Like most cities, Durban has developed around the geographic features of the area. Durban is bordered in the south by the Bluff, a range of green clad hills separating the sea from Durban Bay, and stretches northwards beyond the Umgeni River to the highlands of Durban North. Inland lies Berea, a ridge of hills encircling the flat, central part of the city. The coasts to the north and south of Durban enjoy beautiful beaches and warm water. Surfing is one of the main activities on the many beaches, though angling and boating activities are also very popular.
As a coastal city, Durban is constantly affected by the warm sea current flowing down its shoreline. The Agulhas Current travels southward down the KwaZulu-Natal shoreline, and is one of the most powerful currents in the world. It also makes the humidity levels of the area high. The climate is tropical most of the year, with the summer thunderstorms bringing a slight relief from the humid atmosphere that prevails. The hills above the city are more temperate. The vegetation on the coastal regions is very abundant and tropical, and visitors to the area will see an amazing range of plants, trees, and flowers not found in other parts of South Africa.
Metropolitan Durban, or eThekweni in Zulu, is the largest, most vibrant city on the East Coast of South Africa. There is a harbor and an international airport, both conveniently located close to the city. The city center bustles during the day and you will find yourself at the heart of a truly African city amidst museums and civic buildings of colonial heritage, such as the
The Harbor is the ninth largest in the world (over 4,500 acres) and the most important in South Africa. At its mouth there are two piers - the Point to the north, at the far end of the Golden Mile, and the Bluff to the south. The Bluff is a 4km long, narrow spit, which shelters the Bay. On the city center side of the Bay is the long Victoria Embankment where you will find memorials and museums, including the
The Golden Mile extends along the Marine Parade with Snell Parade to the north and Erskine Parade to the south. The major attractions are the beaches, which contrast well with the strong skyline. The main beaches are
There are also restaurants, entertainment and amenities galore, including the new
To the eastern side of the center is the Indian Quarter, found along Grey Street running north from West Street. The
On the ridge to the west of the city is the suburb of Berea. Berea is home to several places of note. The popular
On the northern side of the city are the Umgeni River mouth and the swanky area of Durban North. The river is home to several nature reserves and animal sanctuaries, including the
Durban is often described as the liveliest and most 'African' city in South Africa. The central streets are alive with the general hubbub of people, and the remnants of colonial charm and beach-living can be totally overwhelming. Durban is also noted for its 'Golden Mile' of beach-front but this Miami-style stretch and the city area behind it have lost some of their sheen. Despite this, the beaches are wonderful and there are plenty of established hotels, mostly high-rises and chains.
Durban is also referred to as the Gateway to KwaZulu-Natal which indicates the many delights of the interior or along the coast to the north and south. Durban has also experienced some rejuvenation in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and it remains a bustling city with much to see and do. In that vein, bear in mind that Durban remains a popular destination for families from Johannesburg, especially in the weeks before and after Christmas. If you can face the crowds at this time of year be sure to book accommodation early.
Most of Durban's main hotels are located along the Golden Mile, but there are several in the downtown area. The finest hotel in the historic city center is the Royal Hotel, a famous five-star hotel and Durban institution. Other options include the reasonably-priced Albany Hotel and the comfortable City Lodge Durban Hotel.
Most of the hotels along the Golden Mile are large, such as the Blue Waters Hotel. Sun International operates the top-tier Beverley Hills Hotel- Southern Sun. In addition to the big hotels, the Golden Mile offers large self-catering complexes.
Durban has some very pleasant suburbs on the slopes around the city, such as Berea, Durban North and Kloof. These established areas are calmer than the central district, but still within easy reach of the center and the Golden Mile, with pleasant shopping centers and places of interest nearby. You will not find large hotels in such areas, but there are bed and breakfasts, lodges and self-catering rooms aplenty, many of a good standard and always with a warm, Durban welcome. You could also choose a Kloof establishment, like the Kloof Falls Lodge.
For a restful beach holiday, people are increasingly choosing Umhlanga, just north of Durban. Try the elegant Fleetwood-on-Sea, offering the best in self-catering apartments. It is only a short drive south from Umhlanga into Durban's city center. If you'd like to stay within the Durban city limits, try the Riverside Hotel & Spa. It's located on the banks of the Umgeni river and it's a pleasant, more peaceful alternative to the Golden Mile beach resorts.
There are more options outside the city, in the outer suburbs. The scenery in Drakensberg is spectacular and the region between Southern Drakensberg and Durban (the Midlands) is very pretty, offering plenty of horse-riding and other outdoor activities. It is cooler here than Durban (which can be very humid), and the famous Midlands Meander, an arts route, is attractive. There are only small country hotels, but plenty of bed and breakfast and lodge accommodations. If you prefer quiet less urban areas, then this is an attractive option, being close enough to venture into the city during the daytime (there are fast roads), and head back to the cool mountains at night.
Durban has a number of museums and sites worth visiting, so you won't run out of interesting things to do in the city. That being said, Durban is also ideally located for those wanting to spend some time on the ocean or among the inland mountains and valleys. From boat trips and safaris to guided museum tours, there's something for everyone to experience in Durban.
This is a great place to visit, and not only to see where the local government does its business. The Durban City Hall is home to two different museums, conveniently located under one roof in the center of town. On the first floor, there's the Durban Natural Science Museum, where you can view a towering life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex or an ancient Egyptian mummy. After you've had your fill of science, head upstairs to the Durban Art Gallery where you can view African, Asian, and European artwork from the 15th-century to the present. Afterward, cross the street and relax at one of the bars and cafes at the Royal hotel, like the Exchange Bar or the Royal Coffee Shoppe.
Kwa Muhle Museum
The Kwa Muhle Museum examines Durban's cultural history, as a place where many ethnic groups have come together. The museum also deals with the history of apartheid in South Africa, and how it affected Durban. After this, go north on N.M.R. Avenue to the Old Fort at Warrior's Gate, a reconstructed 19th-century fort and military museum. The fort is now a National Heritage site, and provides an interesting and educational destination for an outing. When you've finished viewing the fort, head east to the beach and take a rickshaw ride or stop in at one of the many hotel restaurants and bars in the area. After recovering from your walk, you can jump on the trampolines at Lower Marine Parade.
Moses Mabhida Stadium
Start off your day with a leisurely brunch at the Hops Restaurant & Bar at the Riverside Hotel. Next, you can pursue some natural beauty and visit Burman Bush, or else drive or take a taxi over to the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Take the funicular to the top of the stadium's arches for panoramic ocean and city views. When you're back on solid ground, head back toward the beach for a sunset walk in the sand.
If you still need something to do after all these options, rent a car and drive out to Krantzkloof Nature Reserve, which consists of 448 hectares of natural forest in the gorge below Kloof and contains a wealth of animal and bird-life. If you stay all day in the reserve, you may want to spend the night. Try the Kloof Falls Lodge, where the rooms overlook the Molweni River as it tumbles into the ravine over the pretty Kloof Falls.
If that doesn't strike your fancy, head south to the Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary, which contains a self-guided trail through the forest and three hides from which you can view many of the 150 species of birds that inhabit the area. Finally, if you'd rather see another town than explore the natural wonders of the area, head northwest on the N3 to Pietermaritzburg, about an hour's drive away.
With its proximity to the ocean, plus miles of beaches and nature reserves, there are many things to do outdoors. Some you can do alone, such as surfing or swimming, but for more adventurous or technical activities, it's best to have a guide. Popular options for the area include boating and water activities (after all, Durban has a large and very active harbor), safaris and nature tours.
Blue Dolphin Tourist Services ((+27 31 207 5138/ http://www.blue-dolphin-ts.co.za)
Casea Charters (+27 31 561 7381/ http://www.caseacharters.co.za/)
Nature Tours & Safaris:
Amani African Tours (+27 11 524 0430/ http://www.amanitours.co.za)
1st Zulu Safaris (+27 31 337 3103/ http://www.1stzulusafaris.co.za/)
BirdsAfrica Tours (+27 31 266 3950/ http://www.birdsafrica.co.za)
Shongololo Tours (+27 31 564 0330 / http://www.shongololotours.co.za/)
The KwaZulu-Natal region has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Remnants of Rock Art are readily found in caves throughout the Drakensberg Mountain range, where the Khoi-San people lived as hunter-gatherers for thousands of years. These same people were still living in the Natal Midlands when the much darker skinned, 'Bantu' African tribes moved from the north sometime during the last millennium.
Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese explorer, while discovering the passage from Europe to India, landed along this coast on Christmas day 1497 and, as a result, called the area 'Natal'. His sailors fished off of the coast of modern day Durban. Slowly, trade developed along the coast, particularly for ivory, and marooned mariners built temporary shelters around present day Durban.
The Bantu tribes went through bloody periods during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Inter-tribal wars were common and the Zulu's, under King Shaka (Chaka), became the dominant tribal force. They remain the largest ethnic group in the province.
The modern city of Durban dates from 1824, when a party of 25 men, under British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell, arrived from the British Colony in the Cape and established themselves on the northern shore of the Bay of Natal, in what is now Farewell Square. The previous year, Lieutenant Farewell had taken shelter there during a violent storm, and had built a small settlement. With Farewell was the adventurer Henry Fynn. Fynn befriended the Zulu King, Shaka (claiming, falsely, to be an envoy of King George), and helped him recover from a stab wound received in battle. In thanks, Shaka granted Fynn some prime land, a "25-mile strip of coast, a hundred miles in depth" (over 9,000sqkm). Fynn styled himself 'King of Natal' and took numerous Zulu wives, producing many children by them. On the 23rd June 1835, at a meeting of the 35 white residents in this ‘kingdom', it was decided to build a town and name it D'Urban after Sir Benjamin D'Urban, then Governor of the Cape.
In 1838 'Voortrekkers' (whites of continental descent trekking from the Cape colony to escape British rule, now known as ‘Afrikaners') formed the Republic of Natalia, just north of Durban, establishing a capital at Pietermaritzburg. Fierce conflict with the Zulus led to the famous ‘Battle of Blood River'. The conflict spilled over into the Durban area and the city had to be evacuated. Finally, under military pressure, the Afrikaners accepted British annexation in 1844. As a result, many Afrikaners left Durban and headed north to help establish the Orange Free State and Transvaal. In Durban, a British governor was appointed and settlers came in significant numbers to the area. The municipality of Durban was set up in 1854. Today, British influence is still evident in the older buildings around the city, particularly in Farewell Square.
In the 1860s the sugar-cane industry was established. Zulus did not readily leave Zululand (the area to the northeast of Durban) to work on the plantations, so the British brought thousands of 'indentured laborers' from India, to Natal, on five year contracts. Many stayed, creating Asian communities that are now among the strongest in the region, with influence throughout South Africa. The sugar-cane farms they initially came to work are still farmed by the ancestors of those first laborers. The main religious groups of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh are all very active and play a big part in the character of Durban and the whole province of KwaZulu-Natal. Trade with India has become a large part of the local economy.
The most famous Indian immigrant was the young British-trained lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi, who arrived in 1893 and worked for 21 years in Natal, before becoming the social activist we all know. His approach to political leadership was to have a deep resonance in the activities of the African National Congress (ANC) later in the twentieth century.
During the apartheid era that dominated the twentieth century in South Africa, Indians were regarded as second class citizens, but enjoyed a freedom in business, which allowed them to develop a strong economic base as well as political influence in the province. In this period, Zulus migrated in large numbers up to Johannesburg and other mining districts. In Natal a nominally independent 'homeland' of KwaZulu was established, led by the bombastic leader Mongosuthu Buthelezi (he has the world record for the longest speech). Political tension between Buthelezi's IFP and the ANC created unrest in many parts of the province, but in the post-1994 democratic era, Nelson Mandela and the ANC eased tensions dramatically, making Buthelezi Minister of the Department of Home Affairs. The Zulu King, Zwelentini, continues to play an important, symbolic role, as do the chiefs in their districts.
Durban is still an important port (the busiest in Southern Africa) and tourist destination. The Golden Mile developed a 'Miami' feel in the 1970s and the city provided a happy playground, particularly for people on vacation from Johannesburg. It lost its holiday pre-eminence to Cape Town in the 1990s, but remains an important location. Umhlanga just to the north is now the favored destination for more affluent tourists. The city and province are an interesting blend of British, Zulu and Indian traditions and together, form the multicultural Durban.