It’s really surprising how much other countries can sometimes feel like home.
The town of Durban, along the south-eastern coast of South Africa felt more like home to us than any other place we have travelled so far.
During our trip to South Africa we spent a few days in Durban, a popular holiday spot sitting along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Thom’s Dad is actually from Durban, so we wanted to come and visit the place he grew up before he moved to Australia.
Getting to Durban
It’s only a 50 minute flight from Johannesburg, but Durban is actually known for being the busiest port in all of Africa. The local airport is Durban King Shaka International Airport (DUR) and more than 6 million people travel through the terminals each year.
There are no direct flights to Durban from Australia, with most connecting through Johannesburg as an entry point to South Africa. The airport is about 35 kilometres from the centre of town and the drive only takes about half an hour.
Taxis generally wait outside the airport and cost about 450ZAR (about $44 AUD) to get from the airport to the main town. You can also organise a shuttle or a private transfer in advance to avoid having to wait at the airport.
Where to stay in Durban
During our visit we decided to stay in the North Beach area of Durban, which seemed to be the most popular for tourists and visitors coming to Durban for the first time. We booked into the Belaire Suites Hotel which was right across the road from the beach, giving us a great location to be able to walk to restaurants, activities and of course, the beach across the road.
Durban was the very first place we ever visited in Africa and it was just beyond our expectations. The people were absolutely beautiful. We couldn’t get over the incredible standard of the hospitality staff in the hotels, cafes and restaurants, and everyone we met was just so friendly. Everyone working in customer service that we met really went out of their way to make sure you were having a nice time.
The only thing that we found a little disheartening was how rude some of the other locals were to their waiters and servers. There is definitely still an undertone of the separation of classes amongst the community that we hadn’t experienced before and just couldn’t understand. From our experiences all of the people we met working in hospitality positions were doing a wonderful job and actually added to our whole experience of Durban. This was actually one of the only countries we have ever visited where we were actually happy to to tip for their service.
What to do in Durban
If you’ve only got a short visit in Durban, make sure you hit up some of the top experiences to make the most of your time here.
Head to the beach
North Beach in Durban definitely seemed like the place to be.
There were people of all different cultures and races enjoying the sun and being smashed by the giant Indian Ocean waves. Make sure you swim between the flags when you visit, because the waves here are actually so powerful and you can easily get hurt if you’re not paying attention to the strength of the ocean.
Markets line the beaches in Durban, and instead of the normal touristy souvenirs that you find in markets there were actually some really beautiful pieces to find here. The prices were also extremely reasonable, so there was no need to even try and haggle from us, they deserved every dollar they were asking for.
There is also an amusement park that sits across the road from the beach called Durban Funworld. Open from 11am until 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday, there’s a cable car in the Funworld that offers scenic views of the Durban Beachfront as well as a palm tree lined pool and a bunch of rides and games.
Take a tour of the city
Jump onto the Durban Richsha Bus for an open-top tour of the city, where you can see a little more of Durban that you might not have been able to otherwise. It’s kind of like Durban’s equivalent of a hop on hop off sightseeing bus, although you don’t really get off anywhere, unless the bus is stopping to let you check something out.
The Ricksha bus follows a route that gives you a look at pretty much everything there is to see in Durban, taking you past the Victoria Street Market, Francis Farewell Square, North Beach, the Berea, Florida Road, Mitchell Park, Morningside, the Cube Viewpoint, Wilson’s Wharf and the city centre.
The tour takes about 3 hours to complete the whole tour and is a great way to see more of the city. There are two tours a day, one at 9am and the other at 1pm, with two refreshment stops along the way. Check out the kiosk at North Beach for more information and to book your tickets.
One of the unexpected highlights of our trip was visiting Shakaland. Set up to mimic a local Zulu village and used to teach visitors about the Zulu culture, this was a great insight into a completely different culture.
We spent about half a day at Shakaland with a group of traditional Zulu people who taught us all about their cultures, beliefs and traditions, before treating us to a traditional meal and dance show. Without a doubt, the dance performance was the best part of the whole day for us. Everyone who lived in Shakaland, including the kids and teenagers were involved, playing their part in the story and really putting on an incredible show.
Shakaland is about a two hour drive from Durban, with an interesting drive through the South African countryside on the way. This is where you get a little more of a glimpse into traditional and country South Africa, and more of a look at the parts of South Africa that don’t feel so much like home.
Tickets to Shakaland start from around $185.59 AUD per person, but is definitely worth it if you’re interested in learning more about the Zulu culture.
Check out Suncoast Casino
The main entertainment complex in Durban, if you talk to any locals they’re sure to tell you to visit Suncoast Casino. Although it might not be as impressive as you might think, Suncoast is still a great little spot to check out, with a move theatre, great restaurants, an arcade, and of course, the casino to check out.
Some of the restaurants and bars have beach parties and different events on during the more popular months as well, so it’s definitely worth visiting.
Suncoast Casino, Hotel & Entertainment || Suncoast Boulevard, O R Tambo Parade || Ph: +27 31 328 3000
Shop at Victoria Street Market
Considered Durban’s oldest market, the Victoria Street Market is an Afro-Indian blend of more than 200 stalls offering everything from traditional African artwork and Indian spices to seafood, bags, traditional clothing and more.
It’s often listed as a can’t miss experience for your visit to Durban, as it gives you a bit of an insight to the cultures that live side by side in this unique city. You’re guaranteed to find yourself some nice little souvenirs, as well as delicious snacks when you visit. The market is open from 8am to 5pm throughout the week, with slightly shorter hours on the weekend.
Victoria Street Market || 151 – 155 Bertha Mkhize Street, Durban Central || Ph: 031 306 4021
For us the best part of visiting Durban was the opportunity to see where Thom’s Dad and his family grew up. We were actually lucky enough to meet up with one of his uncles and a couple of his cousins while we were there, who gave us a more personal tour of the city, showing us their childhood homes, the primary school and the area that they grew up. It was so special to see this part of South Africa, that had such a huge amount of sentimental value to us.
When you’re able to have such a personal connection with a new country it just makes everything that much more special.