s Indian population, this city is famous for its curries and so it is virtually mandatory to eat a spicy meal when you’re here. If you want to take that nice, warm feeling back home with you, then buy some masala (mixed, ground spices). Some traders make up frighteningly hot mixes with names like 'Arson Fire: Mother-in-Law Exterminator'. If you’re not up for the hottest of hot curries, then request a milder version to be made up especially for you. A sachet should cost around R20.

Masala piled high at a trading store in the Victoria Street Market
Stall inside Victoria Street Market

4. Visit the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board

Based in Umhlanga, north of central Durban, is the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, whose job it is to protect bathers along the coastline of this province, where the warm waters attract some 14 species of shark inshore (only three of which are dangerous to bathers). Here there is an interesting display with more information about the sea life to be found in these waters and a curio shop. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can also attend an audio-visual presentation and watch a shark dissection. Sharks have been known to scavenge all manner of things (like Wellington boots and even human body parts), so you never quite know what might be inside that stomach!

Where? Follow the signs on Umhlanga Rocks Drive past the Umhlanga Hospital
Contact: +27 (0)31 566 0400

A dissection at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board
This surfboard is on display at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board head offices in Umhlanga

5. Have sundowners at a beachfront hotel

The Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani has a great Panorama Bar and Pool Deck on the second floor, with a commanding view over the beachfront where you can watch the surfers dropping into the water off a pier, or simply enjoy the balmy air and view of the glistening water. Remember that the sun rises in the East, so you won’t see it sink into the sea but it’s a still a great place for cocktails or to enjoy one of their trademark ice creams. Another popular spot is Joe Cool's on the beachfront.

Durban beachfront as seen from the sea

Category: Attractions, Food & Wine, Routes & Trails

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