The Indian and colonial influences in the South African beach city of Durban is fast becoming a don’t-miss stop in South Africa.
A short one-hour flight from Johannesburg or a two-hour trip from Cape Town and you land in this historic city in the KwaZulu-Natal province.
While the blend of cultures and architecture makes Durban unique, it also has the appeal of the long stretches of sunny beaches and fascinating Afro-Indian culture.
More Indians reside in Durban than any other country outside India itself. Early immigrants worked on sugar cane farms in current-day KwaZulu-Natal, and many women still wear sarees, the national dress of India, and Indian cuisine is popular.
So what makes this coastal city such a hit with travellers near and far? Here are some of the highlights you must experience when visiting Durban.
WHAT TO DO
Walk the Golden Mile
Durban’s Golden Mile is a 3.7 mile stretch of sandy beaches which entice surfers and swimmers to enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The beachfront was completely redeveloped for the 2010 World Cup, so it’s possible to stroll the length of it on a broad new boardwalk.
For something different you can flag a Zulu rickshaw. A century ago, more than 2,000 of them crowded the streets and docks, while today, some 20 registered pullers remain, all wearing beaded headdresses that match the decorations on their rides.
Along the boardwalk you will find markets that offer beach gear and Zulu crafts, while on the beach, sculptors create masterpieces and works of art in the sand.
A walk around the city of Durban and you will come across many market places all selling different things. The Morning Trade Market is a weekly source of farm fresh ingredients and artisan goods. The Victoria Street Market transports you into another world, mixing Indian and African elements across over 150 stalls. I Heart market provides a platform for local design, craft, fashion and food. Shongweni farmers and craft market started with just 12 stalls in 1998 and today, they host 150 stalls, that boasts milk, cheese, vegetables, homemade cakes and pies. If you can stomach it there is the Bovine market which sells the specialty dish of boiled bread and bovine head and last of all the Herb Market, which specialises in the products for ‘muti’ the local medicine for
Zulu history and culture
Take in a Zulu experience to learn more about the culture of South Africa’s largest ethnic group (some 10 million Zulus live here). At Shakaland and PheZulu Safari Park, both located in the magnificient Valley of a 1000 Hills, you can walk through beehive huts (replicas of Zulu homesteads), sip traditional beer, watch tribal dances and participate in traditional ceremonies. Journey about 40 miles west of Durban to see Isithumba Adventure Park, an authentic, rural Zulu village. While you’re there, join a tour and experience more Zulu customs, go horseback riding, or see the sights on a 4×4 excursion.
Being a coastal city, Durban has access to some of the best diving areas in South Africa. It also has a front seat to what is often referred to as The Greatest Shoal on Earth, South Africa’s Sardine Run, which is undoubtedly one of the world’s most incredible natural-phenomena. Diving is most popular at Mabibi, Sodwana Bay, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks.
Just beyond Durban
If you have the time to venture beyond Durban, then the KwaZulu-Natal region has plenty to offer, from incredible scenery, wildlife, wetlands and more. Take a guided walk or self-guided driving tour at Hluhluwe Game Reserve, where Zulu Kings once hunted and established the first conservation laws. In St. Lucia you can experience a bush or beach safari or a hippo and croc cruise.
WHERE TO STAY
Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharanim
Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani is a Durban complex that offers 734 ensuite rooms and sits on Durban beachfront. Three heated swimming pools, a boutique spa and a variety of eateries, bars and lounges keeps guests busy. This property is all about location, centrally placed on the beachfront with amazing views over the ocean.
The Oyster Box
Travel a little further north and you find The Oyster Box, a 5-star luxury boutique hotel and spa in nearby Umhlanga, overlooks the Indian Ocean. The hotel features a 24-seat cinema with complimentary snacks; a Grill Room for fine dining; and a spa with a Turkish hammam (a variation on the Roman bath).
WHERE TO EAT
Durban is a city famous for its curry and Bunny Chow. The origins of the name are a mystery, but this curry served in a hollowed-out bread loaf is the quintessential Durban meal. Do not be alarmed as no rabbits are harmed in the making of Bunny Chow, it’s usually beef, chicken or mutton.
The story goes that the dish was created as a meal-to-go that farm workers could hold in one hand. For the ultimate curry buffet, head to The Oysterbox Hotel at Umlhanga just north of Durban.
Chef’s Table prepares its menu with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. You’ll enjoy watching the “culinary theater,” as chefs work in the open kitchen.
Conscious Cafe at the Castle on Main, vegans and vegetarians can order homemade, alternative meals.
Bud’s on the Bay offers wharf side dining with its own brand of upmarket bunny chow and creations like Zulu sushi (seared steak).
Freedom Cafe is cut from an old shipping container parked in a courtyard in one of the city’s historic districts. Their breakfast is tops, with a tart that makes kale appetizing.
For more on Durban and KwaZulu-Natal visit www.zulu.org.za