Durban is all about getting out and enjoying the subtropical climate, the green spaces, the funky venues and, obviously, the warm Indian Ocean. Want to know where the locals go? We’ve filled four days with the very best that the city has to offer.
Day 1 : Beach Front
This is where the fun is at. With the sound of the sea in your ears, lots of restaurants and cafes, and enough activities to keep the whole family entertained, you won’t want to leave. Hire some bikes and go explore!
Cycling and coffee go hand in glove, and at The Bike and Bean (082 773 6870; bikebeandurban.com) you can get the best of both. This vibey cafe is at the northern end of the beachfront promenade. Have breakfast and hire some bikes for the day (R50 per hour or R250 per day).
With tummies full, pedal south on the promenade, which will be busy with exercise junkies and less frantic folk taking in the sea air. Stop to admire the skills and bravery (or “lack of sense” as your mom would say) of the skateboarders at the skate park. Also look out for the incredibly detailed sand sculptures that bring the beaches to life, often themed around current political and social issues. You might be on holiday, but the sand sculptors aren’t, so don’t be scared to tip them for their work.
And while it might sound cheesy, don’t miss the rides at Funworld (031 332 9776; firstname.lastname@example.org). There are dodgem cars and a carousel, but the cable car over the Golden Mile is the highlight.
Lunch time! Between Funworld and uShaka Marine World, just north of Addington Beach, you’ll find Afro’s Chicken (1 031 303 2002; afroschicken.co.za), a bright yellow shipping-container eatery on the beachfront with an adjacent seating area and a view of the surf. Afro’s serves some of the best, least pretentious nosh in Durban, like a chicken burger and slaptjips for R39. Be prepared for a bit of a queue though, because it’s seriously popular.
uShaka Marine World (1 031 328 8000; ushakamarineworld. co.za) is a world-class tourist attraction and is largely responsible for the regeneration of the South Beach area. Park your bikes and hit the aquarium for a dolphin show (11.30 am and 3 pm daily; all shows are included in the Sea World entrance fee of R165 per adult and R122 per child under 12). The aquarium itself is a marvel, with spotless exhibits of all the Indian Ocean’s creatures, including the toothy ones…
There are other activities too, like the new Chimp and Zee Rope Adventure, a zipline that zoots over a coral reef (R150 per person) and a whole separate water park next door. A single afternoon isn’t enough for the aquarium and the rides at the water park, so save them for another day.
Late Afternoon & Evening
As the sun arcs away from the sea, cruise down to Moyo uShaka at the end of the pier for a sundowner as the waves crash below and the gulls soar above (031 332 0606; moyo.co.za).
If you’ve still got your bikes, pedal pack to The Bike and Bean (about 5 km) and fetch your car.
Dinner tonight is at Roma Revolving Restaurant (031 337 6707; roma.co.za) on the 32nd floor of John Ross House. It’s a Durban institution where you can dine with ever-changing views of the bay and the bright lights of the CBD.
Roma specialises in Italian cuisine and seafood, but the restaurant also serves excellent steaks. If you’re starving, the set menu (from R220 per person) includes the restaurant’s most popular dishes and offers the best value (everything from fresh linefish and veal to Italian classics like lasagne and mushroom valdostana). Their dessert trolley is also famous!
Just be warned, the decor hasn’t changed since the 1970s and the service can be “relaxed”, in true Durban fashion….
Day 2 : City
Durban is full of adventure, if you know where to look. Spend a day pumping up your endorphin levels and trying something new.
The south side of the Umgeni River mouth (also known as Blue Lagoon) has been developed into a “green corridor” that offers all sorts of activities. It’s also where you’ll find the serene Green Hub Cafe (: 031 322 6026; durbangreencorridor.co.za), where you can grab a muffin (R10) and a cappuccino (R18) and park your car for the next activity. There are often markets and other events in the vicinity. You can also hire canoes and bikes (rates from R50).
Wipe the cappuccino foam off your lip and hit the Mangrove Trail in the Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve (082 559 2839) at the mouth of the Umgeni River – a mini adventure right in the city! Walk to the trailhead from the cafe then follow the boardwalk into the mangroves and over the bridge to the seashore. Keep an eye out for curious mudskipper fish and the rare mangrove kingfisher. Entrance to the reserve is free, but unfortunately the reserve is only open to the public on the third Saturday of every month, from 8 am to 1 pm.
If you’re here on the wrong day, drive into the city and park at the People’s Park next to the imposing Moses Mabhida Stadium ( mmstadium.com; bigrush.co.za), where you can go on a Segway tour of the stadium or the beach (from R200 per person; : 031 303 4534) or take a trip in the SkyCar to the pinnacle of the stadium’s arch (R60 per person; ; 031 582 8252). Those craving an adrenaline fix can do the Big Swing (R695 per person), with an 80 m free fall and a 220 m swinging arc!
Durban folk are famously chilled, until you ask them where the best curry or bunny chow can be found. Then tempers get as heated as the curry! Start your curry experience with a tour of the Victoria Street Market in the heart of the city (1 031 306 4021; victoriastreetmarket. co.za), where you can get a taste of India, and Durban, and choose from a seemingly endless variety of spices. The market also has a good seafood section, plus Indian clothing and curios.
Then it’s time for the real deal – a Durban curry or bunny. Gounden’s Restaurant and Take Away (031 205 5363) is one of the most famous Durban curry dens and it’s a short drive away at 520 Umbilo Road. The place isn’t in a great part of town so grab a quarter mutton bunny for R48 and head down to the beach at uShaka for a seaside picnic. Remember, real Durbanites eat their bunnies with their fingers…
Next up, it’s time to finally fulfil that lifetime dream and learn to surf. At Learn 2 Surf ( learn2surf. co.za) on Addington Beach near uShaka, lessons start from R150 per hour, including gear hire, and they’ll have you hanging ten in no time.
If surfing sounds like too much hard work, head back to uShaka but this time visit the Wet & Wild Water Park (031 328 8000; ushakamarineworld.co.za). A day pass costs R158 per adult and R122 per child and the rides are awesome – try the Body Tornado or the Torpedo.
Afterwards, grab a slice of pine-apple on a stick (R15), smothered in curry powder, from a vendor on the beachfront. The combination sounds odd, but it’s delicious!
Late Afternoon & Evening
Every day in Durbs should end with sundowners and a view of the ocean, and there’s no better spot for this than the roof of Joe Cool’s (031 332 0977).
Get a seat at one of the tables overlooking North Beach and sip a beer or cocktail while the surfers do their thing. (The service isn’t always great, but the location makes up for it.)
For a casual dinner, head up to Unity Bar at 117 Silverton Road in Musgrave (1 031 201 3470; “S unitybar.co.za). The restaurant is owned by the same people as the more upscale Cafe 1999 and it has one of the best selections of craft beer you’ll find in KZN. Their aim is to make simple, flavourful food from locally sourced ingredients, and they do it well.
Try the deep-fried olives (R45) as a starter. For mains, the curries (from R75), burgers (from R75) and pulled pork ciabatta (R85) are all excellent options.
More munchie options
If you’re in Durbs on a Sunday, The Morning Trade market is brilliant for breakfast ( email@example.com or find them on Facebook). It recently moved from a location in the city to 15 Station Road, off Umgeni Road, not far from King’s Park Stadium.
There’s a great selection of breakfast and lunch options at decent prices, plus fresh fruit and veg, artisanal products and more. One of the most tantalizing breakfasts on offer is from Grandma’s Eggs: scotch eggs made with free-range eggs and hormone-free meat, served with slow-roasted tomato and garlic relish on a roll (R45). Delicious!
Corner Cafe (031 201 0219) at 197 Brand Road in Glenwood is one of the trendiest spots in Durban. Build your own mezze platter for lunch from a choice of 35 snacks each costing R20 – R40. Try the octopus marinated in wine, vinegar and garlic, the dolmades, keftedes, or one of the Greek dips.
Or go across the road to Mooki Noodle Bar (1 031 811 9199), a fantastic Asian fusion restaurant with a reasonably priced lunch menu (R55 and under).
Day 3 : North Coast
The North Coast is less frantic than the city and it’s where you’ll find Durban’s best beaches. Pack the car and get going!
Load up a picnic breakfast and start your day with a leisurely stroll through the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve at the end of Lagoon Drive. It’s a smallish reserve with a manageable, child-friendly trail that’ll take about 90 minutes to complete. As you wind your way through the dune forest, look for vervet monkeys and blue or grey duiker. And listen for the call of a fish-eagle when you cross the lagoon via the wooden boardwalk. There are three guided walks daily (at 9 am, 11 am and 3 pm) organised by the folks at Breakers Resort () 031 561 2271; R30 per adult and R15 per child). The beach just beyond the lagoon is KZN’s notorious nudie beach, so look out for any PG 18 sunbathers before letting the kids run free.
If you’d rather spend the morning playing in the sand, head to Umdloti Beach just north of Umhlanga. Umdloti has a wonderful tidal pool that is protected from the ocean by a natural reef and manmade structures, and watched by lifeguards. It’s home to all sorts of fish and other sea creatures. Grab a mask and snorkel and go explore. There’s a Spar nearby and a beach cafe where you can stock up on snacks and fishing nets for the kids if they’re keen to catch (and release) a Nemo of their own. Get there early in season because parking can be a nightmare.
You’ll be hungry after all that sea and sunshine – time to kick back at Beach Bums International ft 032 943 1132; t beachbums.co.za), an open- air restaurant in Casuarina, just north of Umdloti. Their motto is “where life is forever chilled” and it basically sums up the vibe. You can admire the view with a cocktail from a table indoors, or tuck into a gourmet pizza down on the beach. Just make sure to book beforehand. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and the bar stays open late, especially on weekends when the partying becomes serious after dark. Sundays are dedicated to chilling out, with live music that is guaranteed to switch you into holiday mode.
Late Afternoon & Evening
Between November and March, as many as three million barn swallows return to their roosts in the Lake Victoria Wetland in the Mount Moreland Conservancy every evening around sunset, making for a seriously impressive viewing experience (ft 031 568 1557; barnswallow.co.za).
Pack a picnic blanket, camping chairs, mozzie repellent and a cool box with sundowners (nothing is available to buy at the viewing site), and settle in an hour to half an hour before sunset to enjoy the spectacular sight. Entrance costs only R10 per person and all money goes towards the conservancy, which works to preserve the roosting site.
The viewing site is open every day during swallow season, but the swallows are most active when they’re arriving from Europe in November and departing again in March.
Once the swallows have settled in for the night, drive to Umhlanga and find parking on McCausland Crescent. At the bottom of the street is a path with steps down to the Umhlanga Promenade, where you can enjoy a twilight ramble to the lighthouse and along the funky new pier.
If you skipped the swallows, have sundowners on the terrace or in the Lighthouse Bar at The Oyster Box (031 514 5000; oysterboxhotel.com) and soak up the ambience of this old dame of the North Coast. The food at The Oyster Box is also fantastic, but it’s not cheap. Stay for supper if you feel like being a high roller or walk up the road to Chartwell Drive where there is a host of good, fun eating spots. Little Havana (031 561 7589; littlehavana.co.za) has the best steaks around. Try their speciality, a pair of 200 g steaks – one free- range grass-fed and the other grain-fed – so you can try to taste the difference (R175). And don’t miss the hot chocolate fondant for dessert (R49).
See inside a shark’s stomach
If you find yourself in Umhlanga on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, head to the headquarters of the KZN Sharks Board (031 566 0400; shark.co.za). This organisation manages the nets along the KZN coastline and does shark research – at HQ you can watch an audio-visual presentation followed by a live shark dissection (usually a shark that has been found in the nets). Debate surrounding the ethics of shark nets aside, the presentation is fascinating – you’ll leave with a new appreciation for these ocean predators. The show starts at 9 am and 2 pm on the days above and costs R45 per adult and R25 per child under 12. There’s also a show on the first Sunday of every month.
Day 4 : Inland
The landscape inland from Durban is a jumble of hills with pockets of indigenous forest and friendly farms. It’s also usually cooler and less windy. Here’s your guide if you want a break from the seaside.
Set your alarm clock for a dawn assault on the Shongweni Farmers and Craft Market (031 777 4686; shongwenimarket.co.za) about half an hour inland from Durban near the suburb of Hillcrest. The market is open from 6.30 am to 10.30 am – bring a basket and stock up on fresh, organic produce and other homemade goodies like cheese, and bread still warm from the oven. There’s beer tasting too, if that’s what you’re into at 7 am…
Of course there’s also freshly ground coffee and endless breakfast options. Let the kids jump on the trampolines while you munch a bacon-and-egg roll. Dogs are welcome, if they’re on a lead.
Staying with the farm theme, next stop is the Animal Farmyard and Tea Garden (1 031 765 2240; animalfarmyard.co.za; entrance R20 per person) in Botha’s Hill, a five-minute drive from the farmers market. The kids can feed the farm animals, go on horse and pony rides, explore the farm on a tractor and even milk a cow! (Cow-milking demonstrations at 10.30 am and 3.30 pm daily.) While the kids get stuck in, parents can have a relaxing cup of tea. Save the “animal touch farm” for last: Parents and children alike will enjoy snuggling up to some of the farm’s cuddliest creatures.
It’s time to refuel, so make your way to Giba Gorge MTB Park near Pinetown (031 769 1527; gibagorge.co.za), find a spot in the open-air Giba Gorge Cafe and choose something to nosh from the healthy, organic menu. If breakfast is still a recent memory, you can’t go wrong with a cappuccino and a slice of carrot cake. They also stock locally brewed Robson’s or Standeaven beers, but maybe wait until after you’re done riding…
That’s the reason you’re here, after all. There are trails for absolutely everyone, from first-timers to grizzled downhill veterans. A nice family option is the 4,6 km purple route to a dam. There’s also a BMX track for kids with a need for speed. You can hire bikes (from R175 per hour) and other gear at Giba, or bring your own. Entrance costs R50 per adult and R20 per child under 12.
Now it’s time for that beer!
Late Afternoon & Evening
The Kloof Railway Station was in service from 1912 until 1983 when the line was decommissioned. In 1987 the building was converted into Stoker’s Arms (031 764 6706; B stokersarms.co.za) – a local pub that has become an institution in the area.
Enjoy typical pub grub for dinner, like a beef and Guinness pot pie (R85), while the kids share a snack basket or something off the kiddies’ menu. There’s a playground and TVs that will be screening any sport worth watching. Park at the Kloof Village Mall if it’s busy and be sure to book in season or if there’s a big rugby match on.
If you’re in Kloof on the last Sunday of the month, pay a visit earlier in the day. The Umgeni Steam Railway (087 808 7715; umgenisteamrailway.co.za) operates a steam train from Stoker’s Arms through the Valley of a Thousand Hills to Inchanga Station. The journey lasts about 45 minutes and at the other end you’ll find the Inchanga Station Craft Market, with stalls selling crafts and food. A one-way train ride costs R200 per adult and R140 per child under 12.
If you’re not one for animal farms, spend the morning exploring 30 acres of beautiful gardens at Makaranga (031 764 6616; makaranga.com), a boutique hotel and conference venue on a sprawling estate in Kloof. You can’t bring your own food and drinks, but you can build your own picnic basket at the deli (about R300 for two people) and relax on a blanket in the shade while the kids go on a botanical adventure.