Durban: The Golden Port of South Africa


Modern Durban was founded in the 1830’s following a gift of land by the then Zulu King, Shaka. The settlement was named in honour of the Cape Colony governour, Sir Benjamin d’Urban.

Durban’s bright beaches and vibrant nightlife create a subtropical city holiday you won’t forget. Durban, or eThekwini, is the largest city in Kwa-Zulu Natal province and is toasted as the busiest port in Africa. The ‘Golden Mile’ central beach area, flanked by high-rise hotels, stretches for six km and is fronted by promenades and entertainment facilities, flea markets and colourfully clad Zulu rickshaw pullers.

What really makes Durban differ from other South African cities is its rich ethnic mix. More than half of Durban’s 3.4 million inhabitants are Zulu, but a significant minority is made up by those of Indian descent, who account for almost one-fifth of the population. White Europeans account for less than one tenth of the residents.

From awe-inspiring views of the Indian Ocean to a passion for tradition, Durban attracts visitors from near and far.

Did You Know?

• The Brew Route around Durban showcases the breweries and beers of the province from Forrester’s Lager and Bosun’s Bitter, to the lesser known Tiddley Toad lager, the Pie-Eyed Possum pilsner and the Whistling Weasel pale ale. Sorghum beer is also produced here and is a traditional drink of the Zulu people
• Durban has the largest Asian community in South Africa, as well as the Jummah Musjid Mosque, the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere
• The Sugar Teminal on Maydon Wharf is the largest in the world
• Braai is a barbeque, best experienced outdoors with South Africa’s Pinotage wine
• South Africa has 11 official languages

How to Get Here?

King Shaka International Airport (DUR) also known as La Mercy Airport (after the area in which it is situated) and abbreviated as KSIA, is the primary airport serving Durban. KSIA is approximately 35 kilometres north of the city centre of Durban.

Visitors arriving at KSIA have the option of catching a shuttle bus, renting a car or taking a taxi / limo to a hotel. Some hotels provide a shuttle service.

Canadian or U.S. Dollar travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks in South Africa for Rand. You can check with your local bank about issuing travellers cheques in Rand prior to your departure. However, the exchange rate is much more favourable in South Africa. Note that there is a restriction of ZAR 5,000 per person that may be brought into South Africa. Alternatively, rather than exchanging foreign currency in South Africa, you can withdraw Rands from any ATM by using your bank debit or a credit card that is marked MAESTRO or CIRRUS.

What will the seasonal weather be like?

By and large, Durban has subtropical temperatures. Kwa-Zulu Natal province gets the most rainfall in the
country. Rain and tropical storms are common in December, January and February. The winter months of June, July and August are mild.

Private taxis are plentiful and metered. Minibus taxis are the most reasonable transit, but know your hand signals to flag a taxi – to get to the Wheel or South Beach, for example, make a circle with your index finger. The Mynah bus is a frequent and reliable local bus service.

In Durban, renting a car is common. South Africa is a right-hand drive country so make sure you stay to the left side of the road. Always have a valid driver’s licence and your passport or ID on hand. Foreign licences are valid up to 6 months in South Africa, as long as they are in English. In South Africa traffic lights are called robots.

Free city maps are available from car rental companies or Durban Tourism, but, investing in a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems today also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country.

If you’re not used to driving long distances, a bus may be a better idea than a rental car. Intercape, Greyhound, Translux, SA Roadlink and the Baz Bus, all offer a variety of national routes. Compassline offers personalised tours in luxuriously equipped 12-passenger Mercedes buses.

Spoornet is the para-statal railway which covers routes between major cities. It’s by no means luxurious or fast, but it’s reasonably comfortable, clean and safe, and offers a relaxed way to see new parts of the country. For real luxury, though, you have to try one of the world’s most luxurious railways, the Blue Train, which runs a number of routes within South Africa, and some further afield. Another great upmarket option is Rovos Rail, which operates beautifully restored, spacious, Edwardian-era carriages, which are drawn by steam locomotives for part of the trip.

World Heritage Site(s)

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seek to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. Currently, there are eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa

Although Durban does not feature a number of “large” arts and cultural venues, the city can offer a visitor a range of smaller and historically representative museums and galleries, and live theatre. And of course, like almost any large city, Durban can provide visitors attractions that both educate and entertain…

One of the first museums you may want to visit is The Killie Campbell Africana Library, which is well known for its comprehensive collection of books, manuscripts and photographs representing an era of information about the south east African region and its population. The photo collection contains one of South Africa’s finest collections of work by black South African artists such as Jabulani Ntuli, Gerard Benghu and Dsmt Mnguni. The collection also includes 250 paintings by Barbara Tyrell, depicting Zulu social life and customs. The museum is still furnished much as it was when the Campbell family was still there. The Durban Cultural Centre documents the history of the Indian community. Exhibits includes information about indentured Indians and Gandhi in South Africa, and has displays of cultural artifacts, paintings, culinary art, traditional clothing and jewellery. Among the many other museums to visit is the Cato Manor Heritage Centre, which portrays the fascinating history of the Cato Manor area. Coedmore Castle is a gracious old family home built in 1885 to resemble a castle. A fun place to visit is the Maritime Museum, which is on a small in Durban’s small craft harbour. The museum has several old ships on display including a World War 11 minesweeper, a steam tug and a pilot boat. Merriwinkle Estate in Kloof is the home of Peter Amm – architect, landscaper and collector. The estate has one of the most beautiful private gardens in Durban. Amm has converted a building on the property into a private bead museum with a superb collection of African beadwork and traditional artefacts. Across the road is the gorge garden grove nursery. (Private viewings must be arranged).

Art Galleries

The African Art Centre was established under the auspices of the S.A. Institute of Race Relations. Since 1959, the centre has had a well established reputation for taking KwaZulu-Natal Black artists and craftspeople seriously; providing an outlet for promoting and selling their work, and assisting individuals to provide an income for rural and urban people, and to preserve a cultural heritage.

artSPACE durban is a contemporary visual arts gallery adjacent to several artists¹ studios. The gallery exhibits a variety of styles of art by emerging as well as established artists.

The Durban Art Gallery celebrated its centenary in 1992. The gallery began when Cathcart William Methven, Harbour Engineer of the day, gave one of his paintings to the Town Council in 1892. Various donations and purchases were subsequently made, and in 1920 Colonel R.H. Whitwell, art connoisseur and philanthropist, presented some 400 works to the gallery, including British, French and Dutch paintings, objets d’art such as French and Chinese ceramics, early glass vases by Lalique and bronzes by Rodin. From the 1970s on, many works of local artists.


The Playhouse Theatre This building was started as a picture palace in 1896, but was rebuilt in 1927 in Tudor Revival style and has a mock facade showing a Tudor town. There are five venues for performances. The Playhouse is the province’s premier theatre complex and is widely regarded as one of South Africa’s most beautiful.

The complex was originally Tudor style but in 1986, after extensive renovations, the new complex was opened. The complex now hosts ballet, opera, return overlibma, comedy and just about any other type of performing art. Consult the local press for current productions. Guided tours of the front of house, the history of the theatre and other aspects that are involved in bringing a production to the stage are available.

The Kwasuka Theatre aims to be the home of cutting edge theatre in KZN and to showcase new and innovative performing arts of all genres with a focus on the creation of new South African works. The Catalina Theatre is the dream of Themi Venturas, Durban Thespian, Director, Producer and Performing Arts Personality. Productions vary from comedy and the classics to drama and rock music! the drinks are cold and the harbour view is breath taking. Keep your eyes open though as shows are advertised mainly with posters on the street poles throughout Durban and in the local press. Other theatres in Durban are the Asoka Theatre and the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.


The Golden Mile is the name given to the popular stretch of beachfront in Durban, including the promenade that runs along the water. The Golden Mile begins at South Beach (where the uShaka Marine World is located) and continues to the newly-constructed Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World in the north. “The Mile” is one of the main visitor attractions in the Durban area. The wide stretch of golden sands, artificially separated by piers, provides excellent opportunities for sun-worshippers and swimmers to enjoy the sub-tropical sunshine and warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Most of the Mile’s beaches are protected year-round by lifeguards and shark nets.

At the end of Durban’s Golden Mile is the beginning of uShaka Marine World. Spanning some 15 hectares of prime beach front, uShaka Marine World is Africa’s largest marine theme park and comprises 4 sections, uShaka Sea World, uShaka Wet ‘n Wild, uShaka Beach and uShaka Village Walk. uShaka Sea World is the 5th largest aquarium in the world boasting 32 tanks which contain 17,500 cubic meters of water. The sea creatures found in the aquarium range from small sea horses to sharks and dolphins. The Aquarium is built to look like an old wreck. uShaka Wet ‘n Wild is is a water park for the young and old. From the lazy river ride which goes through the ship wreck and past some tanks, to the adrenaline pumping high speed slides, the water park is refreshing fun.

Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World is situated at the northern end of Durban’s Golden Mile. Besides the casino, the complex houses many restaurants, a beach bar, cinema’s and its own private beach, which was rated as one of the top 3 beaches in South Africa. The design of the complex is aimed to compliment the vast art deco heritage that is found across Durban.

Umgeni River Bird Park Overlooking the Umgeni River, this park ranks among the world’s best. Many varieties of brightly coloured birds, both indigenous and exotic, inhabit walk-in aviaries set in picturesque gardens. Spectacular waterfalls and lush vegetation, complement this little jewel making the Umgeni Bird Park one of the finest of its kind in the world!

The Durban Botanical Gardens are famous for the original specimen of a Cycad (Encephalartos woodii) that is still widely acknowledged as probably the rarest plant in the world, as well as for its extensive collection of South African Cycad species. A highlight of the Gardens is the Orchid House …
Durban City Hall Designed in Modern Renaissance style and completed in 1910, the building closely resembles the Belfast City Hall. On the second floor, the Durban Art Gallery is the setting for international and South African art collections.

The BAT Centre On the Victoria Embankment beside the Durban harbour is a haven for traditional artists known as the BAT Centre. The centre features an enormous studio where artists work, a theatre, exhibition galleries and a restaurant serving authentic African dishes. There are stunning views of the harbour from the restaurant deck.

Grey Street is home to Durban’s Indian district and where you will find the Juma Musjid Mosque, the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere. You can wander around the area and the bazaars and buy some of the spices and textiles from local Indian vendors.

Juma Masjid Mosque This magnificent mosquedominates Durban’s central Indian district. It’s gilt-domed minarets tower over the bustling area, but inside the marbled worship hall is peaceful and boasts a simple elegance. Tours of the mosque can be arranged.

Snake Park Lectures and venom-milking demonstrations are held at this popular attraction, inhabited by South African and exotic species. The park places a strong emphasis on education and the important role snakes play in their natural environment.

The Durban Natural Science Museum/ Kwazuzukwazi Science Centre hosts a number of informative and educational displays of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. The museum also has an Egyptian mummy. It will provide hours of entertainment for children and adults alike. The museums are located on the first floor of City Hall.

For the Kids

Crocodile Creek This operating crocodile farm is where kids are fascinated with the 9000 crocodiles, alligators, snakes, tortoise, leguaans and miniature monkeys.

Mini town is a miniature city replicating Durban situated on the beach front. As the miniature trains and planes move around, a miniature harbour replicates the many ships that dock in Durban.
The Durban Natural Science Museum/ Kwazuzukwazi Science Centre hosts a number of informative and educational displays of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. The museum also has an Egyptian mummy. It will provide hours of entertainment for children and adults alike. The museums are located on the first floor of City Hall.

About Shopping

Durban has some of the largest shopping malls in the Southern Hemisphere, among them the Pavilion, the Workshop Center and the Gateway Theatre of Shopping.

Flea markets are popular in Durban. You can visit the Sunday Amphitheatre Flea Market, the South Plaza Market and Point Waterfront Flea Market. Stables Moonlight Market, situated in converted stables, is open every Wednesday and sells pottery, books, antiques and fine food.

Traditional Zulu handcrafts, jewellery and blown glass are just a few of the fine items you can find on Durban’s streets.

Durban also supports an array of local craft enterprises. The BAT Centre’s Visual Art Studio promotes local arts and culture and is found in the small craft harbour, off Durban’s Victoria Embankment. For traditional Zulu handwork visit the Umnini Craft Village. For the art aficionado, the Africa Art Gallery showcases celebrated wildlife paintings and bronze sculptures.

A Value Added Tax (VAT) of 14% is charged on all goods and services sold in South Africa, although this is largely ignored in the markets Visitors can reclaim this upon departure for purchases over R250, provided all receipts have been kept, the appropriate tax invoices have been obtained and filled in where necessary, and the goods are exported within 90 days of purchase. These, along with the goods, must be presented to VAT Refund Desks at Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airports, or various land border posts and designated commercial harbours. A refund is then paid after passing through Passport Control.

Durban after dark …

Durban has an active mix of nightlife, since the city attrcats countless visitors who enjoy fun in the sun as well as revelry afterwards.

The post sunset activities in Durban range from grooving to techno at one of the hip nightclubs, relishing the atmosphere at a romantic restaurant, seeing theatre or simply having a brew at a local pub.
Since Durban’s population is eclectic, even the types of clubs and pubs are diverse. Durban is renowned for its classic jazz offerings. Several venues in the city offer a good meal and soul-satisfying jazz music throughout the week.

Florida Road is quite popular with the locals-vibey and trendy-it offers street cafe’s, restaurants, coffee shops and a few pubs and is place to be for the nightlife.
Windermere road (parallel and one street away) also has some pubs and restaurants but is not as busy as Florida Road.

The waterfront area is being developed to rival Cape Towns waterfront setting. Some good restaurants, an aquarium, cage diving with sharks, and snorkelling are all part of the fun to be experienced here.
North Beach also offers a great selection of slick, hip, laid-back bars. Some offer beautiful views of the water at sunset, others have large porches or verandas where dancers can rock the night away under the stars.

Sports/Outdoor Activities

With some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, warm ocean and sub-tropical climate, the Durban area is idyllic for lovers of sun and sea. Golden sand and the clear, warm Indian Ocean are just two of the reasons that local and international visitors are drawn to the area year round. Beaches are safe and clean. For the avid naturist, there is a clothing optional beach.

Stunning coral reefs make this an outstanding location for both diving and snorkelling and not only for the experienced. If you’ve ever wanted to get your diving certification, this is the place to do it. Snorkeling is best at Dolphin Reef, the Cooperlight Wreck, and the Outer Anchorage. Offshore at Umkomaas lies the world famous scuba-diving combination of Aliwal Shoal and the Nebo- a steamer that sank in 1884.

Being on the coast, Durban has some of the richest waters in the world for deep sea fishing, shore or pier fishing. Sharks, blacktail, barracuda and shad are just some of the types of salt-water fish to pit yourself against. But not: Fishing is a protected activity and permits are required for both inland and sea fishing.

And a “must see” are some of the largest creatures on earth Whales predominantly seen along the Durban coastline are long humpbacks, with their black backs and white undersides. Weighing in at around 30 tons, it is an amazing sight to see … and The North Coast in particular is the known playground of the bottle-nose dolphin and presents an opportunity to see and experience these gentle creatures up close …

Durban is home to the internationally renowned Sharks Rugby team. For cricket fun, you can drop by Sahara Stadium Kingsmead.

There’s nothing quite like the exhilarating mix of a dizzy height and a nylon rope! You can learn how to abseil down a cliff-face. Durban boasts some of the best abseiling instructors in South Africa.

Of the approximately 900 bird species to be found in South Africa, more than 600 are found in the KwaZulu Natal region, making it a birding haven. Some of the particularly rare species include the Mangrove Kingfisher, Palmnut vulture and Purple Crested lourie. While even a visit to many a Durban North garden or the Mangrove swamps will be rewarded with the sights and sounds of a large variety of birds, the real experience comes from the birding hotspots. These include a number of forests, nature reserves, wetlands and game parks.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Most people will greet you with a hand shake, and there is a traditional handshake that is formally used amongst the “black” community. Amongst “white” South Africans, it is normally just a verbal greeting. You will have to discern for yourself if hugs will be welcomed.

Most people will greet you with a hand shake, and there is a traditional handshake that is formally used amongst the “black” community. Amongst “white” South Africans, it is normally just a verbal greeting. You will have to discern for yourself if hugs will be welcomed.

There is no doubt that family is important to the local residents of South Africa. For some groups, the nuclear family is primary. For others, the extended family receives more priority than the immediate family. And for still others, the tribe is the fundamental expression of community. You should always bear this in mind when traveling in South Africa.

South Africa is filled with contrasts. This is perhaps most evident in the differences between urban and rural customs. Rural dwellers tend to hold to a narrower view of the world. Rural residents hold to traditional views and place high value on their families. South Africans in urban areas place greater emphasis on materialism and success, especially those residing in Johannesburg. Even among urban areas differences exist. Local residents of Cape Town place great deal of emphasis on social standing and family ties.

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