Durban Tourism, an official marketing unit of the EThekwini Municipality, has made a significant headway in repositioning the city as attractive tourism destination with a wide variety of things to do. In re-aligning itself to be at the cutting edge of worldwide trends in destination marketing, the city is focussing on providing visitors with a unique set of experiences that go beyond the beach and into the realm of Durban’s cultural and scenic diversity.
The city is a modern vibrant cosmopolitan and its lifestyle, architecture as well as culture reflect and thrive on its warm sub-tropical climate. Mzansi Life was invited to review some of the tourism destinations with unique experiences designed to cater for families.
The journey – day 1
Courtesy of General Motors, we put the newly introduced Chevrolet Trailblazer Z71 4X4 automatic to test by driving all the way from Johannesburg to KwaZulu-Natal. The car is a very attractive proposition in the SUV segment and reaffirms its great value with more surprise and delight features than its rivals.
It is well suited to both the urban commute as well as long cross country family adventures. It has all the comfort and convenience features expected from a luxury SUV. The journey was painless with all the comfort and convenience features expected from a luxury SUV including no fewer than five points for charging devices and eight cup holders.
The car comes equipped with many innovative technologies, advanced active safety features, improved noise, vibration and harshness, as well as improved ride and handling, designed to keep you on track, wherever your passions take you.
Interior: I was very impressed with the inviting interior that features leather seats with accent stitching, a fresh new centre stack and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat. The second and third row folds flat, offering an ideal combination of space distribution, adaptability and comfort.
What I found cool was the remote start with a simple push of a button on your key fob. When the car starts remotely, the doors remain locked and climate controls activate to their previous setting.
The 7-inch colour touch-screen display allows you to handle calls, play music and access contacts from your compatible smart device.
Exterior: The Trailblazer echoes the styling cues that distinguish Chevrolet from everything else on the road – from its signature dual-port bold grille to a refreshed front and bold new headlamp, as well as iconic hood design. It has an unmistakable presence that intrigues from every angle. The new LED headlamp design anchors safety and attention with sleek contours that complement its tough muscular frame.
Performance: I can boldly say that we dominated the N3 with fluid and responsive power with the 2.8L diesel engine that delivers 144 kW of power, 500 Nm of torque. The 6-speed automatic transmission of the Trailblazer is very smooth and the electric power steering played the part by allowing us to manoeuvre with less effort.
On arrival, we checked-in at the Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean. The hotel features two towers – Elangeni and Maharani, and is 3.4 km from uShaka Marine World Aquarium and Water Park, as well as 1.2 km from Suncoast Casino.
Straightforward rooms with ocean views offer free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, tea and coffee making facilities. Some rooms have mini-fridges. Suites feature separate living spaces, and some have kitchens.
Dining options include restaurants and bars such as Grill Jichana, Daruma Japanese, Tall Ships pub, Lingela, Panorama Bar, Ocean Breeze, Vigour & Verve, and more. The hotel also features three pools, two exercise rooms and 15 meeting rooms. In total, the hotel has over 730 guest rooms.
Mangwanani Boutique Spa is also on the facility. To provide a unique rejuvenating experience which sanctifies the body and soul, the Spa blends traditional African practices and hospitality with western massage techniques. It is the perfect holiday retreat and the escape from a stressful demanding lifestyle.
We were fortunate to be allocated a room that faces the ocean as well as the Golden Mile. Durban’s Golden Mile is the name given to the popular stretch of beachfront. It is one of the main tourist attractions in the Durban area, and the wide stretch of golden sands serves as an excellent destination for beach goers who make their way there to enjoy the sunshine and warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The majority of these beaches are protected throughout the year by lifeguards and shark nets.
The Golden Mile is also renowned as a surfer’s paradise. The properties found along the beachfront display a blend of residential apartments and tourist hotels, most of which sprouted in the 1970s. Also situated amongst these hotels and apartments, one will also find a variety of popular restaurants and nightclubs, which contribute to the upbeat nightlife of the area.
Breakfast at Vigour & Verve restaurant – day 2
Before we hit the road for Inanda tour, we had a breakfast at Vigour & Verve restaurant situated at the Maharani tower, part of the Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani Hotel. The restaurant is strategically placed near the entrance of the hotel to encourage walk-in customers as well as residents of the hotel. The bistro style restaurant offers guests a welcoming and homely ambience in a beautifully designed space.
The kitchen is open plan, which allows guests the opportunity to watch their food being prepared. One of the highlights of the well-designed space is the beautifully red wooden pizza oven which is rightfully emphasised in the front section of the kitchen.
Vigour & Verve’s menu features a variety of delicious food options which include lamb shanks, fillet steak, crunchy salads, open sandwiches, unique butter chicken and chicken Dargyle pizzas, to name a few.
The restaurant is well known for their selection of freshly baked cakes which are the perfect companion to any cup of tea or coffee. It is the perfect meeting spot to grab a quick cup of coffee, to have a casual business lunch or to enjoy a relaxed meal with family and friends.
Phoenix settlement: Our first stop of the second day was at the heritage site – the Phoenix settlement, established by Mahatma Gandhi in 1904. The settlement is located on the north-western edge of Inanda, some 20 kilometres north of Durban. The Settlement, devoted to Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha (passive resistance) has played an important spiritual and political role throughout its long history, promoting justice, peace and equality.
Gandhi established the settlement as a communal experimental farm with the view of giving each family two acres of land which they could develop. He believed that communities like Phoenix which advocated communal living would form a sound basis for the struggle against social injustice.
Phoenix represented a belief in the equality of all labour, the value of manual work and a simple communal lifestyle. It was an important site of resistance during apartheid. Activists from all over the country came to Phoenix for political education and training programmes.
Ohlange Institute: From the Phoenix settlement, we drove off to the Ohlange Institute founded by John Langalibalele Dube in 1900. Dube was a founder member and first president of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which was renamed as the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923.
The idea of the institute came after 1897 after Dube’s trip to the United States for seminary training. Deeply influenced by Booker T Washington, an African-American educator who founded the world-famous Tuskegee Institute, Dube believed education was a means for black economic and social advancement. Upon his return, Dube established the Zulu Christian Industrial Institute on 08 August 1900. The land on which the school was built was donated to Dube by Chief Mqhawe of the AmaQadi.
The institute became the first Black-directed institution. On 20 August 1900 the school opened with 63 male students, half of whom lived on the campus. At first the school had only four instructors: Dube, his wife Nokutela, Pipile Msweli and John Mdima.
Some of the prominent leaders who graduated from the institute include Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Judge John Hlophe, Thoko Didiza, Penuell Maduna and more.
Valley of a Thousand Hills
Half an hour inland from the beautiful beaches of Durban, at the gateway to the scenic KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, lies the picturesque Valley of a Thousand Hills. Conveniently located midway between the coastal hub of Durban and the provincial capital Pietermaritzburg, the region is ideally suited to a lazy days browsing through the many arts, crafts, collectibles and curios found in the area.
Around the rim of the Valley of a Thousand Hills lie verdant suburbs dotted with cottages and bed and breakfast establishments, while upmarket shopping centres in Hillcrest, Westville and Botha’s Hill offer shoppers a plethora of décor, home crafts, clothing, food and other goodies.
The world-famous Comrades Marathon runs through the hill and the Amashova cycle race follows the same route. The raging Umgeni River in the valley below is the testing ground for participants in the gruelling Dusi Canoe Marathon.
The region is also home to the 1000 Hills Chefs School one of the country’s top culinary schools and training ground for a number of the world’s top chefs; bespoke wooden furniture by Shelldon; the 1000 Hills Bird Park and the early Saturday morning Shongweni Farmers’ Market at Assagay.
For generations the Zulu have lived in and around the valley and no visit is complete without a trip to one of the Zulu cultural villages, where tourists can gain insight into the culture and traditions of one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa. Traditional dancing, cultural shows and curios are showcased at Phezulu Safari Park, while crafts and curios are sold at the 1000 Hills Arts and Crafts Village.
Mariannhill Monastery, established by Roman Catholic monks more than a century ago, boasts striking architecture and an art gallery, while the Umgeni Choo-Choo steam train departs from Kloof Station on the last Sunday of every month and winds through the valley to Inchanga for lunch before returning home.
The nature reserves of Assagay, Springside and Krantzkloof Gorge offer respite from the bustle of the modern urban lifestyle, but the adventurous might prefer paragliding or rock climbing at Inchanga and Monteseel, or mountain biking at Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park.
Inanda Dam: Set in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, Inanda dam is just 43km from Durban and 70km from Pietermaritzburg. At more than 1460ha in extent, it is 1.5 times the size of St. Cassien in France, and also very close to the same longitude in opposite hemispheres.
The dam is the ideal place for water sport and is famous for its bass fishing. The most popular water sports practiced here include jet skiing, power boating and canoeing. Other fish to be found in this dam – if you enjoy fly fishing – is Tilapia (both Blue and Red-Chest), Barbel (catfish), Scalies (yellow-fish) and Carp.
The campsite is well maintained and at the water’s edge, there are braai facilities and a children’s jungle gym. There is a short self-guided trail that will give you the chance to admire many bird species.
Lunch at Intaba View: Our lunch was served at Intaba View, located in the tranquil and majestic Valley of 1000 Hills. Placed on the halfway mark of the Comrades marathon and overlooking the Phezulu Nature Reserve, the restaurant has a panoramic view of the magnificent valley.
Its country-style wrap-around patio and classically styled interior are the perfect setting for any elegant events including weddings. The quaint chapel’s main window offers a stunning backdrop for special vows.
Should you prefer an outdoor ceremony, the venue has a charming Victorian gazebo elevated on a wooden deck which overlooks the serene surroundings.
The interior of the venue is full of charm. It features three large chandeliers, a stone-clad fireplace and is able to accommodate up to 180 guests. The manicured gardens lend themselves to stunning photograph opportunities as well as garden games.
Phezulu Game Reserve: After lunch, we had an opportunity to savour the taste and feel the rhythm of Africa. We were taken into traditional beehive shaped thatched huts, where the various artifacts, beliefs and rituals were explained, giving us an insight into the fascinating Zulu culture.
The Zulu dancing show was impressive with the dancers in their traditional garb, showing off their skills with grace, agility and humour – a truly unforgettable experience!
The game reserve also offers a crocodile and snake park where guests are taken on a tour by knowledgeable guides. We learnt interesting facts about crocodiles and snakes, as well as met Ramesis, the 90 year old Nile crocodile.
If you are brave enough, you’ll have a hands-on experience with Cleo, the Burmese python who weighs in at 42 kilograms.
Phezulu Game Reserve boasts one of the best Curio shops in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and a Swazi Candle shop with beautifully sculptured hand-made candles. The Boma Restaurant serves meals ranging from Traditional Zulu meals or Crocodile steaks to toasted sandwiches and burgers.
One hour scenic game drives are also offered, providing guests with an opportunity to see a variety of animals including wildebeest, impala, blesbok, zebra and giraffe.
Dinner at California Dreaming
We ended the day with a dinner at California Dreaming restaurant, one of the best restaurants overlooking the Indian Ocean and Durban beach walkway. We were impressed by the food, the service and the environment.
We had a three-course meal and for starter, we had Mozambique Hot Pot and Pan Seared Mushroom Crostini. The starter was delightful and presentation was mouth-watering. The Mozambique Hot Pot was made of creamy seafood broth with prawns, mussels and calamari with a French baguette crouton. The Pan Seared Mushroom Crostini included grilled mushrooms served on lightly toasted bruschetta, crème fraiche, rocket, lemon zest and pecorino cheese with a hint of coriander oil.
Other starter selections include Tempura Prawns, Camembert Spring Rolls and Thai Chicken Salad.
The tender and nicely garnished main course was really enjoyable. The Black Cherry Glazed Lamb Chops was made of 400g lamb chops served onto a bed of seasonal vegetables, mashed potatoes and black cherry jus with baby onions. The Chicken and Prawn Thermidor had two grilled chicken breasts served on buttered fettuccini with finely chopped mushrooms, country mustard and pecorino gratin.
The Chocolate Lava Cake was our dessert. It included warm centred chocolate sponge cake served with pastry cream, butter biscuit and berry coulis.
The food was prepared by chef Noel Hall who belive that there is truly no wrong or right way when it comes to cooking, and that the greatest difficulty is projecting the concept in your mind onto a plate. Chef Hall exceeded our expectations.
Breakfast at Ocean Breeze Restaurant – day 3
On the last day of our visit, we decided to have a breakfast at a different restaurant, the Ocean Breeze, situated on the 2nd floor pool deck of the Elangeni tower – part of the Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani Hotel. The restaurant is the ideal place for breakfast, a cup of coffee, a quick light meal.
It has a view second to none and I believe it is Durban’s coolest breakfast spot. The outdoor seating has an absolutely unbeatable view of the beachfront, and you could sit all morning having a few drinks or coffees and enjoying the sight.
Moses Mabhida stadium
Sky Car and viewing platform: We then headed to Moses Mabhida stadium for Sky Car and city viewing platform. The Sky Car gives you the chance to discover Durban from a 106m-high vantage point. Mounted on an undercarriage, the Sky Car is a single cabin that runs up steel tracks on the northern arch of the stadium. It is designed to roll down the arch under its own gravity – this enables it to return to the lower station, even in the event of a power failure.
The Sky Car is operated by a single driver. The ascent and descent are started by the press of a button. The opening and closing of the automated doors are also controlled by the driver. The braking of the Sky Car at the lower and upper station is automated. The release of the emergency brake system is also automated, but can also be manually applied by the driver.
The Sky Car is pulled up the arch by a wire rope. The rope is wound around a drum situated in the engine room below the lower station. The drum is driven by a motor. The cable runs from the drum along the centre of the tracks to the top of the arch, where it is returned to run back down the arch by a return wheel. The lower end is fixed to the Sky Car. In this manner the Sky Car is pulled up the arch by winding the rope around the motorized drum in the engine room.
Segway ride: A Segway tour of Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium combines the fun and freedom of a ride on one of these uber-cool mobility transporters with a comprehensive overview of one of South Africa’s top sporting attractions.
Within minutes of stepping onto a Segway, you will get an intuitive feel how to operate it. With proper training and a little practice you’ll soon be riding like a pro (a short training session of about seven or eight minutes is included in the tour). Although mastery of a Segway is fairly simple, for safety reasons children under 10 are not permitted to ride.
Experienced and knowledgeable tour guides lead the way as riders effortlessly glide to every corner of the stadium. Guides share interesting and historic facts about the city of Durban, the stadium, and the Sky Car.
A choice of tours ranges from short 45-minute glides around the stadium or along the beachfront to two-hour rides along the promenade to uShaka Marine World – plus a couple of combination options that offer the best of both worlds. Booking is essential and tours are weather-dependent.
Big Swing: The Moses Mabhida’s arch also offers an adventure of the largest Big Swing in the world with the length of 220 metres. The big swing only takes one person at a time and people are advised to put on comfortable, closed walking shoes. It is the world’s only stadium swing and the largest swing of any kind anywhere.
Adventure Walk: The southern part of the arch is used for adventure walks. These walks are guided by qualified instructors who provide participants with the safety equipment required for the walk. The walk up and back down the arch consists of roughly 550 steps. The Adventure walk is usually in groups of 10 and people are advised to wear closed shoes.
A drive to uShaka Marine World via Innes Road
Morningside viewing point: From Moses Mabhida Stadium, we took a drive up to uShaka Marine World. Our next stop was The Cube, where we feasted our eyes on the view from the reservoir over the hill on Innes Road, right across from the Hotel Cube. The Cube is exactly what it says. It is a giant 3-D cube that also features wall mural art. The piece rests in a park on the Berea, unveiled as a street art mural a year before the Soccer World Cup in 2010, to function as one of the tourist attractions in Durban.
The Cube is well-known amongst Durbanites as one of the best lookout views over the city, and if it is an outlook over the Moses Mabhida stadium or the harbour you’re after, then look no further, for this is one of the best in Durban.
The original murals on The Cube were painted by a collaborative group of Durban artists; the same group who painted a Human Rights wall painting at the International Convention Centre in Durban.
The Central Post Office: We passed the Central Post Office, originally built as Durban’s first Town Hall and officially opened on 25 October 1885. The Natal Mercury described it as the ‘handsomest Town Hall in the country, whose central hall will be the gathering place of the citizens on every occasion of public or social interest’.
At the time, it was the largest building in South Africa and was designed by Philip M Dudgeon. Winston Churchill spoke to the citizens of Durban from its steps after his escape from the Boers in 1899. From October 12 to November 05 1908, the building was the venue for the National Convention which led to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
Fairwell Square: Next to the Central Post Office is the Farewell Square (also referred to as Luthuli Square). It was named after Lieutenant Francis Farewell who was instrumental in the decision to establish a permanent trading post in Port Natal (Durban) and persuading a number of white settlers to join him.
The square is located just west of the City Hall on ground which was part of Durban’s market square and apparently where Farewell originally set up his camp. The square is comparatively small yet it includes more monuments than any other space in South Africa.
Among the statues on display are those of Queen Victoria, John Robinson, the first Prime Minister of Natal, and of Harry Escombe, who succeeded him. Also in the square are a Boer War memorial and a Cenotaph honouring the dead of the two world wars. The cenotaph was erected in 1926 as a result of the delay experienced in the delivery of the pottery components from Britain.
It is very interesting in that its bright colour and sunburst motif gives a very strong hint of the Art Deco boom that was to sweep the world a few years later, with Durban being no exception.
Last stop – uShaka Marine World
We ended our tour at uShaka Marine World, the most loved marine theme park in South Africa. It incorporates fresh and sea water, natural materials, the re-creation of awreck of a 1940’s cargo ship, with the 5th largest aquarium in the world by volume of water, coupled with indigenous African imagery, lush vegetation and maritime images of the Port of Durban, as well a water slides amusement park.
The park is tatesfully themed with a focus on family entertainment in terms of fun, excitement, friendliness, imagery, activities, education and unique experiences, grouped into five distinct areas.
The retail food and beverage outlets are close to the main entrance to uShaka and at a height of about 10 metres above sea level, overlook much of the park and the Indian Ocean beyond. From the mysteries of the ocean floor to the wonders above, you’ll find many of the treasurees you’re looking for in over 11 250m2 of retail speciality stores.
Many of uShaka’s unique experiences are to be found in and around Sea World. The Sea and Dolphin World comprise a salt water aquarium with indoor and outdoor displays and exhibits, a 1200- seater dolphin stadium where we were entertained by the world-famous Gambit and friends, the seal stadium and penguin rookery.
In addition, Sea World offers edutainment tours behind the scenes and special interactive activities such as snorkelling through reefs and grottos and scuba dives.
Snorkel Lagoon: Catch a feed presentation for the rock lobsters, eel and octopus before heading into the water and snorkelling into a pool designed as a rocky lagoon.
Float gently over the lagoon filled with a huge variety of marine life and maritime effects such as a 16th century ship’s canon before entering the bowels of a shipwrecked cargo vessel and facing up to the predators of the deep through glass.
Offshore Rocky Reefs Exhibit: Offering a diving experience, the Rocky Reef’s tank will have you interacting with fish such as Slinger and Englishman and other rare and magnificent reef fish found off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
The Open Ocean: Gazing through an enormous window 8m long by 3m high you’ll feel as though you are actually standing underwater with the many fish associated with the open ocean such as tuna, pompano, dorado and rays.
Dangers of the Deep: Sharks, sea snakes, devil fire fish and stone fish occupy this area where from the surface you might even be able to touch a shark as it swims past a purpose-built balcony at feeding time.
Coral Gardens: A coral reef, one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth which has been recreated for you within Sea World.
The Deep Zone: Is a window into the lives of some of the weirdest and most spectacular animals inhabiting hundreds of metres below the surface of the ocean, often in total darkness.
Seals: Be astounded by what these agile and intelligent creatures can do as they run through a program designed for your entertainment.
Penguins: The African penguin is an endangered species and the breeding colony will provide you with a special opportunity to see these rare birds.
The beloved dolphins, including the world-famous Gambit, will enthral you with their grace and strength in their new and enormous 1200-seater stadium. Specially designed viewing windows will enable you to see the animals both above and below the water, where their remarkable speed and power can be appreciated fully.
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