Being born and bred in the beachfront village of Umhlanga Rocks, just North of Durban, I have grown to love the many different people, historical narratives and activities that make this region the number one holiday destination for South Africans.
“Every day is Durban day,” it is said as the subtropical climate providesan all year-round welcome to enjoy the warm currents of the Indian Ocean.
This coastline, stretching from Mozambique in the North to the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, provides endless joy and entertainment for surfers, bathers, bodysurfers, beach walkers, sun lovers and fisherman alike. Durban poet Adam Knight describes it as a “washing machine of the soul.”
Durban has a proud history of healing and personal transformation. Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Durban as an esteemed young lawyer and left as a spiritual activist having founded satyagraha (non-violent resistance.) His contribution to human rights and equality is commemorated in an annual salt march (26th April) walking from the city to his Phoenix Settlement. Nelson Mandela also experienced change in Durban. He arrived as a leader ready to take up arms against injustice and by the time he was captured near Howick in the Natal Midlands (today the site of a historic exhibition) he was prepared for peaceful protest and the attitude of compassion and forgiveness that made him an international role-model.
The city itself is built around the bay area which had an unmatched natural beauty.Early paintings illustrate the abundance of nature with the subtropicaljungles, mangroves, large trees and lush forests enjoyed byan abundance of wildlife hippopotamuses, crocodiles, elephants and an elegantarray of birds.
The natural phenomenon of the seasonal migration of sardines making their way to the warmer waters to breed during mid-winter (July) is an age-old attraction, bringing the sea-life to the surface as shoals of glistening silver sardines are followed by dolphins dancing in the waves.
African people first inhabited the region and named the bay area, eThekwinimeaning ‘testicle,’ in a vivid description of its shape.The Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama arrived in 1497 at the bay that marks the entrance to the city. He named it Natal, meaning Christmas. By the 1800s the English had settled in the region and in 1835 gave the city its name Durban after the governor of the Cape.
Today, the harbour remains an urban attraction, described by sailors and visitors on the luxury cruise-liners as the most beautiful harbour in the Southern Hemisphere. The harbour is flanked by Durban’s most recognisable landmark, the ridged and forested Bluff jutting out into the ocean on one side and the famous golden mile of beaches on the other.
Durban is the second biggest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere. Various restaurants provide entertainment on the waters edge whilst boat cruises such as the unforgettable Sarie Marais offer trips around the harbour. The people of Durban are called Durbanites and are avibrant multi-cultural mix of Zulu, Indian and British. If there is a philosophy that unites everyone it is called uBuntu which simply means "I am because we are."
The inspirational military genius King Shaka built the first great empire in Kwa Zulu (home of the Zulu). The suburb ofKwa Dukuzawas the capital. It was also the birthplace of Nobel peace prize winner and former ANC (African National Congress) president Chief Albert Luthuli.A number of day tours take visitors to this site and other important historical Zulu battle sites.
There are many aspects of Zulu culture that have become emblematic to the world. The bright beading tradition of the Zulu is showcased at the Durban beachfront. This bead-market tradition dates back to the early 1900s, when the religious prophetIsaiah Shembe, encouraged his followers to set up the businesses. Shembe is nowone of the largest churches in Africa. The annual Shembe gatherings are an extraordinary event with tens of thousands of followers worshipping in a co-ordinated sacred dance, calledukusina. Thesetake place in outdoor locations such as the rolling green hills of Gingindlovu in the North.
The beachfront promenade is also the home of the colourful and dynamic Rickshaw rides.Initially a mode of transport, imported from the jinrikishain Japan, the Rickshaws now offer visitors arhythmical and joyful ride down the golden mile. Other attractions for the whole family include bicycle hire, the skateboard park and uShaka Marine world.
The British influence is marked by grand and evocative Victorian, Edwardian andart deco architecture. The City Hall was built in the epi-centre of the Durban in the early 1900s in a neo-baroque style and is resplendent with statues of early leaders and word war monuments. This heritage has given this city the fond English nickname “the last outpost.”
Durban was one of the first cities the world to introduce cinema’s and this great film legacy is celebrated in the annual Durban International Film Festival (DIFF).
The Indian people first came to this region as indentured labourers, but have now made Durban their home, forming their largest population outside of India, and adding their colourful religious temples and culinary traditions to the highlights of the city.
The age-old “Indian quarter” is Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street, named after one of the spearheads of the passive resistance movement. In this same street is the glorious Juma Masjid Mosque, with the Madressa arcade running through it. This is the largest in Africa accommodating 6000 worshippers at one time.
On a side street called Dr Goonam is my favourite stop - the Little Gujarat. This restaurant offers authentic vegetarian South Indian food at an incredibly good price. Directly across the road are a number of textile shops specialising in the famed Shweshe fabric. And around the corner is the Victoria Street Market crammed with curios and spices.
Warwick Junction is the busiest intersection in Durban and provides many commuter markets. Some of the favourites for visitors include the early morning market providing the freshest vegetables and the African Muthi(medicine) Market selling the alternative medicinesof thenyangas (herbalists) and sangomas (spiritual healers). A proud feature of the markets are the hard-working porters, known as isigadla, who make their living ferrying goods for stall holders and customers.
The long and winding Florida Road(now an entertainment strip) was historically a walk-way for the elephant as they made their way from the ridge to the marsh-lands to bathe. The marsh-lands are now converted into the Royal Durban golf course. Across the road is the stunning Botanic gardens which offer a visual slither of the natural beauty that Durban once was with an array of beautiful trees and splendid flora. Botanic gardens offer year-round live music concerts, sometimes showcasing the vivid indigenous music of this region.
Indigenous Zulu music styles such as themaskanda, made famous by “the white Zulu”, Johnny Clegg, thembaqanga made famous by Paul Simon’s Graceland album and the isicathimyawhich has earnedLadysmith Black Mambazo five grammy awards is a real pleasure to experience. Durban’s most famous meals include the Zulu tradition of ShisaNyama (meat cooked on an open fire) and the Indian tradition of Bunny Chow (curry in bread.)
Durban is a constantly developing city.The Moses Mabhida Stadium built for the 2010 world cup, has a 150m high arch with a cable car,offering panoramic views of the city and surrounds.
For many visitors Durban is a gateway to the vast and exquisite province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. From the world-class King Shaka airport, visitors often choose this is an easy access point to explore coast and hinterland of the province. Whilst North is home to the age-old attractions of the big 5 game reserve, Hluhluwe Umfoloziand the pristine World Heritage Site,The Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park , the interior of KZN has the scenic Drakensburg escarpment for wonderful hiking trails.