Most people are under the impression that Cape Town is the only South African city that offers lush hills and valleys that flow into the ocean. Those people have probably never been to Durban.
The KwaZulu-Natal metropolis’ vibe offers tourists and locals the best of both worlds. The city is slow enough for you to experience life as a nonchalant hipster. Yet, lively enough for you to experience what it would be like to live as if you were in a rap music video. If your undiagnosed multiple personality disorder so wishes, you could live both lives in one day.
Taste little India
Durban is known as little India because of its large population of second-plus generation Indians. What this means is that the city is filled with hundreds of spots that serve biriyanis and bunny-chows that you could never replicate at home.
One of my personal favourites is House of Curries on Florida road. This place is what you get when you turn a terrace into a sports bar that serves life-changing curries.
Sundowners with a view
Everyone knows that the best part about day drinking is that you potentially get to be in bed by 10 pm. Throw in an expansive view of the Indian Ocean and you have the perfect afternoon activity.
The lighthouse bar at the Oyster Box hotel overlooks a red tipped lighthouse (hence the name) as well as an 180-degree view of a tanzanite waterscape. The food at the bar is overpriced and nothing to write home about nevertheless, their cocktails are delicious, the parking is ample and free and they will literally wrap you a blanket if you’re feeling cold.
Their slogan is “where life is forever chilled.” Beach bums restaurant put tables on the secluded beach sand so as to serve you the best-named cocktails in Durban, while your feet are in the sand. They also have a pretty decent food menu. If you are not yet sold, you should know they have a volleyball net and a dancefloor. What more does one need?
Moyo Pier bar
This beach bar was built at the edge of a pier and so you are effectively drinking in the water. It has windows all around and the balcony style terrace surrounds most of the establishment thus you just need to swivel your head to get a view of the city, the coastline, and the entire Indian ocean. Did I mention they have delectable cocktails?
Secret sunrise is honestly one of the coolest trends taking over South Africa at the moment. It is a yoga inspired silent disco that takes place in a secret but scenic location at sunrise. If you are not a morning person, this may just realign your chakras enough to get you to midday without wanting to kill anyone.
But first, coffee
Having lived a short drive away from Truth Coffee, Cape Town (better known as the best coffee shop in the world – The Telegraph UK 2016) I had some anxiety about moving to Durban.
Fortunately, caffeine addicts and coffee snobs alike will be pleased to know that the roastery movement is alive and well in Durban. Some of the best baristas in the country have made Durban their home and after drinking your way through the list below (in no particular order), you may just feel the need to have a word with the powers that be at The Telegraph.
- The bike and bean
- Freedom café
- Firebird coffee works
- Lineage coffee
- Colombo coffee
- The Bean Green
- Duke and Dutchess
- Love Coffee (a vintage VW Kombi that travels around the province sharing great coffee).
- I want my coffee (a wandering coffee truck)
For those who like to play outside
Hike and bike DBN
One of the extraordinary features of Durban and its surrounds is its hills and valleys. This makes for great hiking and biking trails for any fitness level, as well as some interesting dates.
Take a trip to the Valley of 1000 hills for breathtaking trails that will take you along riverbanks and through some culture-rich Zulu villages. Isithumba Adventure park offers guided hike and bike tours of this area to give you a bit of historical, cultural and environmental context.
Parks and gardens
Durban is a really green place. Almost every road is a lush avenue and in spring, many trees bear beautiful pink and purple Jacaranda flowers. If you suffer from hay fever and related allergies, this may not be the best time for you to visit.
Plenty of parks boast braai or barbecue facilities (even though we all know that barbecue is a flavour, not an activity). If you are not in the mood for a labour intensive braai, pack some drinks, snacks, and games in a basket and have yourself a leisurely al fresco dining experience.
Just so you know, public drinking is definitely illegal. What you do with that information is up to you.
While you’re playing outside, be sure to catch a Music at the lake concert, at the Durban Botanic Gardens.
Bucket list item
Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Luckily for us, jumping off of the Moses Mabhida stadium yields the same exhilarating result, no matter how many times you do it. The 80m free fall swing into the stadium is exactly what one needs to fight adrenaline deficit disorder. If nothing else, doing the tallest swing in the world makes for a cool story.
Markets are one of the human race’s greatest inventions because you get to eat, shop and play in one place.
A few to check out in Durban are:
- The S Market – One word: Foodgasms. 5:30pm – 11pm on the second Friday of every month.
- The I heart market: The first Saturday of every month at the same stadium where you “nearly died” on the world’s tallest swing.
- The Essenwood market: Saturdays 9am – 2pm. They have free pony rides! Not that I get to ride them but I still find it exciting.
- The Fabulous Friday night market: The name may be ridiculous but the fresh food and crafts aren’t. Every Friday night at the airport.
- Durban night market: The first Thursday of every month from 5pm onwards, at the Docklands hotel.
First Thursdays DBN
Most great ideas are simple concepts and First Thursdays is one of them. The event varies from city to city but the general concept is the same. On the first Thursday of every month, various retailers located in an artsy part of town extend their trading hours and host creative food and art collaborations. The retailers vary from art galleries, fashion ateliers and wine cellars to market stalls and live music rooftop bars.
In Durban, this magical concept takes place at the Station road precinct.
All that jazz
There aren’t many places to enjoy some live jazz in Durban but the Chairman gets my stamp of approval. It’s straight out of a movie with its classy but laid back lounge complete with mood lighting and swanky art.
Cool kids’ tip: Gently swirling a glass of single malt in one of the plush armchairs during a show will make you feel like an aficionado of sorts.
Florida road and Helen Joseph road
In South Africa, it is no secret that Durbanites party the hardest so you can expect to have the time of your life. These two streets are where one goes to take part in some mild debauchery. Lined with clubs, bars and restaurants you are guaranteed to find a decent happy hour, a mouth-watering meal and a calorie burning DJ.
You cannot come to the Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal and not eat like a King (or Queen). For those of you new to African feasting, the gist of it is: there shall be an abundance of meats and a copious amount of dancing. The best place to experience such festivities is iShisa nyama – it’s like a barbecue but it’s not.
I still have energy what else can I do?
Those of us who fall on the far right of a bell curve, near the border of constant hyperactivity require a more extensive list of activities. Fear not, I’ve got you.
- Take a yacht/boat/kayak/gondola/whatever-else-they-have trip at the harbor
- Enjoy a day of water sports at one of the many world-class beaches.
- “Run Forest, run!” Park and beach tracks are a plenty.
- Indulge in a spa day
- Take a mini road trip and explore the North and/or South coast
- Go karting, bowling or ice-skating in one of the malls
- Score an invitation to a thrilling games night at Awesome Anonymous – The Maverick Social Club
- Have another near death experience by shark cage diving at uShaka marine world
Pocket saving tip: Don’t forget to check Deal Zone for any discount vouchers. Also, search Facebook and Instagram for awesome events and specials.
It is summer all year round in Durban and the water is warm. The people, cuisines, cultures and activities are marvelously diverse. It is safe to say that the city is mistakenly underrated. This may not be the (South) Africa that the media portrays but a visit to the Zulu Kingdom will surely change your perspective.