How to spend a day in Durban

Posted on 1 October 2014

It’s not likely that you’ll struggle for things to do in Durban, but some guidance is always helpful. Contrary to the belief of many, Durban is actually a travel destination with soul. Here are my recommendations for what to do on a perfect day in Durban.

See more pictures: Dropping into Durban – a photoblog of a coastal summer



Families play in the sun. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

My earliest memory of Durban was of my twin Nandi and I, at four years old, toyi-toying on the balcony above the garage, just next to the bitty grass. The grass always struggled to grow, and appeared almost sad, and I remember being quite disappointed that I could never completely “wild out” on it. Us grandchildren, and the neighbourhood kids (who always came eternally bemused by us kids from eGoli, The City of Gold, who spoke with funny accents and even weirder Zulu), always ended up on the concrete slab simulating some dance or other. A quick chat in isiNgisi (English), had them wide-eyed and with mouths to the floor – playtime party-trick. We’d hang onto the steel railing with intricate curved patterns, round, almost in the shape of a flower, knowing that the chance of falling to the bottom was always very possible, however improbable. The view form the railing was magical. The townships in Durban are like places I had seen only in the movies: leafy and lush, green, with hills and tropical dips that stretch out further than the eyes can see.

It was 1990 and Mandela was being released from prison. There was jubilant chanting and chattering, and plenty of toyi-toying – something we’d picked up from home on the tempestuous streets of Soweto. I’m not certain that my memory of this is my own, or whether it’s been engrained in my mind by my mother’s constant retelling of it over the years. But it’s clear, and I can still feel the freedom that rang out throughout the streets. A veil had been removed, and a thumping happiness came with it, beyond anything I’d been raised with, or anything I’d ever seen.


lighthouse, umhlanga

The lighthouse at the edge of breezy Umhlanga Village.

Now, 20 years on, my experience of Durban has transmuted – confident and empowered. It was perhaps the hundredth time I’d been to the province, having visited multiple times a year since I was just an infant. This time though, would be different. I was on assignment and the task was to review accommodation and do some interviews – but the bigger intention was to fall in love with the city famous for being the busiest port in Africa. The pride of the province’s history is worn on the shoulders of its people and celebrates its strong identity: bright saris accented by golds proudly worn by the women; cowhide sandals with tyres as soles worn by Zulu men, a true Africaness of amaZulu namaNdia (and Indians), and the diverse mix of other ethnicities.


Seaside fishing. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Seaside fishing. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

It’s hot almost all year around in Durban – in fact, winter there is somewhat amusing. Prices for food and accommodation are reasonable, and it’s only six hours away from Johannesburg, or a two hour flight from Cape Town. People are nice: not in the obligatory, cause-your-mother-taught-you-to-smile-and-be-nice way. They are self satisfied and welcoming.

There is a vast array of activities to do and the October 2014 issue of Getaway divulges it all (check out pages 29 and 58). Below are some suggestions of things to do that I think you’ll be pleased with.


Things to do in Durban

1. Start your day right

The bits that make Churchill House. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

The bits that make Churchill House. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

Wake up to a fresh breakfast and atmospheric feast for the eyes at Churchill House in Morningside. The coffee is bonafide joy in a cup and the croissants are delicious, plus the owners welcome you as if you’re an old friend. That’s always nice to wake up to, no? The Pot and Kettle in Hillcrest, all of 19 years old, is also a goodie. Because you should eat like royalty for breakfast, the three egg omelette with two choices of fillings, two slices of toast and tomato is worth the pricetag.


2. Sweet treat on the beach

A playful escape to Wakaberry is always welcome. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

A playful escape to Wakaberry is always welcome. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

The humid subtropical climate can get to you so the beach is a logical next step. The beach by Umhlanga is quiet (depending on the time of the year, of course) and perfect in mid-morning. If, like me, you believe that ice-cream is for any time, then a pit-stop past Wakaberry makes sense. Stroll with a sweet something in hand along the promenade.

Read: five of the best beachfront hotels in Durban



3. Some R&R?

The Valley of 1000 Hills as well as Durban Botanical Gardens will offer the peace and soothing only nature can bring. Pack a picnic basket and enjoy charity tea parties, rare plants and beautiful orchids within a scenic garden. The Valley of 1000 Hills is a must-see attraction, and one of the most beautiful in all of the country (see Gcina Mhlophe’s sentiments on the valley in the mag). Keen on spending a night here? Have a look at the Stay in 1000 Hills accommodation network.


4. On culture

The African Art Centre provides some of the poorest people and individuals affected by HIV and AIDS in the region with the opportunity for employment. Pay them a visit for a look at high quality handmade collectables that are the perfect gift. Phansi Museum is another place I like a lot. Phansi means ‘below’ in isiZulu or ‘the place beneath,’ where the ancestral spirits dwell. This museum is an ode to African workmanship and holds some of the most remarkable arts and crafts in the world (no, really).

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Check out the October 2014 issue of Getaway for more things to do in Durban this summer!

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