Durban and the South Coast
The most populous city and busiest port on the east coast of Africa, Durban is a vibrant and interesting city set in the municipality of eThekwini (a Zulu name meaning ‘Place of the Sea’).
A substantial Indian population and subtropical coastal climate combine to give Durban a slightly Asiatic feel, but Durban’s main attraction is its fine beaches and sunny coastlines.
The urban setting of Durban will appeal to travelers seeking a more down-to-earth, lived-in experience than you tend to associate with other beach resorts on holiday.
Durban lies midway along the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, a 200km (124mi) stretch of subtropical Indian Ocean frontage stretching from the Tugela River mouth south to the border with the Eastern Cape.
This is South Africa’s most conventional beach holiday destination, a beach nirvana with palm-fringed expanses of broad white sand.
Unlike Cape Town, the beaches around Durban cater mainly to domestic holidaymakers from landlocked Gauteng and thus tend to get congested over school holidays and long weekends (especially around Christmas and Easter) but are quiet at other times.
Highlights of Durban And The South Coast
Durban’s Golden Mile
South Africa’s most resort-like urban beach, Durban’s Golden Mile, is divided from the CBD by the pedestrianized OR Tambo Parade. Protected by shark nets and patrolled by lifeguards, the beach is ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing on a Durban holiday, though it can get very crowded during peak season.
uShaka Marine World
The uShaka Marine World houses the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere and is one of the best family-friendly holiday destinations in South Africa. Marine life is on show, where dolphins, seals, sharks, rays, and penguins are the main attraction. Attached to this child-friendly holiday installation is the Shaka Wet ‘n Wild Waterworld, a family fun park that incorporates the country’s largest waterslide.
Landmarks associated with Durban’s Indian population include the golden-domed Juma Mosque, the most prominent building of its type in southern Africa, and the less central Alayam Hindu Temple.
The Central Durban Botanical Garden
The Central Durban Botanical Garden includes fabulous collections of prehistoric cycads and rare orchids.
Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve
Durban’s most ecologically important conservation area, Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve, offers a rare opportunity to see mangrove dwellers such as the brilliant mangrove kingfisher and quirky mudskipper fish from a wooden boardwalk.
It’s considered one of Durban’s best-kept secrets and a perfect holiday destination to add to your South African vacation itinerary if you want to see some protected fish and do some birdwatching.
The popular South African holiday town of Umhlanga Rocks, 20 minutes’ drive north of Durban, is home to the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.
Lifelike replicas of various sharks and rays can be viewed along with an audiovisual display emphasizing the importance of these oft-maligned creatures in marine ecology.
Ballito, 40km (25mi) north of Durban, is a thriving and well-equipped upmarket resort town with a 2.5km (1.6mi) long beachfront promenade and plenty of family-friendly holiday activities. Willard Beach in Ballito is ideal for swimming, while Boulder Beach is popular with surfers.
Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
Carved by the Mzimkulwana River, the euphorbia-studded Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is run through by several walking trails from which bushbuck, Blue monkeys, and a vast array of colorful forest birds can be seen.
Whitewater rafting and abseiling can be done outside the reserve on a Durban vacation.
A succession of excellent South African beach holiday destinations run along the 120km (75mi) stretch of coast south from Durban, among them Amanzimtoti, Umkomaas, Scottburgh, Port Shepstone, Margate, and Ramsgate.
Excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities are available at reefs and wrecks offshore of Amanzimtoti, Umkomaas, and Shelley Beach, making Durban a superb beach holiday destination.
Umtamvuna Nature Reserve
Protecting a forested river gorge on the Eastern Cape border, Umtamvuna Nature Reserve offers some lovely coastal and forest hiking. It harbors various small antelope and is a breeding colony of the endangered Cape vulture.
Practical Information for Durban And The South Coast
- Durban is connected to Johannesburg, Cape Town, and many other large centers by several daily flights. All flights land at King Shaka International Airport, 35km (22mi) north of the city center. The usual car rental agencies are available here, and airport shuttles and taxis are available to get you to the city center or elsewhere on the coast.
- There’s no shortage of hotels in Durban, and the city is also serviced by many B&Bs and backpacker hostels. You can also find hotels and resorts along the coast flanking Durban, with Ballito and Umhlanga Rocks particularly well-endowed when it comes to stylish upmarket lodges.
- Indian cuisine is well represented in Durban, and good seafood can be had throughout the region.