Durban

by Peter Baxter  

The Warm Heart of KwaZulu/Natal

KwaZulu/Natal Tourism Authority Information Office: Ground Floor Tourist Junction, cnr Pine Street and Soldier’s Way Tel: (031) 366 7516/7

Durban is the sultry capital of KwaZulu/Natal Province, but something of a poor style relation of Cape Town. It is loud, disreputable, a little tattered at the edges, cultivates marijuana instead of vineyards, and languishes under the hot Indian Ocean skies in beach sandals, a sarong and sunglasses. It has traditionally been the holiday Mecca for working class whites from Johannesburg and Pretoria, and still has the flavour high volume tourism. However many of Durban’s traditional vistors now head south away from an increasingly run down, crowded and dangerous esplanade.

One of South Africa’s principal cities, and the busiest port in Africa, Durban is distinctly different from Cape Town with its mild sub-tropical climate and high summer rainfall that helps to keep the sounding countryside green and lush year round. Many of the surrounding suburbs are in the verdant hill country surrounding the city, with superb gardens and satellite neighbourhoods, all packed with a variety of different accommodation options. The Golden Mile Beachfront is a 1970s style waterfront neighbourhood that has been maintained by the city in fits and starts, but on the whole is diminishing slowly as the city centre gathers a reputation for crime and sleaze.

South Coast beaches have always been clean and well maintained considering the size of the city and the degree of development. The beachfront is still a very popular destination, with a vibrant California style café culture, and a much more noticeably black aspect than Cape Town. The demographics of Durban are 68% black, 20% Indian, 9% white, and 3% coloured, which gives the city a far more obvious black African texture than Cape Town, with the East Indians forming the largest single Indian community in the world outside of India, and contributing in colour and flavour far more than the whites and blacks combined.

The city is a great place to stay for a day or two between trips or to make plans to head north or south. While at one time it was a destination in itself, these days it makes more sense to head out of town in the direction of one of the many beach resorts that line the coast. If you have a few days to spare then an absolute must is to sample local Indian cuisine at any number of good restaurants scattered around town. It is fun to spend a few hours on the waterfront to take in a little of the local colour, or to check out the handful of local exhibitions and museums.

If you are a surfer almost all of Durban’s beaches have a surfing angle, and if you are cultural enthusiast there are a handful of mosques and temples worth visiting. The recent development of iShaka Marine World is another California type spectacle, but is definitely worth a visit to get a feel of the local marine habitat. Diving, dolphin cruises and game fishing charters are all available from the city, but again it makes more sense to organise your excursions elsewhere along the coast.

Climate

In the summer Durban is hot. The region experiences summer rains so the sultry days are humid and close. Winters are mild and pleasant, and mostly dry. Annual rainfall averages a little over 1000mm, while average summer temperatures range between 25º and 35ºC ( 80º – 95º F) in summer, and a much more bearable 11º to 23º C (52º – 73ºF) in winter. Most of the main residential areas of Durban are in the hills behind the city, and with a sea breeze, they are few degrees cooler than downtown.

More information about South African weather

When to Go

It makes sense to visit Durban and surrounds in winter (May – October), unless you are intending utilize the coast for diving, surfing or any other water sport. Winter temperatures are so much more bearable than summer, and moreover you will not be inconvenienced by the rain that can on occasions be quite heavy and sustained. It is also a lot quieter in winter. If you are a beach junkie, and you like the heat, then visit in summer (November – April) when most of the festivals and cultural events are held, and when the city erupts into party mode to welcome the hordes of summer visitors.

Travel Warnings

Crime: Durban shares the same general dangers of street crime and muggings as the rest of South Africa. Don’t be fooled by the atmosphere. Keep your wits about you and remember that South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. There are certain areas in Durban that are more dangerous than others, although nowhere is particularly safe on the streets after dark, so seek and follow local advice on the matter of crime and general safety wherever and with whomever you go.

  • Leave important documents in a safe place. All hotels, lodges and hostels offer safe lock up facilities
  • Seek safety advice from you hospitality establishment wherever you are
  • Avoid walking anywhere after dark, particularly in urban areas, and particularly in the CBD of any of the larger cities and towns
  • Don’t leave anything of value in your car overnight
  • Incidences of car hijackings in South Africa are high Always be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night
  • Don’t stop on any of the freeways for more than a few minutes, and in the instance of a breakdown, call for help
  • Health

    AIDS: Any kind of casual sexual encounter in South Africa, as with anywhere in the world these days, is to be discouraged. South Africa has one of the highest infection rates on the planet, about 1 in 4 of the population, so obviously extra caution is necessary when visiting any destination on the sub-continent.

    In most of South Africa tropical diseases are rare. While Durban enjoys a sub-tropical climate, incidences of malaria are rare, although there lots of mosquitoes about, and repellent is a must. As a matter of policy a course of anti-malarial drugs are advisable, particularly if you intend traveling furthernorth up the coast.

    Travel Doctor clinics are to be found in all the major centres where you can get health advice on malaria, yellow-fever, AIDS and any other tropical diseases, and acquire all the vaccinations and prophylactics necessary for your extended journey.
    Tap water is usually safe to drink.

    Sunburn risks are high so hats, long sleeved T-shirts and sun screen are a must.


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    Image: Thanks kryyslee, flickr, what an exceptional shot…

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