Blink-and-you-miss-it Mitchell Park is one of Durban’s best kept secrets. This park built in 1910 is more than a century old. It began as an ostrich farm which then introduced larger animals like lions and elephants to gain more income. Today the park still has a zoo section, with small animals like birds, monkeys, meerkats and even crocodiles. The park is shady with a plethora of old trees, a small pond, a fountain and large sections of grass where you can sit and work beneath the canopy of leaves. Weekdays are best and you can even pop in the Blue Zoo Restaurant or Vide e Caffe across the road for a bite to eat. The weekends get busy with family birthday parties and picnickers and it remains a Durban favourite park for everyone.
Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest and most beautiful gardens in Durban. Established in 1849, the garden was part of the Kew Gardens in England project to establish a series of botanical gardens across the globe which would assist in the introduction to plants of possible value. Today the gardens are part of a network of botanic gardens that focus on core areas of biodiversity, education, heritage research, horticultural excellence and green innovation. The gardens play a unique role in Durban‘s cultural landscape with substantial national and international tourism value. The Botanic Gardens house a major collection of cycads and palms and offer a rich range of material for researchers and students. The gardens have also won a few gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, bearing testament to its place in international horticultural excellence. The gardens boast a palm walk, a Japanese garden, an indigenous forest, a living beehive, a herb garden and even a ‘garden of senses’. It also has a tea garden (famous for its giant scones) a lily pond, gazebo, bell tower and a number of sculptures by local artists.
Makaranga Botanical Gardens
Makaranga is well known to Durbanites as a famous Sunday garden outing for families. The property also houses a spacious and luxurious boutique hotel that looks into the gardens. Located just out of Durban in Kloof, this 30-acre garden is just a few minutes away from the city. The garden, with freshly manicured lawns, has 18 different ponds, a waterfall, Japanese gardens, walkways, and a number of hand carved statues. The paths are wheelchair-friendly and there are benches throughout the garden. If you’re feeling peckish after walking through the beautiful gardens, you can dine at the gorgeously decorated Nona restaurant on the property that serves up one of the best Sunday brunches. Or if you feel for a picnic you can purchase picnic fare at the deli and baskets, blankets and umbrellas are available to hire.
In the city toward Durban North is an old favourite: the Japanese gardens. Popular with school kids and tourists, this oriental landscape will soothe away your worries. The park is filled with bamboo, reeds and Japanese blossoms and traditional ponds are home to Japanese carp and water lilies. The ponds are also filled with water birds that pick their way through Japanese frog statues and stepping stones. The hedges are clipped which provide visual depth imitating Japanese hills. The eight hectares are filled with traditional style temples as viewing points and arching bridges cross over the landscape. The gardens are open seven days a week and entrance is free.
As the name states, this is a park designed for people. While not particularly green it’s filled with a range of activities for adults and kids that will give you a break from real life. Right next to Moses Mabhida Stadium, this park offers activities for adults and kids; it features a massive modern play area and a 1 km racing track and field. There’s also a cafe to relax at when you need a break. There are shaded pergolas, perfect for picnics, and fountains to cool off on hot days. The surfaces are made for cycling, skateboarding or rollerskating and you can hire bicycles or skateboards at the venue if you haven’t brought your own. It’s the ultimate inclusive space with safe parking and activities for everyone. The park doubles as a music venue, hosting a number of music acts organised by the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Umgeni River Bird Park
This gem on the Umgeni River is a huge attraction and, with walk-through aviaries and a mass of vegetation, waterfalls and rock faces, you will be as much in nature as you would ever be in a park. A favourite with schoolchildren and couples, this park features endangered species of birds like the Wattled Crane, some stork and owls and even the Cape Vulture. There are free-flight shows and baby bird feedings throughout the day. The birds are kept in as natural a habitat as possible, that feature ponds, waterfalls and some amazing natural cliff faces. Get up and close with a variety of birds at one of the oldest bird parks in Durban.
This picturesque spot is found just out of Durban near Pinetown. When you enter there is a picnicking spot around a river and if you’re up for it, trails into the forest in the valley. Follow the trail markers and take one of four trails out of the picnic area. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the waterfall and you cross a wooden bridge along the way. At the bottom of the waterfall you can stop for a quick dip or just take in the beauty. If you don’t wish to hike all the way to the bottom you can also view the waterfalls from the wooden viewing deck from above. It’s the perfect spot for a quick nature getaway just a few minutes from the city.
Out of Durban, in Pietermaritzburg you will find the lovely Rosehurst Garden in Boom Street. Essentially an English garden, it was designed more than 30 years ago and heavily influenced by a castle in southeast England. The garden is split into a number of smaller gardens and features controlled hedges and a variety of flowers. The gardens are home to an old Victorian manor that has now been converted into an array of idiosyncratic shops, which includes a quaint tea shop that offers sandwiches and light meals. Enjoy old English life in this garden as you sip tea and look out at the roses.