Top 5 Unmissable Durban Experiences

Durban is the South African city where I was born and raised. I’m so proud to call this friendly, permanently-sunny place my home. More laid-back that Johannesburg, and perhaps not as vibey as Cape Town, Durban has its own beach culture going on and is the perfect place to grab some rays on the golden mile.

With various attractions and must see museums on the Durban must-see list, here are the top five experiences that shouldn’t be overlooked when in the city.

1. Get a bird’s eye view at the Moses Mabhida Stadium

The gorgeous (yes, I said gorgeous when referring to a piece of architecture) Durban stadium, built for the memorable 2010 Football World Cup offers a series of activities regardless of your age, or interest in physical activity for that matter. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can try the Big Swing; which allows only the very, very brave to bungee jump from the centre of the stadium’s impressive arch. If you prefer something a little tamer, that will still get your heart racing, why not give the Adventure Walk a try? Tackling the zillion (it must be, right?) steps up the arch isn’t for the fainthearted.

Then, if you’re like me and breaking a sweat isn’t really your thing, why not get the same incredible panoramic views by opting for the Skycar. A two-minute journey in the Skycar takes you to the very top of the arch where you’re presented with unparalleled 360° views over the city.

durban stadium Top 5 Durban

(Source: e-architect.co.uk)

For more information and pricing: http://www.mmstadium.com/

2. View an eyeful of birds at the Umgeni River Bird Park

Situated, as the name suggests, along the banks of the Umgeni River, the Bird Park is an ideal family activity that is fun as well as educational. From bird feedings, to interactions with friendly Lorikeets, there are a variety of activities arranged on a daily basis. With a collection of over 800 birds from more than 200 species, the bird park is a must do when in Durban.

umgeni river bird park Top 5 Durban

(Source: umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za)

For more info: http://www.umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za/

3. Get your shopping on at Gateway Theatre of Shopping

With an abundance of stores ranging from quirky boutiques to designer labels, from monstrous supermarkets to jewellery outlets, Gateway is the perfect place to shop when in Durban. But it is so much more than just a mall. Having coined the term “shoppertainment” for good reason, the centre provides fun-fill activity choices including one of the largest indoor climbing mountains, a videogame arcade, a Wavehouse and a skate park. The centre offers 18 movie theatres and a variety of restaurants and coffee shops. Prefect way to spend a Sunday (or any day, in my humble opinion).

gateway durban Top 5

(Source: southafrica.net)

http://gatewayworld.sourcecloud.co.za/

 4. Bike the Golden Mile

The golden mile (actually longer than your typical mile) is a paved stretch of promenade along the golden sandy beaches of Durban.  Craft markets, fisherman, surfers and beachgoers line the coast and make for an interesting ride along this route. Numerous bike rental companies offer fantastic rates, so there is no excuse not to enjoy a leisurely ride along this track with the sun on your back and the warm Indian Ocean breeze in your face.

durban bike Top 5

(Source: south-african-hotels.com)

 5. Spice things up at the Victoria Street Market

There aren’t too many places in this world where you can buy a sari, get a henna tattoo and scoff down a deliciously hot curry in a day. Not outside of Asia anyway. So with one of the largest Indian populations outside of India; Durban is by far one of the Rainbow Nation’s most multicultural cities. The Victoria Street Market is a homage to Indian culture, with almost 200 stalls bustling with oriental products. From spices to clothing, from souvenirs to fresh fish, the lively market is one stop that shouldn’t be overlooked when in Durban.

victoria street market Durban Top 5

(Source: snapflycook.wordpress.com)

The day I said ‘Goodbye’ to Madiba

We arrived in South Africa early in the morning the day before Madiba’s state funeral was to take place.

As an expat South African living in France I really miss my home country and each trip back home is profoundly anticipated. We normally choose to fly with Air France on their overnight flight from Charles de Gaulle to Johannesburg.  I quite enjoy the extreme culture shock of leaving Paris, with its distinct flair, the French language being spoken everywhere, and the unmistakable aroma of macaroons as I walk pass the airport’s Ladurée cart – and waking up in Johannesburg.

Although I grew up in Durban, the minute I get off the plane in OR Tambo, I instinctively feel as if I’m ‘home’. I don’t know what it is; perhaps it’s not anything quite tangible or maybe it’s a combination of factors. Maybe it’s the sunshine that is so typical of our country, or hearing Zulu and Xhosa being spoken along with the distinctive Gauteng accent.  It’s seeing familiar brands; the dark green and white of the airport’s Mugg and Bean or the ‘W’ of my much-missed Woolworths.

But on this day, something was noticeably amiss. And I knew right away what is was. For the first time in my life, I set foot on my country’s soil, but it was a Madiba-less South Africa I had come home to.

The next day the Rainbow Nation mourned. Each in their own way, they paid their last respects to the man we had come to call ‘Father’. Our Tata.

Some wept openly in their grief. Others danced and shouted. Some somberly sang Nkosi SikeleliAfrika –God bless Africa. Others toyi-toyed to chants of Shoshaloza.

I knew I too had to find a way to come to terms with his loss. I needed solace, as much as solitude. So I headed to the one place that had always been a comfort to me.

I arrived at the beach on Durban’s famed coast as the sun was low in the sky. Having come unprepared, I placed my sweater on the warm sand and sat down.

I was much too young to have felt the true scourge of apartheid in my lifetime, but I have one lingering memory of being at this very beach at the age of about 5 or 6. My dad very sternly warned me not to make too much noise, and to remember to pick up any trash we leave behind, as we were not really ‘allowed’ on this beach, and could get in trouble for being there.

Looking around now I saw people of every creed and colour occupying that sunny stretch of beach. There were a group of teenagers riotously jumping around in the waves, and next to them a couple with their arms around each other, venturing deeper for a swim.

On the water’s edge there was a young father dipping his baby girl’s toes into the foaming water. The toddler squealed with joy at each new wave.

Under a distressed gazebo I spotted a cluster of old ladies having a boisterous conversation and laughing loudly.

Every colour, every creed, occupied that golden beach that day and I realized with a sharp intake of breath: Madiba may have achieved more than anyone could have imagined politically – but right there in that moment, on that beach: his legacy could be found.

I do not know what the future holds for the Rainbow Nation without our Tata. Some critics preach gloom and doom, while others are optimistic. Only time will tell.

All I know is, I did a lot of things on that beach that day.

I wept.

I prayed.

I reflected.

I remembered.

I said ‘thank you’.

I then; I said goodbye.

Nelson Mandela RIP

(Source cited in photo)

11 Reasons to Visit South Africa – Today!

South Africa is a travel destination on the rise. Travel critics have been heaping praise and awards on the country in recent years, and South Africa is increasingly playing host to international visitors from just about every nation on earth. Its dynamic and vibrant cities offer modern infrastructure and the country is known for its incredible natural beauty. If you haven’t been to South Africa yet, here are 11 compelling reasons why you should book your trip – today!

1. Spectacular Landscapes

From the jaw-dropping views at Cape Point, to the incredible vistas over the Valley of a Thousand Hills…South Africa has some of the very best landscapes in the world. There is the glamorous beachfront strip of Durban’s famed Golden mile and the hidden treasures of the St Lucia wetlands. Be it a sunset over Table Mountain, or the rugged splendor of the Karoo – there is breathtaking beauty all over South Africa.

Incredible Landscape of South Africa

Incredible Landscape of South Africa (Source willgoto.com)

Green landscape howick falls KZN South africa

The green canopy of the Howick Falls region in KZN

2.  Beach, Desert, Safari or Mountains? No need to settle!

There are very few places on earth where you can enjoy a swim in the refreshing ocean waves one day and go sand-boarding over pristine dunes the next. It’s worth noting that several South African beaches have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag accreditation which means they meet the most stringent criteria in terms of cleanliness, safety and water quality, amongst others. Whether you prefer the tranquility of the wilderness, the pulsing beat of a cosmopolitan city, or hiking in the mountains – South Africa can make the holiday of your dreams a reality.

Lion's head Cape Town South Africa

Fancy a hike up the ominously named Lion’s Head in Cape Town?

pristine beach south africa

One of the pristine beaches of South Africa

sand dune surfing south africa

Perfect slopes for sand dune surfing (Source: willgoto.com)

3. Culture and Important Sites

About 50 kms northwest of Johannesburg lies the Sterkfontein caves and the Cradle of Humankind. It was here that human evolution fossils – some of the oldest ever found – have been discovered (including the affectionately nicknamed Mrs. Ples) furthering the belief that Africa is the birthplace of humanity. The Cradle of Humankind is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa.

Cradle of HumanKind Maropeng

Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng (Source: explorertimeslive.co.za)

An extremely diverse country, South Africans express their culture through music, dance and art – all of which are thriving enterprises in South Africa. A competitive film industry, one of the oldest in the world, continues to grow at an exponential rate. But perhaps one of the most enduring images of South African culture is that of the Zulu people, and a visit to a Zulu village is a highly recommended experience.

Zulu Tribe South Africa

Traditional Zulu dancers

4. History

From the colonial era to the Anglo-Boer war, the discovery of diamonds to the arrival of Indians by the boatload; South Africa’s history is rich, although tumultuous. The most well known part of the country’s modern history remains the rise and subsequent fall of Apartheid. While all South Africans today enjoy the freedoms of a democratic constitution, it is our history that has shaped the people we are today. The Anglo-Boer war battlefields near Ladysmith are worth a visit; while the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg provides a poignant reminder and a fundamental understanding of this dark era in South African history. A trip to Cape Town will not be complete without a ferry ride to Robben Island, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once used for the imprisonment and isolation of political prisoners – including Nelson Mandela. A sobering tour depicting the arduous conditions of the prison and the tiny, damp cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life often leaves visitors in tears.

apartheid south africa

Testaments to Apartheid segregation (Source: capetowndailyphoto.com)

Robben Island Table Mountain South Africa Caoe Town

Robben Island as seen from the top of Table Mountain

5. Wildlife and Biodiversity

There is nothing quite like the African bush, and the world over, people will agree: there is no place that provides better game viewing than South Africa.

Safari Zebra South Africa

Grazing zebra

Of course the Big 5 (lion, cheetah, buffalo, elephant and rhino) is the drawing card for most, but safaris in South Africa can also provide incredible sightings of giraffe, zebra, antelope and thousands of bird species. Although, you don’t necessarily need to be on safari to cash in on the wildlife action – we were once enjoying dinner at a restaurant in St Lucia when a herd of hippos decided to check out the vegetarian offerings in the shrubs across the town’s busiest street!

nyala antelope safari south africa

Nyala antelope spotted on safari

Several coasts along the garden route present amazing whale watching opportunities and several spots in South Africa are considered prime diving and snorkelling sites, rich in coral and marine life.

Turtles South Africa

Twins?

If you’re more flora than fauna, don’t let the vast deserts fool you, South Africa is home to about 10% of the earth’s flowering species and is only country in the world with an entire plant kingdom contained within its borders – the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Flowers south africa cape floral kingdom

Blooming fantastic!

6. Sports Fanatics

There is still a lingering glow from the impressively successful Soccer World Cup in 2010 which unified South Africa in the most unexpected ways, and proved the naysayers wrong; and so many South Africans still carry golden memories of the historic moment when then newly-elected president Nelson Mandela, in his Springbok jersey, presented the trophy to our rugby captain in what can only be described as a fairytale ending to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Sports fans will agree: there is definitely no shortage of top notch sporting sports events taking place in South Africa.

Rugby world cup 1995 South Africa

One of the most cherised memories in South African history (Source: rugbyworldcup.com)

The Comrades Marathon and Dusi Canoe marathon are other shining examples of world class events taking place annually on the South African stage. From cycling to surfing, cricket to golf – our country is increasingly showcasing its ability to plan and host successful international sporting events, and inspirational South African athletes in almost every facet of sport are flying the flag high for the Rainbow Nation. And while it may not be the world’s favorite instrument, I think we’re somewhat secretly proud of the vuvuzela!

Vuvuzela south africa

Proudly South African (Source: Heraldsun.com)

7. Affordable

The South African Rand is relatively weak against major currencies such as the Pound, Euro and Dollar, which makes it a very affordable destination. International visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the relatively low cost of hotels, food and transport. While those looking to splurge on the ultimate luxurious vacation will not be disappointed by the 5-star accommodations and cuisine available all over the country, there are plenty of affordable safari or city breaks that can match any budget.

Increasingly, South Africa is becoming a shopper’s paradise. With large malls dotting the country, and international chain stores and designer boutiques setting up shop; locals and tourists alike are finding everything their hearts desire in terms of fashion, accessories and jewelry. Ever-popular flea markets and craft stalls are still found in the cities and along the beachfronts, offering quirky home décor and ideal souvenirs.

Gateway Shoppertainment Centre in Durban

Gateway Shoppertainment Centre in Durban (Source: Flickr – South African Tourism)

Hand-woven wire bowls South Africa

Hand-woven wire bowls(Source: Umkhumbilodge.co.za)

8. Weather

South Africa enjoys a subtropical location, which in weather terms translates to hot, humid summers coupled with afternoon thunderstorms; and cooler, dryer winters that are typically sunny. It is this almost year-round sunshine that is increasingly attracting savvy travelers to South African soil. In my opinion there is honestly no bad time (weather wise) to visit SA, but planning your visit around specific activities and interests is highly recommended. For example, game viewing is normally best during the dry winter months, as the hot summers typically mean animals are seeking respite from the heat in the dense, lush vegetation. However, avid bird watchers will find the summer months the best time to view the migrant bird species. The mild months of autumn or spring can be ideal for mountain hikers, while whale-watching enthusiasts may be rewarded between July to November.

Sunny day Durban Golden Mile south africa

The beginning of a typical sunny day along Durban’s Golden Mile Source: clubviaje.com)

9. Culinary Delights

South Africa may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you think of Michelin starred restaurants, but the culinary scene in South Africa is sophisticated and thriving. As always, the emphasis is on the supply of the freshest possible ingredients of the highest quality, and there is no shortage of that in SA. From incredible seafood to succulent Karoo beef, foodies will find their full amongst restaurants catering for every craving.

Cuisine South Africa

Traditional Prawn Curry with a modern twist

The street food trend may be taking off all over Europe, but South Africa (and Durban in particular) is home to the Bunny Chow – what can only be described as the ultimate street food. (If you haven’t tried it, find our more here). From locally brewed beers, to world class coffees, and not to mention one of the most acclaimed, award-winning wine routes in the world; the South African food scene is evolving, one braai at a time.

cuisine seafood south africa

Freshest seafood, as much as your heart desires

10. Unique and Oh! So Interesting

South Africa is unique in so many ways. For starters, it has special mention in the Guinness World Book of records as the country with the most official languages – eleven! This just represents of diversity of our beautiful land and why the term “Rainbow Nation” is so apt.  Did you also know that Cape Town is the only city in the world to have its coasts in two different oceans? Or that the city which has the most trees in the world is Johannesburg? – Yes you read that correctly! While it may seem unbelievable to many, South Africa even has its own penguin colony at Boulders beach.

cape point south africa

Where 2 oceans collide: Cape Point

penguins boulders beach cape town town africa

The undeniably cute penguins at Boulders Beach

11. People

Courage, hope and perseverance are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when I think about the people of South Africa. Yes, high crime rates are noted, and the ugly shadow of Apartheid may linger; but South Africans as a whole, are a nation of courageous people filled with an insuppressible hope. Almost every traveler I have encountered on my trips far and wide, who has visited South Africa, has had only positive things to say about the people they met there. Stories of good Samaritans and friendly, smiling faces everywhere they went are the norm. For a country whose people have had to endure so much, I am still astounded by the eternal optimism that surrounds me every time I return. It makes me so very proud to call myself a part of the Rainbow Nation.

Friendly People South Africa

The friendliest faces (Source: Powerofpeace.com)

You might also like: 21 Reasons why I LOVE South Africa

21 Reasons why I LOVE South Africa

My homeland is as diverse as it is beautiful. Reasons abound as to why South Africa is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for international travelers. Below are some of the things that ensure my heart will always remain, Proudly South African:

1. The people’s spirit of Ubuntu (human kindness)

2. The cable car ride up Table Mountain

Cable Car Table Mountain

3. Braais

(Photosource: braai.com)

(Photosource: braai.com)

4. River Cruises amongst crocodiles and hippos at The St. Lucia Estuary

Saint Lucia South Africa

5. Big 5 Viewing at any of South Africa’s amazing national parks

Safari South AfricaSafari South Africa6. Bo Kaap’s colorful façade

Bo Kaap

Photo Source (friendlyrentals.com)

7. Durban’s skyline since the new stadium was built

Stadium Durban South Africa8. Haggling with street vendors for unique hand-made crafts
9. The sense of feeling incredibly small when faced with the view from Cape Point

Good Hope Point10. Amarula Cream sundowners

Photo Source: Amarula.com

Photo Source: Amarula.com

11. Driving along the Garden Route
12. Wine tastings in Franschhoek

Wine tasting Cape Town

Photo Source (Winelands.co.za)

13. The slang! A mixture of several language influences – it’s in a class of its own!
14. Sunsets at Signal Hill

Sunset South Africa15. Sunrise over the Indian Ocean

Sunrise South Africa

16. The weather – hot summers and generally mild winters
17. Bunny Chows, Koeksisters and Potjiekos
18. Sweeping views from the top of Table Mountain

Table Mountain cape Town19. Swimming/surfing/waterskiing at Umhloti beach

Kite Surfing South AfricaDurban South Africa

20. Cozy chalets in the Drakensburg region
21. A glass of Pinotage with dinner

“I believe that South Africa is the most beautiful place on earth. Admittedly, I am biased but when you combine the natural beauty of sunny South Africa with the friendliness and cultural diversity of our people, and the fact that the region is a haven for Africa’s most splendid wildlife, then I think that we have been blessed with a truly wonderful land.” – Nelson Mandela.

I love south africa

Photo Source: facebook.com/southafricaonline