Durban is a city for all seasons
Durban, with its palm trees and banana plantations within the Kingdom of the Zulu along the east coast of South Africa, is often overlooked in favour of its glamourous cousin Cape Town. While the two cities are worlds (and oceans) apart, Durban manifests a rugged and down-to-earth charm. Perennial subtropical temperatures and the warm Indian Ocean make it welcoming to surfers who can forgo the wetsuit here. Families and couples seeking adventure combined with a peaceful hideaway need look no further than this, the province’s largest city. The beaches stretch in a seemingly endless curve and there’s something for everyone.
Durban’s architecture is a mix of Victorian, art deco, colonial homesteads and skyscrapers, some the worse for wear. In- between you’ll find a mix of old-fashioned general stores and modern cafes, sprawling markets, soothing parks and a thicket of mangroves.
The city is home to the largest number of people of Indian descent outside India, who have greatly influenced the city’s cultural fabric – expect to find visible examples in the temples, masala-coated pineapple sticks at the beaches and the traditional spices and sari shops around town.
A comfortable bed
For a luxurious splurge, venture to the Oyster Box (www.oysterboxhotel.com; 0027 31 514 5000), in the plush suburb of Umhlanga. Doubles from 5,746 South African rand (Dh1,801).
It’s lost a little of its gleam now, but the Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel (www.tsogosunhotels.com/hotels/elangeni-and-maharani; 0027 31 362 1300) along with its more upmarket sister property, the Maharani next door, still occupies prime position across the beach on the Golden Mile. Doubles from 2,200 rand (Dh689).
The Concierge Boutique Bungalows (www.the-concierge.co.za; 0027 31 309 4434) in Greyville are compact in size but high in style. Doubles from 895 rand (Dh281).
Find your feet
Start your Durban exploration by taking in a full 360-degree view of the city from the sky car (www.mmstadium.com/attractions/skycar/, 55 rand per person [Dh17]) at the striking Moses Mabhida Stadium that traverses the 106 metres to the top of the arch. Adrenaline seekers can partake in a steep 500-step adventure walk with the option to free-swing into the stadium bowl once you’ve reached the 70-metre mark.
Explore Durban’s beachfront by walking, biking or skating along the promenade, where you’ll find pineapple and pickle vendors and plenty of ice cream stops. Flea markets with Ndebele-themed curios, amusement rides and uShaka Marine World, an oceanarium and water park (www.ushakamarineworld.co.za/, from 199 rand [Dh62]) are must-visit attractions here.
Meet the locals
Your first port of call would be the shoreline, as Durban and its string of beaches are synonymous. Chat with the anglers along the pier, the vendors along the promenade and learn to surf (www.learn2surf.co.za/surfschools_durban/; 200 rand for one hour [Dh63]) in the bath-warm water.
Explore the city centre and surrounding buildings like the City Hall or visit a local township with an experienced guide (www.streetscene.co.za; tours from 440 rand pp [Dh139]).
Book a table
Durban curry is a must, as are bunny chows: hollowed-out white bread loaves filled with fiery red bean, potato or succulent mutton curry. Options are numerous, but try an Indian spread at the locals’ favourite Vintage India ( 0027 31 309 1328; average mains 200 rand, [Dh63]).
For more spice, with a sea view this time, try the famous prawn or crab curry at modest Impulse by the Sea (0027 32 554 4626; 90 rand [Dh28]).
Lovers of fresh modern Italian cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients flock to Lupa Osteria in Hillcrest (www.lupa.co.za; 0027 31 765 3 057; average mains 95 rand [Dh30]).
An excellent way to experience the culture is to shop at the markets in the city. The spice markets in Victoria Street sell intriguing and often wittily named blends like “mother-in-law’s revenge” masala. The vegetable, bovine and medicinal (muti) markets are close together too and you can access them at the Warwick Junction area. Around 8,000 vendors trade daily at the surrounding nine markets daily. It’s best to do a guided walking tour of the area, and remember that many vendors at the medicinal market don’t like having their photo taken (www.marketsofwarwick.co.za; 100 rand pp [Dh31]).
Abandon the throngs at the beaches along the promenade and catch some rays between the Country Club and Blue Lagoon stretch while enjoying some peace and quiet.
What to avoid
Be hyper-vigilant about safety – don’t drive with car windows down in the city centre, keep your belongings stowed in the car boot or hotel room safe and don’t carry around flashy cameras and expensive jewellery. It’s not advisable to walk along the beaches alone after dark.
Etihad Airways (www.etihad.com, co-sharing with South African Airways) has daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Durban, with a stop in Johannesburg. Return flights from 17,389 rand (Dh5,465) including taxes.
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Updated: January 22, 2015 04:00 AM