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The enchanting coastal city of Durban is a popular tourist destination in South Africa, where visitors can enjoy all sorts of fun activities for the entire family. Whether you chose to go swimming or visit a museum, there is never a dull moment on the KwaZulu-Natal coast – here’s our pick of the most exciting activities and sights in Durban.
The Golden Mile beachfront is a famous destination for joggers, surfers, sunbathers, bikers, water sports enthusiasts and for those in the mood for a relaxed stroll. The popular ‘mile’ is actually a 4-mile (6.5km) stretch that extends from Blue Lagoon South to Addington Beach and Durban Harbor. The name stems from the golden sand beaches along the coastal edge of the city. There is a wide pavement that makes it easy to walk, jog or bike the route. Or you could join the many surfers, kite boarders and sandcastle architects and soak up the warm sun.
A trip to Durban is incomplete without spending a day at the 40-acre uShaka Marine World theme park. The park has four sections, the highlight of which is uShaka Sea World. It is the fifth-largest aquarium in the world, designed around five shipwrecks where you can go scuba diving and participate in other fun activities. uShaka Wet ‘n Wild features the highest water slide in the southern hemisphere. uShaka Beach is a sandy beach with a large pier that goes out into the ocean, and finally, uShaka Village Walk simulates an African village with restaurants, cafés and other shops.
Durban Botanical Gardens was established in 1849 by Dr Charles Johnston on the edge of the Berea Ridge. The 37-acre property is Durban’s oldest public institution and Africa’s oldest surviving botanical garden. It is a place of interest because of its many living fossil plants. These pre-dinosaur cycads (seed-producing plants extending back 250 million years) face possible extinction in the wild. A visit to Durban Botanical Gardens provides a rare opportunity to see these ancient plants up close.
With its subtropical climate and more than 300 days of sunshine every year, spending a day at the beach is possible almost every day in Durban. If you consider yourself a decent surfer, you might want to try the South Coast for world-class surfing. Addington Beach is the preferred choice if you are planning a fun day on the beach for the entire family. Bay of Plenty is the destination for volleyball tournaments. The Golden Mile beaches are conveniently located closest to Durban’s city center (which is probably why they are so popular), and if these options aren’t enough, you could also try Umhlanga Coast.
Shark attacks in Durban are extremely rare because the beaches along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline are the only ones in South Africa protected by shark safety gear. While in Durban, why not stop by Umhlanga and join the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board crew for a boat tour on an early morning? Enjoy watching the safety system at play and learn about sharks, and you may even get to see dolphins, turtles and rays.
The red-and-white candy-striped lighthouse in Umhlanga is always a glowing fascination to visitors. Why not view the splendid structure while sipping a refreshing cocktail? Located on the premises of The Oyster Box hotel, Lighthouse Bar is a colourful establishment with a fantastic view of the Umhlanga Lighthouse and the beach. Don’t miss a beautiful sunset evening with live music in the background at this romantic rendezvous spot. Try their signature drink, the Umhlanga Schling, made with ingredients unique to Durban such as cane sugar and cane spirit.
The Inanda Heritage Trail forms part of the Freedom Route, which recognizes important historical areas in the KwaZulu-Natal province. The trail begins at the Inanda Township, home to the Ohlange Institute, where in 1994 Nelson Mandela voted in South Africa’s first democratic elections. The Inanda Heritage Trail encompasses key historic sites that have been pivotal to the shaping of South Africa as it is today. Some of these sites include Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement, where Mahatma Gandhi nurtured his passive-resistance philosophy, and the Inanda Seminary, one of South Africa’s oldest schools for girls, founded by American missionaries in 1869.
If you choose to visit uShaka Marine World, be sure to book in for lunch or dinner at The Cargo Hold, located on board the infamous Phantom Ship, where guests can dine in fine style surrounded by the deep blue in one of Durban’s most remarkable settings. Enjoy some of the spiciest, fruitiest and most exotic flavors procured from the freshest produce in KwaZulu-Natal, and sample expertly prepared meals while witnessing the beautiful ocean view and the sharks swimming in the tank. Try the grilled crayfish or langoustines, a mouthwatering dish prepared with herbs, spices, lemon and olive oil.
Located at the northern end of the Golden Mile, Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World is a complex that houses cinemas, many restaurants, a beach bar, its own semi-private beach and, of course, a casino. If you visit during the months from September to January you will see many recreational cyclists who use the casino grounds as a base for their training rides up the North Coast. The casino offers both smoking and non-smoking areas where you can test out your luck in a comfortable environment.
One of the host stadiums for the 2010 World Cup, this multipurpose sporting arena has evolved into a venue for a variety of surprising activities. A particular highlight, if you’re feeling brave, is the appropriately named Big Rush Big Swing, where you can strap yourself in and dive 80m (263ft) to experience the world’s biggest swing (as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records).
Additional reporting by Cassam Looch