Top things to do in Durban and KwaZulu Natal

by Eloise Barker for British Airways

Title photography by jacobeukman

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Junho, 2019

Durban isn’t just for urbanites. The city sits on the edge of KwaZulu Natal, a region of beautiful nature reserves – and is within striking distance of the astounding Drakensburg mountain range. Go have your wildest adventure yet.

Visit urban Durban

South Africa’s third-largest city is well worth your time. With its glorious beachfront and friendly, outdoorsy nature, the city will give you a warm welcome. On sunny Saturdays the Botanic Garden is the place to go – the locals might be lazing on the lawn, but you should spend some time in the orchid house, and also look out for the world’s loneliest plant: Wood’s Cycad is extinct in the wild, but a specimen of the ancient species can be found in the garden. Go and be his ‘bud’-dy.

Dica importante:

Look out for Bunny Chow; this oddly-named dish is a Durban speciality. Vendors hollow out a roll and stuff it to the crust with curry. Originating from Durban’s Indian community, the idea is that once the curry is polished off, you can enjoy the sauce-soaked bread for afters.

Surf along the golden mile

Durban's enticing ‘Golden Mile’ lives up to its name. The city's beaches stretch as far as the eye can see. They trump Cape Town’s – if only because the Indian Ocean is considerably warmer than the Atlantic. You can surf all day, or cycle along the seafront. Either way, keep your eyes out: this area isn’t known as the ‘dolphin coast’ for nothing.

Dica importante:

If you’ve come for the beach, the best time to visit is between April and October, when the weather is in the tolerable twenties and the area is relatively quiet. (Around Christmas and New Year, Durban’s beachfront gets blisteringly hot, and very busy.)

Durban’s beaches stretch as far as the eye can see.

  • Ride the surf along the golden mile. © Chris Van Lennep.

    Tunnel vision

    Look out for tube-riders: surfers perfecting the art of riding under a perfectly-curling wave – on Durban's golden mile.

    Reserve umas férias

Relax at Umhalanga Rocks

If you want somewhere even more relaxing than laid-back Durban, head up to Umhalanga Rocks. This well-off resort town is full of holidaymakers, and its attractive stripy lighthouse makes its way into most people’s holiday snaps. Head to the aptly-named Bronze Beach, or the popular Main Beach – both are spectacularly inviting stretches of sand next to warm ocean waters. South Africans have a penchant for malls, and Umhalanga Rocks has one of the largest: the Gateway Theatre of Shopping is big enough to accommodate a cinema and a rock climbing centre, plus fashion from Levi’s to Lacoste.

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The Oyster Box curry buffet, held at the hotel’s Ocean Terrace Restaurant, is the only place to be seen at mealtime if you like the spice of life. There are 11 curries on offer, for lunch or dinner, every single day of the week.

  • Inside the Orchid House at The Durban Botanic Gardens (Est. 1849). © Clinton Friedman.

    Wild and free

    Totally free to visit, Durban’s botanic garden attracts picnickers and plant enthusiasts.

    Pesquisar hotéis
  • Capture' by Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose – a sculpture at the site of Nelson Mandela's arrest in Howick. © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo.

    A face appears

    This clever sculpture only reveals its subject as you walk closer: the face of Nelson Mandela. It marks the site of his arrest in 1962.

    Descubra os nossos voos mais baratos
  • Large Oceanic Blacktip Shark swimming near surface of ocean, Aliwal Shoal. © Steve Woods Photography.

    Sabia que...

    How to tell the different between a ragged tooth shark and a black tip? Clue’s in the name: the black tip has a tell-tale dark mark on its dorsal fin. You can see them gathering on Aliwal Shoal.

Visit the Anglo-Zulu Battlefields

Inland from Durban you’ll find sprawling plains and vast landscapes. This area is called Zululand – which makes it sound rather like a theme park. It’s actually the former Zulu Kingdom, now incorporated into KwaZulu Natal province. Don’t miss a trip Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, where a few, humble white rock cairns mark a fascinating historical event. History buffs will know that this is the site of some dramatic colonial battles. The British invaded Zululand in 1879. At Rorke’s Drift, on the very first day of the Anglo-Zulu war, 139 British Soldiers withstood an attack from 4,000 Zulus. But on the same day at Isandlwana, 1,800 British troops died in another battle, this time against 22,000 Zulu soldiers. An enthusiastic tour guide can help bring the events to life.

Dica importante:

There are 82 battlefields in the area, and you can follow the Battlefields Route to visit those that pique your interest. The route website organises the battles by era and campaign – so you can apply military precision to your trip.

Spot the Big Five at Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Park

With plenty of reserves across the country, it can be difficult to know which to choose for your South Africa safari. The Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Park is three hours’ drive up the coast from Durban, and it comes with a big selling point: it’s home to the prized ‘Big Five’: lions, leopards, elephant, water buffalo – but also, most importantly, the southern white rhino. Once on the edge of extinction, with only 20 individuals left in the wild, the white rhino population in South Africa has recovered, and is now in the tens of thousands. The park is one of the key conservation areas for these beautiful beasts. You can also look out for African wild dogs – also known as painted dogs – perhaps the prettiest pack of animals in the park.

Dica importante:

The park allows day visitors, so book in for a safari, or just drive yourselves. If you’re behind the wheel, make sure you look out for dung beetles on the road – you wouldn’t want to run over this little guy: he’s a key player in the savannah’s waste disposal system.

  • See herds of zebra in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. © Heinrich van den Berg.

    A good chinwag

    Have a laugh with the locals. Zebra are a common sight in Isimangaliso Wetland Park, alongside hippo and giraffes. The park is roughly two and a half hour's drive north from Durban.

    Search fly drives

Miraculous wildlife in Isimangaliso Wetland Park

There are wetland parks, and then there’s Isimangaliso Wetland Park. This 280km stretch of coastline is so much more than marshland, featuring a diverse landscape of dune forests, beach, coral reef and savannah so precious that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. The name Isimangaliso comes from the Zulu word meaning ‘a miracle’ – because of its wondrous appearance. Climb atop the towering dune at Maphelane, its southernmost hill, to survey the lay of the land in all its glory. In this special reserve you’re very likely to encounter gangly giraffes, yawning hippos and flamingos in flight.

Dica importante:

Sodwana Bay competes with Aliwal Shoal as one of the best dive sites in South Africa. This little section of the Wetland Park also conducts turtle tours – and it has a lovely beach.

Defy gravity in the Drakensberg Mountains

Easily one of the most sublime mountain ranges in the world, the Drakensberg stuns first-time visitors, who perhaps aren’t expecting the peaks to be as pointy, the cliffs to be as aggressive, or the views to be as mind-blowing as they are. There’s great hiking on the trails around Champagne Castle, South Africa’s second highest mountain, plus there’s amazing ancient San rock art at Giant’s Castle. As the range stretches north it becomes even more dramatic. For mountains as jagged as sound waves head to Tugela Falls.

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Sani Pass is an eye-wateringly high road that leads into the mountain-bound kingdom of Lesotho. The drive up to the pass is an activity in itself, with fantastic views along the way.

Go diving over Aliwal Shoal

Just south of Durban is one of South Africa’s most amazing dive sights: Aliwal Shoal. If you don’t like big fish, look away now: this area is known for its ragged tooth sharks, who come to the shoal to breed. Divers love a dramatic scuba site known as the Cathedral, where the churchlike rock formations provide a sheltered sanctuary. From here you’ll see cuttlefish, moray eels, and enough sharks to populate the film sets of Jaws 1, 2 and 3.

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In June and July, if the conditions are right, you might witness the Sardine Run. This natural phenomenon is one of the largest migrations on the planet. A plethora of pilchards move en-masse along the east coast of South Africa – and hungry predators, humans included, hunt them up the coast. If you don’t see much in the water, you might still see fishermen on the beaches, dragging their silvery catch ashore.

Walk in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps at Howick

In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested on the road between the towns of Howick and Lidgetton West. Having successfully evaded the authorities for the best part of a year and a half, his capture signified the end of his freedom. He remained incarcerated for the next 27 years on Robben Island, near Cape Town, but the Howick site, known as the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, has become an apartheid museum. It’s worth visiting the grounds to see a monument built in Mandela’s honour. Find this unusual charcoal sculpture at the end of the museum’s own ‘Long Walk’. Its clever design is a fitting tribute to one of the world’s most enduringly popular leaders.

Dica importante:

The visitor centre is currently under construction, but stop by if you’re on the way back to Durban from inland. There’s an app, Madiba’s Journey, which makes it easier to follow in Mandela’s footsteps.

Onde ficar

The Oyster Box

The Oyster Box is almost more famous for food than it is for its hotel – it cooks up a fantastic curry buffet. But the rooms in this fantastic five-star are lovely, too: old-style posh, with Indian Ocean views looking directly over the famous lighthouse of Umhalanga. The original Oyster Box cottage was here before the town around it was even formed.

Book a stay at The Oyster Box

Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse

Set in the foothills of the Drakensberg, this farmhouse is boutique rather than barnlike, with an emphasis on fantastic food. The charismatic Richard Poynton serves a seven course dinner in the evenings – and three courses at breakfast. Sit by a crackling fire and you can watch weaver birds dipping in and out of their nests outside your window.

Book a stay at Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse

Fugitives Drift Guest House

Fugitive’s Drift runs battlefield tours – using fantastically informed tour guides to bring the stories to life on the now empty battlefields. The traditionally-decorated lodge certainly helps create the right atmosphere: spears and maps adorn the walls and there are wide, appetising views of the surrounding landscape. You can see the peak of Isandlwana from the doorstep.

Book a stay at Fugitives Drift