For a real adrenalin rush, try going to the shooting range for the day! Brent Shooting Range lets you try out a handgun, shotgun and rifle at their indoor range, but only after you have had safety training from one of their certified trainers. The package includes ammunition. I am terrified of guns, but this was actually fun and a real thrill! Also great for stress relief. Staff are very helpful and friendly.
Learn to surf in Durban. On the beach right in front of Ushaka Marine World one can rent a surfboard and have surfing lessons. Very reasonably priced. No need for a wetsuit as water is warm in Durbs.
Amazing experience :)
The da Gama clock is an endearing - if somewhat dilapidated - piece of whimsy located in the ribbon of parkland along the Victoria Embankment (or 'The Esplanade', as Durbanites more commonly refer to it).
The clock was funded by public subscription to mark the 400th anniversary of Vasco da Gama landing in Durban: Victorian era Durbanites seem to have been a pretty public spirited lot, as so were several other monuments around Durban, including the Dick King statue and the statue to commemorate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee.
da Gama was one of that incredibly intrepid band of Portuguese explorers who ventured forth in the late 15th century to annex as much of the New World as possible for Portugal. He was a nobleman whose voyages were sponsored by King John II, and he took up where his countryman Bartolomeo Dias left off, becoming the first European to visit a number of bays that were later to become important ports along the east coast of Africa - including Durban, Maputo, Mombasa and Malindi - before sailing east across the Indian Ocean to snaffle yet more colonies for the Portuguese crown.
It was da Gama who was responsible for the name 'Natal' ('Christmas' in Portuguese), as he landed in Durban on Christmas Day in 1498. This intricate wrought iron confection of a clock - a fine example of 'no holds barred' Victorian kitsch - was erected in 1898 to mark the fourth centenary of his landing, but is sadly in need of a little TLC.
Vistors to South Africa might not realise how strong an influence Portuguese culture still has on South African society. There have been several waves of Portuguese immigration - starting with an influx of Madierans in the 1920s, and latter supplemented by Portuguese who fled Mozambique and Angola during the civil wars that broke out on independence. It is estimated that there are currently about 300,000 people of Portuguese descent, making them one of the most numerous white communities in the country.
Running all the way through central Durban is the Golden Mile, one of the best beaches you'll ever have the pleasure of wandering along. Soft, golden sand, always warm weather (unless it's raining), hand-(home-) made curio stalls, wonderful sand art, an entertainment complex, and loads of places for beer and a bite to eat.
Also, surfing is very popular here, and lifeguards are ever present.
(work in progress)
There are apparently guided tours of the sugar terminals which last for about an hour and are very reasonably priced at R15 for adults and R7 for children at the time of writing (September 2012). I must state that I haven't yet done this myself, but it certainly sounds like an unusual and potentially interesting to do, and could be a good, affordable option if the weather turns nasty.
(work in progress)
South African tourist information offices tend to be a mixed bag: sometimes excellent, sometimes hopeless, sometimes well located and sometimes almost unaccessible.
This tourist information office is located in the heart of Durban, a block from Francis Farewell Square, that houses many of central Durban's main attractions (including the Cenotaph and Durban City Hall).
I can't comment on the level of service, as I visited on a Sunday afternoon when it was closed, but the stunning red brick Victorian building in which it is housed is so beautiful that I hardly minded.
The view from Gino's Bar on the 33rd floor of the John Ross building is amazing, and from this vantage point, you have an almost uninterrupted view out over Durban Harbour and the CBD.
Probably the best time to appreciate the view is late afternoon so that you can watch the sun set over the city. The view of the port and CBD's twinkling lights is also gorgeous after nightfall, and its elevated location would make it a the perfect place to enjoy a hot summer's evening.
Better still, you don't even have to expend the effort to walk around the 360 degrees to enjoy the view, as the bar is located upstairs from the Roma revolving restaurant. So provided that you're willing to linger over your drink for about 90 minutes, the entire panorama will unfold before you: the only effort required on your part is a little gentle elbow bending :)
I love this statue of Dick King, the man who rode solidly for 10 days from Port Natal (now Durban) to muster reinforcements from the British garrison at Grahamstown. The year was 1842, and Port Natal was being closed in on by the Boer forces of the shortlived Natalia Republic. King was chosen for the task because he had ridden sections of the route with wagons and was also able to communicate in several local dialects.
His achievement is quite remarkable - the distance he covered was over 950km (about 600 miles) and for two of the ten days, he was too sick to travel, so he managed to cover an astonishing 125km/day on the days when he was able to ride. For two thirds of his journey, he travelled alone - he was accompanied on the first stage by his African servant NaGenjo - and forded over 100 rivers on his journey, as well as repelling at least one attack from Bantu tribesmen. Even these days on modern roads, it's a long way to drive, so it's almost unimaginable that he managed to complete his journey so quickly.
Perhaps most remarkably, he managed this feat riding a single horse, who is beautifully described as follows: "Somerset stood fifteen hands, was a bay with black points, skin of gold, kind of satin sleek, whether groomed or ungroomed. His forequarters were shaded with dark stripes like the marks of a zebra, and a band of black on the back extended from shoulder to croup.
"He had never been shod, but had hoofs of steel, his withers sloped, and his back was short. He was close-coupled and well ribbed-up. His head was small, like an Arab's; ears short, supported by a long arched neck; eyes full of fire, but mild; knees wide and flat. Chest broad, girth deep, with rounded flanks, hocks well under, forelegs straight. The golden bay had received the best education in the military riding school and was as docile as any pet."
The troops mobilised by King succeeded in relieving the Port Natal settlement, and King was rewarded for his remarkable bravery and tenacity with the sum of £15. This statue was later erected in his honour, funded via public subscription by the grateful citizens of the city that he had saved.
What I love most about this statue is the way that it beautifully captures King's exhaustion, although Somerset looks a good deal more lively!
Apologies for the poor quality of the photo, but this was taken will my cellphone on a day that I'd stupidly left my camera at home.
Mention Durban to most South Africans, and they immediately associate it with childhood beach holidays. And although in recent years, higher income tourists have tended to migrate to KwaZulu Natal's North and Coast coasts and down to the Cape, Durban's Golden Mile is still chockablock over summer weekends and school holidays.
The Funworld complex pictured above is opposite the Edward Hotel on South Beach and comprises freshwater pools and showers as well as some amusements, including a chair lift and a carousel.
The beaches along this stretch of coastline are made of golden sand, and are family friendly, with limited wave action and no strong currents. They are also protected with shark nets, which are patrolled daily by the Natal Sharks Board. For this reason, they are wildly popular - particularly with black families coming to the beach for a day trip - and things can get extremely busy, so I would suggest that unless you love crowds, you avoid the Golden Mile over busy periods.
Durban's famous but tired-looking Golden Mile got a major facelift in the runup to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, and the result is wonderful.
The Golden Mile extends along the beachfront, and has been beautifully renovated, repaved and landscaped to restore it to its former glory. It is a place to stroll, to cycle, to rollerblade and - as in this case - the ideal location for an early morning jog as the sun rises slowly over the ocean. Meanwhile the lazier among us can just catch a rickshaw ride!
Despite the scaremongering, this is a safe place for tourists during the day (just keep an eye out for the usual petty criminals such as pickpockets), though I'd veer on the side of caution and wouldn't recommend wandering along here alone after dark.
Having already catalogued statues of the great man in Parliament Square in London and a mismatched pair in outside the Slave House and in Company Gardens in Cape Town, and written a glowing description of the Jan Smuts house just outside Pretoria, I am beginning to think that I am maybe starting to develop VT's definitive Jan Smuts inventory!
Well, there are worse things to devote your time to, and I happily concede that I am a great admirer of the wily Field Marshall, who - along with Nelson Mandela - was probably the most influential South African politician of the 20th century. He was one of the foremost architectects of the League of Nations (the forerunner to the United Nations) and has the dubious distinction of having fought both against and for the Allied Forces (against in the Boer War and for in the World Wars). Cynics would perhaps be tempted to comment that this is symptomatic of Slim Jannie's devious nature! [This is, by the way, a nickname given to him by Afrikaaners, meaning 'Slim Jan', but with distinct overtones of untrustworthiness].
Like Winston Churchill, he was ousted not long after the end of World War II in 1948. This opened the door to the rise of the South African National Party, which would ultimately culminate in the disastrous Apartheid regime.
I particularly like this statue of Smuts, because it so beautifully captures his straight backed military bearing. The pigeons just like him because his hat provides a splendid roost!
This statue of Queen Victoria in Francis Farewell Square outside the Durban City Hall made me smile.
Like several other statues and memorials in Durban, this was funded by public subscription (clearly a speciality of the generous population) and was erected to commemorate Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. By which time she was just short of 80 - and yet it depicts her as a young woman, trim of waist and moderately pretty in a slightly popeyed, jowly sort of way. Of course that is how she would have looked when she first ascended the throne 60 years previously at the tender age of 18, but it does seem an act of arch sycophancy to have chosen to represent her like that so long after the event.
Is it any coincidence that Natal's Prime Ministers over this period were both knighted???
P.S. If you've been lucky enough to see Aardman's animated movie 'The Pirates', with Queen Victoria as the villain executing Ninja routines in combination underwear, you'll never look at a statue like this in the same way again!
Cultivating luxuriant facial hair seems to have been an abiding passion in Victorian England, and here in the Colonies, people seem to have embraced this fashion with equal enthusiam.
This statue in Francis Farewell Square outside the City Hall in Durban makes me realise why sometimes people refer to a 'pair of moustaches' rather than 'moustache' in the singular form! I rather like men with moustaches and beards, but all things in moderation, and this wouldn't look out of place on a Mexican bandit!
This chap is Sir John Robinson, a newspaperman who was the first Prime Minister of Natal when it was granted Colony status in 1893 (previously it had been governed by a series of Governors and Lieutenant-Governors. This short lived system of government endured for less than 20 years, as Natal was incorporated into the newly created Union of South Africa in 1910.
Despite his political achievements, Robinson is probably better known as the co-founder and first editor of the Natal Mercury, which was established in 1852, and is still going strong over a century and a half later.
The Cenotaph on the far end of Francis Farewell Square in Durban is an unexpected twist on a war memorial theme and is an easily overlooked highlight of Durban's architecture.
The term 'cenotaph' means 'empty tomb' and has been adopted to describe the casualties of the two World Wars. Most cenotaphs in the Commonwealth tend to be based on Sir Edwin Lutyens classic design for the Cenotaph in London's Whitehall, and have a distinctive vertical oblong form, mounted on a plinth. The Cenotaph in Durban shares these same elements, but is executed in a distinctly Art Deco form, and even more interestingly, the detail of the wreath and the figures are executed in bright colours, whereas most other cenotaphs I've seen have either been completed plain or have had some restrained guilding.
The cenotaph was designed by the architectural firm Eagle, Pilkington and McQueen from Cape Town who won the design competition in 1921, but the monument was only completed in 1926. The main structure is made of granite, but the detail - including the wreaths at the top and the two angels raising up a fallen soldier against a sunburst background - are made of ceramic, manufactured out of Poole pottery. Thus, unlike painted masonry, the colours have remained vibrant and the overall effect is just gorgeous.
The unusual design and height of the monument (which is 11m high) lends a sense of upliftment and it's one of my absolute favourite Great War memorials.
The Cenotaph was bombed by the ANC in June 1981, and the granite at the base is still scarred by a small crater as a result of the blast.
Whilst you're here, be sure to admire the splendid snarling Art Deco lions that guard the entrance to the little memorial park at the Cenotaph's base.
The war memorial in Durban is hands down my favourite in the country, not just because of the highly original Art Deco design of the Cenotaph, but also because of this brilliant pair of snarling bronze lions, each of which commemorates one of the World Wars.
War memorials often feature lions, but for some reason that I don't understand, these particular lions have a distinctly oriental design, which just adds to their originality. Also, unlike some of the namby pamby lions that I've seen on my travels, these look seriously fierce!