Promenade perfection at SA’s lengthiest seaside saunter

Posted by Mishqah Schippers on 11 November 2020

Durban’s promenade, stretching for eight kilometres from Blue Lagoon, has recently been extended to the harbour mouth. Here’s how to weekend on Southern Africa’s lengthiest seaside saunter.

Words & Photos Melanie van Zyl

Sunrise at the splash pools in front of the Edward Hotel.

Having worked here for 57 years, the Edward Hotel’s concierge Freddy Pather might have met my parents or even my great grandparents. Before I was born, my parents visited the hotel for the curry – ‘the best in Durban,’ they enthused. Years before that, my pops (under the watchful eye of my great grandfather) splashed about in the circular pools that lie out front. Some 30 years after, my partner, Scott, and I checked in. ‘Welcome to the first five-star hotel in Durban,’ said Freddy.

When my folks were dating back in the 80s, Durban Harbour was better known for its sleazy red-light district, but a host of recent developments has changed that. The latest enhancement links this area to the promenade, making it the longest continuous waterfront walkway in sub-Saharan Africa.

Surfers on the piers at sunrise.

Situated near the middle of the promenade, our 111-year old hotel was the perfect base for exploration, and we’d arrived just in time for happy hour. Sipping on a Moscow Mule facing the pastel-coloured gaiety of Fun World, we admired this grand old lady, host to the likes of the Dalai Lama and Harry Opennheimer. An Art Deco facade and a glamorous eatery inside; black-and-white photographs lining the halls to our sea-facing suite, transporting us back to a Durban of dirt roads, tram cars and long-sleeved dresses on the beach.

Now the outbreak of Covid-19 has meant a change in ownership. In June, hotel group Marriott sadly made the difficult decision to shut doors permanently at several of its flagship properties, including the Durban Edward. Two days later however, Tsogo Sun Hotels snapped up the beloved historical stay.

It was the Soccer World Cup in 2010 that initially gave this popular corner of Durban a much-needed enhancement after years of neglect. A decade later, the promenade and its extension is loved by locals.

We joined the dawn brigade one Saturday, strolling to Circus Circus Beach Cafe. It opens at 6am and our table provided front-row seats to all the activity. Surfers leapt from piers, couples cycled by on tandem bicycles, and grungy teens flicked toe-tapping tricks in the Snake Park skate bowl. Cappuccinos arrived with chewy crunchies and a jug of water, our waiter assuming we’d clocked up a morning of exercise like the rest of the early-risers.

8 Kilometres of Action

8 km of Action

Our action started somewhat later, when I joined Charlotte Atherton on the beach for my first Stand Up Paddleboarding lesson with Xpression. Due to windy conditions, Charlotte took me to the network of canals that lie just beyond the newest part of the promenade. ‘The water is clean, and it’s beautiful here’, she said. ‘But there’s a rumour that the canals are full of sharks’. As we followed the route wending its way between shiny apartment blocks, I quickly got the hang of supping. We passed harmless batfish and (the rumours were correct) sharks. ‘Baby hammerheads are bred here by uShaka Marine World,’ explained Charlotte as we paddled over to see them gliding behind their fenced enclosure.

Wet ‘n Wild at uShaka offers crazy high slides and lazier floats.

Wet ‘n Wild at uShaka offers crazy high slides and lazier floats.

For some more insight on the area, I later met Alison Chadwick from Durban Walking Tours at the trendy Maha Cafe. ‘Before it became seedy, Point Road was quite the place’, said Alison as we walked the old esplanade, which coils around the harbour. She pointed out the Timeball Tower, once used to set marine navigational equipment, and the Escombe Sea Wall. ‘It was built in 1906 by prisoners of war to prevent sand from blowing into the harbour,’ she said. ‘This location also proves the beach was once much further inland’.

Sifiso Mngoma poses in front of a giant artwork depicting the red mangrove crab.

We rambled past warehouses that once brimmed with sugar and other crops (all built between 1890 and 1919), but now house hipster breweries. ‘Did you know there’s a tunnel at the harbour entrance which goes underwater and pops out on the Bluff?’.

8 km of Action

Sunday morning had us making for the northernmost point of the promenade. Departing from Blue Lagoon, Sifiso Mngoma from Durban Green Corridors (a non-profit organisation that offers responsible eco-tours) led us across the bridge over the uMngeni River to one of South Africa’s rarest habitats, a pocket of wilderness that straddles the city. ‘These uMngeni mangrove trees have a clever trick. Their roots need oxygen but the gas can’t permeate the dense damp sand so they tempt the crabs,’ Sifiso explained. He dropped a handful of yellowing leaves to the sand below and, one by one, big crustaceans seized what they could and disappeared into tunnels. ‘Crabs dig their burrows – sometimes 10 metres deep – and aerate the roots. In return, the trees provide food.’

Sunset views from the Moyo Pier combines a city skyline with the surf.

Before leaving Durban, I wanted to experience the local speciality. Apparently the best bunny chows never advertise so if you see a sign outside a restaurant proclaiming to be ‘Durban’s best bunny right here!’, it’s probably not true. The casual North Beach Cafe is one such underwhelming hole-in-the-wall eatery. No bragging signs anywhere. Scott ordered a lamb bunny drenched in sauce that was even tastier than my bean bunny, and it made me think again of my parents on their curry holidays.

8 km of Action

On our way back to Joburg, I stopped to visit my grandmother, now retired in Howick and discovered that my dad was actually born at Addington Hospital which is on the promenade. Something in my genes makes me feel right at home there.

Cycling is the easiest way to explore the promenade in its entirety.

Stay Here

The Edward
For a plush promenade stay. All rooms have a sea view. B&B from R800pp.

Curiocity Backpackers
Affordable and stylish. Don’t let the hostel title put you off; the private rooms are spacious and quiet. Bike rental is also available to get you to the prom in no time. B&B from R570pp.

Curiocity Backpackers.

Tsogo Sun
There are five other hotels on the Durban beachfront. The Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani have great promenade positions. From R1 890 a room

Did you know


The number of ships wrecked along the beach between North Pier and the foot of Dr Pixley Kaseme Street

The Y shape on the South African flag:

Inspired the design of the iconic arch on the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Inside the stadium, blue seats represent the ocean and orange ones the sun and sand.

Afternoons bring spectators to the North Beach skate park.

17 Nov 1989:

Beaches open to all races. ‘It has been decided that all beaches will henceforth be accessible to all members of the public’
– (Former President) FW De Klerk

R380 million:

Was spent upgrading the Durban promenade a fraction of the R35-billion Point Waterfront Development which aims to overhaul the entire area.

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