Durban Beachfront Promenade
Easy trail; Suitable for children.
"Durbs by the sea" is all about its beaches and walking the recently revamped beachfront promenade is the way to appreciate the city's splendour to the full. The six-kilometre paved walkway links Blue Lagoon in the north to uShaka Marine World in the south, taking you past Suncoast Beach, Battery Beach, Snake Park, Bay of Plenty, North Beach, Dairy Beach, New Beach, South Beach, Addington Beach and uShaka Beach. There is parking all the way, so you can shorten your walk or toss your shoes and hop down onto the beach at any point.
For the full walk, park at Blue Lagoon at the mouth of the Umgeni River, which is a popular fishing spot and the finish of the Dusi Canoe Marathon. The Durban Country Club golf course is across the road on your right as you walk south. The route passes the Suncoast Casino at Suncoast Beach and this is where you'll see the first of several piers stretching out to sea. Stay on the promenade as you pass a number of parking areas. The Moses Mabhida Stadium, built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, stands up proudly on the right. If you need a shot of adrenalin, you'll find it here in the form of the Big Rush, the world's largest stadium swing.
Next up is Battery Beach, which got its name from the old Natal Command military base, and then the Heritage Forest. The 300-metre stretch of protected coastal dunes, a remnant of the range that once stretched all the way up the coast, is the only place along the promenade from where you can’t see the sea.
On the far south of the forest is Snake Park Beach, or rather the snakeless beach, as the locals now call it following the demolition of the snake park, and from here onwards, the hotels and apartments spring up. Mini Town, which has a number of Durban's landmarks at 1:25 scale, is fun for kids Circus Circus near the iconic Southern Sun Elangeni is a good spot for coffee or a bite to eat. Further down is the North Beach Skatepark, where the cool kids hang out; it’s also the place to hire bicycles to whizz along the bike-friendly promenade.
If you're looking for a good wave, then the Bay of Plenty is the place to go. Surfing legend Shaun Thomson (1977 world surfing champion and six-time winner of the Gunston 500) rates it as his favourite beach. Of course, after a day’s surfing, a beer goes down well, and Joe Cools is a stone’s throw away. If the sea is too wild for a dip, walk a little further to the Rachael Finlayson salt-water pool, where the original 90-metre pool has been retiled and divided into three slightly smaller pools, including an Olympic-sized 50-metre training pool.
A satellite police office and life-saving club is opposite the pier that separates North Beach from Dairy Beach. Along this section of the route, you'll find wonderful sand sculptures, curio-sellers and rikshaw men colourfully clad in beaded costumes and impressive headgear. Unique to Durban, the registered operators number about 20 - a significant drop from the 2 000 rickshaw-pullers in the early 20th century.
Dairy Beach is a popular central beach with restaurants and a retail outlet. It also has a public piazza but the highlight is the interactive fountain that pops up as you pass - a real winner with kids. Then comes the Durban Fun Fair, where you can go for a hectic spin or catch a gentle ride on the cable car for an overview of the area.
Further down the drag are the main paddling pools and jungle gyms that form part of the kid-friendly New Beach complex, then South Beach is the last before the long stretch past Addington Hospital and onto uShaka Beach. Thanks to the protection offered by the Bluff, the "nursery waves" here are smaller than anywhere else along the beachfront, so this is where the wannabe surfers and paddle-skiers go to learn. The promenade ends at, Africa's largest marine theme park. Spanning more than 15 hectares of prime beachfront area, it’s a fun place to end off a special walk.
Fun, sun, sand, surf, sea. Durban is the perfect example of big city life meeting the outdoors, thanks in part to the Indian Ocean that laps up against its and in part to the tropical weather that makes it an all-year-round holiday destination.
But Durban owes its existence and its success to the substantial natural bay that has been converted from a wild and lonely lagoon, home to huge numbers of fish, water birds, crocodiles and hippos, into Africa’s busiest port, and South Africa’s biggest. The bay was first entered by a ship, the Salisbury, by lieutenants James King and Francis Farewell in 1823. The following year, a trading house was established but it was only in 1835 that it was decided to establish a town here and to name it after Sir Benjamn D’Urban, then the governor of the Cape Colony.
These days, Durban is the third-largest city in South Africa, with large industrial and commercial centres and a booming tourism industry. Every school holiday sees droves of local tourists flock to the city, while international visitors have come to recognise Durban both as a destination in its own right and as a convenient gateway to the Drakensberg, the big-five reserves of Zululand and everything else that KwaZulu-Natal has to offer.
Durban might not be the de facto capital of KZN (Pietermaritzburg fills this role), but it certainly is in terms of commerce and population size. It is also something of a sporting hub, hosting the annual Comrades Marathon, the Dusi Canoe Marathon, provincial soccer, cricket and rugby matches, cycling races, surfing competitions and surf ski races, to mention just a few of the sporting codes represented here.
Every morning and evening, all year round, a stroll along the beachfront will reveal casual games of soccer, joggers running along the promenade, surfers, swimmers, and even a few souls doing yoga.
Despite the city’s modern feel, history abounds. Museums, monuments, art galleries and theatres are all worth visiting, as are the botanical gardens and the various markets.
Those looking for something a little different should pop into the Victoria Street market for a spicy shopping interlude, or the muti (traditional medicine) market at Warwick Junction for the chance to consult a sangoma (witchdoctor) or an inyanga (traditional healer) or just browse the incredible items on sale.
As with life in Durban, the hotel industry is centred on the beachfront, where there is a long line of international hotels. Smaller hotels, boutique hotels, bed & breakfasts, backpackers and even flats for hire are all available in Durban, catering for all tastes and budgets.
Getting around Durban is easier than many South African cities thanks to the people-mover bus system, but hiring a car will be necessary to explore the outlying areas.
Look out for
Bunny chows are a unique Durban meal consisting of a piece of bread hollowed out and filled with curry, then eaten with your hands. Every year a competition is held to find the best “bunny”, as they are known, and there are dozens of places where a phenomenal bunny can be enjoyed.
uShaka Marine World features a world-class aquarium, water rides, dolphin shows, scuba diving in tanks, snorkelling and tube rides. It is simply not to be missed.
Durban boasts kilometres of beaches just waiting to be enjoyed. You can surf, snorkel, hire a canoe, go for surfing or surf ski lessons, or just do the old-fashioned thing and laze on the beach and watch the world go by.
Markets abound in the Durban area, from the curio market on the beachfront to the relaxed little Essenwood market, the Shongweni farmers’ market and the Victoria Street Market in the centre of town. The latter offers a particularly unique experience of Indian spices and culture.
Mountain-bikers are well catered for in the Durban area. Giba Gorge is one of the best locations to test your skills and your fitness, and there is also a well-stocked bike shop and a charming restaurant.
Those in search of a bit of culture can take in shows at one of the theatres in town. The Playhouse is the grand dame of the theatre world and brings the bigger shows to Durban, while other venues for music, theatre and poetry include the Bat Centre, the Catalina Theatre and the university’s theatre.
Built for the 2010 Fifa soccer world cup, the Moses Mabhida Stadium is a beautiful piece of functional architecture. Time your visit to catch a local soccer game or take a ride in a skycar to the top of the stadium for an unforgettable view of the city. The wild at heart can do the stadium swing from the top of the stadium’s arch.
The Valley of a Thousand Hills is an area of great scenic beauty on Durban’s doorstep. A simple drive through the area is very enjoyable and there are all sorts of spots to stop to shop or eat. Traditional dancing and singing can also be experienced in the valley.
Hire a bike and cruise the beachfront. Stop in at a coffee shop or restaurant, or cycle to the end of the pier at uShaka Marine World for a sundowner at Moyo restaurant, the waves crashing below you. Another option is to hire a rickshaw for a colourful ride along the promenade.
Concerts are often organised for Sunday afternoons at the botanical gardens. Lounge on the lawns and listen to some of South Africa’s most popular bands. The orchid house is also worth visiting.
Watch rugby at Absa Stadium Kings Park, perhaps the most festive place in the world to do so. Supporters park their cars on the outlying fields, light a braai and party before and after the game. Live music entertains the crowd and the rugby players mingle after the game.