The nature of the ocean currents along the east coast of Southern Africa mean that it is largely depositional - rather than erosional - in nature, and so it tends to be relatively flat. As a result, the Kwa Zulu Natal coastline is blessed with literally hundreds of kilometres of sandy beaches, but it does mean that the coastal scenery tends towards the monotonous rather than the dramatic.
Durban's coastline is no exception, but boasts one notable landform: the Bluff, which stands sentinel over the southern approach to Durban harbour. It is a relic of a historical dune system that was established about 5 million years ago, and its elevation has been a godsend for navigational purposes.
The Bluff is home to both the 21m high lighthouse was established in 1954 and the distinctive illuminated structure of the 67m high Millenium Tower. The mesh top of the Millenium Tower functions as a giant weather vane, and the sequence of flashing lights emitted from the tower apparently indicates whether the tide is incoming or outgoing (although I haven't the first idea how one would interpret this).
The Bluff is on the other side of the harbour from Durban's famous Golden Mile, and is thus not visited by many international tourists. Nonethless, it is very popular with Durbanites and other South African tourists for its splendid beaches, excellent fishing and outstanding surfing off Anstey's Beach.
(work in progress)
The aquarium at uShaka World is a welcome addition to Durb's tourist offerings.
The design of the aquarium is based on a sunken ship and is frankly odd. Aesthetically it didn't excite me, but I have to credit it for being original, and it will probably appeal to kids (mine weren't with me at the time to offer a definitive opinion).
The best exhibit for me was the tank entirely devoted to stonefish, which wasn't something that I'd seen elsewhere. These highly venomous fish rely on camouflage and make staggeringly convincing stones - on first inspection, I estimated that there were three or four in the tank, but the more I looked, the more there were, and the final head count was well over a dozen!
One of the great attractions of uShaka World is that you can snorkel in one of the larger tanks: not the shark or stonefish tank, I should add! I visited late in the day, so didn't see anyone doing this, but I imagine that it must be amazingly exciting for kids who are only learning to snorkel to do so in close proximity to some pretty big fish! Don't know how they'd cope with huge numbers in peak season, but presumably they manage this - maybe the cost is exorbitant ;) ???
On the downside, I found that the signage in the aquarium was sub standard, and the notices that were in place weren't always obvious. On this count, the Two Oceans aquarium in Cape Town is streets ahead, and, to my mind, is the better of the two aquaria. Having said that, if you're not going to visit Cape Town and/or you're in Durban anyway and looking for something to do with the kids - especially if the weather's not good - this is an excellent option (and, let's face it, your kids are going to try and drag you to uShaka World anyway, so you might as well give in gracefully!)
I always think that harbours are fascinating places, bustling with activity, which makes them great places to kick back and watch other people work!
Durban is South Africa's busiest port, with much of the shipping now being containerised. Having done two moves across the Indian Ocean myself, I always find it a little sobering to see the ships piled high with sea containers - they look just a little too precarious when you consider that they're heading out into the open ocean, which probably explains how I justified spending such a fortune on shipping insurance at the time!
Being south of the CBD and surrounded by warehouses, the harbour used to be a bit off the beaten track, but the development of uShaka World just to the north has reinvigorated the whole area and given it a new lease on life. Because of their proximity, it makes sense to incorporate the two into a day out, and they provide an interesting combination of experiences.
The view across the harbour entrance to The Bluff is one of Durban's most famous.
As with most harbours, Durban's offers a seafood restaurant from which you can watch the boats come and go - it's several years since we visited, but at the time, the food was good and reasonably priced.
Victoria Embankment - more commonly known by locals as 'The Esplanade' and recently renamed Margaret Mcnedi Avenue just to add extra confusion - hugs the waterside along the northern shore of the inlet to Durban Harbour, and is an interesting place for a stroll. As it's a little removed (but within easy walking distance) from both the beachfront and the CBD, it is less crowded, and when you've had enough of sea and sand, moseying along in the shade of the massive fig trees in the ribbon of parkland provides welcome respite from the heat and sun.
The road along Victoria Embankment is lined with enormous palm trees, which make it almost a caricature of how sub tropical city waterfronts are meant to look. However, because it overlooks the working areas of the port, I would describe it as being more 'interesting' than 'beautiful', which is a good thing in my book (but maybe not to all tastes).
If you're in the area, you can take the opportunity to admire the faded flamboyance of the da Gama clock and the statue of Dick King. There is also the Natal Maritime Museum (which I have yet to visit) and a couple of yacht clubs, and, further down, the distinctive sugar terminals, as well as a few Art Deco architectural gems.
If you're planning to visit this area, then may I suggest incorporating a pilgrimage to the retro Roma revolving restaurant? The view from the restaurant and Gino's Bar upstairs out over the city and port are unsurpassed, and the food is also surprisingly good: given the choice, the best time would probably be late afternoon so that you can watch the sun set and the emergence of the twinkling lights of the city and port.
Apologies for the quality of this photo which doesn't do it justice, but this was taken with my cellphone on a day when I forgot my camera ...
The title says it all: it would indeed be hard to find a nicer conference centre than that in Durban International Conference Centre.
This elegant and functional venue is located between the CBD and Durban's Golden Mile. It is a hugely popular venue, with conference organisers being attracted by South Africa's internationally competitive rates, and delegates - and their spouses - being attracted by Durban's sub tropical climate (which has the added attraction of being counter season to the Northern Hemisphere).
In November 2011, the conference centre hosted the COP 17 conference on climate change. This talkfest was attended by thousands of concerned global citizens whose collective carbon footprint in terms of travelling to the conference was exacerbated by the fact that this damp squib of an event failed to achieve any sort of progress in terms of a binding resolution to replace the expired Kyoto. protocol.
Cynical??? Moi??? Actually, I do believe that climate change is a reality and a clear and present danger, but I greatly resent the self perpetuating cottage industry that has grown up around it [end of rant].
If you're travelling to Durban with kids and are looking for interesting, family-friendly things to do, then look no further than the fantastic Child magazine!
This is a free monthly magazine with limited distribution (also available online - see website below) which is a boon for us parents who love the beach but can't quite face the thought of yet another visit! Along with the 'staples', there are also suggestions on some quirky and unexpected activities, as well as updates on child-friendly theatre productions.
There are also editions customised for Johannesburg and Cape Town if you're planning to visit those cities.
I must confess up front that I've never really been a 'beach person' but since I had kids, I am fast discovering their virtues!
Umhlanga (pronounced "Um - shlanga") is located a short drive north of Durban and is one of the North Coast's most famous beaches. I like it because although it's a beautiful beach, it's not just a stretch of sand and offers lots of rock pools to explore - much more my sort of thing!
Umhlanga is a major holiday destination, and offers all the amenities and entertainment that you would expect as a result. As KZN has a subtropical climate, the tourist season is not as limited as that in the Cape (its major competitor) and Umhlanga attracts visitors pretty well year round, as well as a large number of retirees. If I might offer a word of advice, avoid visiting during the long Christmas holidays and over Easter unless you want to pay top dollar and really enjoy (lots and lots of) company!
For me, the biggest attraction of Umlanga has always been the brilliant Natal Sharks Board centre at Umhlanga Rocks (see my travel tip), and combining beach and Sharks Board would be a really great day out.
This area got hit by storms a couple of years ago, and has been upgraded as a result - I haven't visited since, but it was pretty nice before, so it must be even better now!
The Umgeni River Bird Park is located just inland of the Umgeni River mouth, and has been constructed in a disused quarry. The rather uninspiring website listed below doesn't do it justice, but I have included it nonetheless to provide access to up-to-date information on opening hours and pricing.
The old quarry walls have been cleverly landscaped to create waterfalls and cliffs, and the dense vegetation provides is a lot of shade, which is extremely welcome on a hot day.
The Umgeni River Bird Park was opened in April 1984 and was privately funded by a group of bird enthusiasts who saw a need for education. By 1989, the park was recognised as the “Premier Durban Attraction” by the Durban Tourism Board and was home to over 4,500 birds of 400 different species. The park pioneered the concept of the Free Flight Bird Show in South Africa as early as 1995 (now also a feature of the excellent Montecasino Bird Park in Johannesburg).
As is sadly so often the case, problems set in when the original founder retired in 1997 and the park was sold to the Tsogo Sun entertainment group. Tsogo Sun closed the park at the end of August, 2009 but it was reopened in June 2010 after the Regency Foundation Network agreed to fund its purchase and the City of Durban committed to taking over the operating expenses.
Obviously the birds are the main attraction, but the attractively landscaped surroundings and peaceful ambience are also a major drawcard. For families and animal enthusiasts, it is a logical add on to the wildlife experiences of the aquarium at uShaka World and the Natal Sharks Board at Umlanga Rocks, as well as the excellent inland game reserves such as Hluhluwe.
Sadly we haven't had the chance to visit the Bird Park in several years, but I hope that it is still as lovely place to retreat as it was back in 2003 - if you visit, please let me know what it's like today!
The Golden Mile or Golden 6km is a popular self guided walking tour. It received its name from the Portuguese explorers who referred to the sea sand along the coast in this area as the 'Sands of Gold'.
www.kulula.co.za is a local airline with many cheap flights. At their website you can find many things to do around the major urban centres, the direct link currently is https://www.kulula.co.za/(S(52l51g55fm1dae45oxza1w45))/Default.aspx but if the page gets moved just visit www.kulula.com click the Kicks link then choose your destination city. There's plenty to choose from and you can book online.
The Bay of Natal (Durban Bay) was one of the few natural harbours available along the east coast of southern Africa between Algoa Bay and Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay).
The nice thing about the port is that the ships come in and out right infront of you. What a Awesome sight.
The port of Durban operates 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The entrance channel has a depth of 12.8m from Dart Chatum. The channel width is 122m but the intention is widen the channel by a further 100m commencing in late 2005. During daylight ships are supposedly restricted to 243.8m length with a maximum width of 35m and a draught of 11.9m, or 12.2m according to tide and harbour master's clearance. This is frequently granted and ships up to 270m length are common. Nighttime restrictions are for a ship length of 200m and a beam of 26m, maximum draught of 11.6m. The harbour master has to be consulted for permission for larger vessels.
These Richa boys is situated around Durban Central`s Beach front. Well its kinda nice taking a ride with these guys. Just 1 problem when I took a photo with them , they charging me to take a photo with my own camera. I never heard of such rubbish in my life but this guy was serious and complaining that he wants his money.... R20 for pic with me , what a rip off.
The Phezulu Safari Park is set in the spectacular Valley of 1000 Hills, a few minutes drive west of Durban.
This is a great half day trip, where you can enjoy a traditional African meal and get a look into the intriguing culture of the Zulu people.
You will be treated to some traditional Zulu Dancing and will get to visit their typical "bee-hive huts". It is geared for the tourists, but they also offer you a chance to visit a current Zulu village, where you can get an insight on how the Zulu people live today.
Hluhluwe Game Reserve (pronounced Shoo Shloo wee) is situated about a 3 hour drive north of Durban, and many tour operatours offer day trips from Durban. It is better to spend at least 2 or 3 nights in one of the rest camps in the game reserve, to give yourself a better chance of seeing the Big Five.
Set in the heart of Zululand it is the oldest game reserve in Africa, and home to the Big 5 (rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant).
The reserve offers you many options for viewing game. You could hire your own vehicle and follow your own trail in your vehicle. You can also take a drive on one of their open top game vehicle with an experienced guide, or if you really want to get close to nature you can go on a bush walk and track the Big 5.
Please note that this is no zoo, and the animals live in their natural environment. You are not garaunteed in seeing all of the Big 5, it is very much, being in the right place at the right time, but it is a really exciting feeling when you do get a sighting!!
As the saying goes .... "when in Rome, do as the Romans do!"
Durban lives and breathes sport, especially rugby (which is a sort of a relgion in South Africa!!). Our home team are the Natal Sharks, who play at the ABSA Stadium.
During the rugby season, if you are in Durban, get to a match. The atmosphere at the rugby is always great, but what makes Durban unique is the post match functions.... win or lose.
The fields surrounding the stadium are alive with people, most enjoying a braai (BBQ) with a few beers which goes on for ages after the match.
Some of the suites in the stadium, convert into nightclubs later on and the party rages on until the wee hours of the morning.
A cultural experience with a difference!!