advertisement

City Center

If you're interested in taking a look at the city's Indian District, it's best (certainly safest) to call and book an Oriental Walkabout through Durban Africa (tel. 031/304-4934). Walking tours start at the Tourist Junction, where you can take a look at the African Art Centre. Also on offer is the Historical Tour; alternatively, head for nearby Francis Farewell Square, to City Hall (1910), a stone-for-stone replica of City Hall in Belfast, Ireland. City Hall's first floor houses the Natural Science Museum (tel. 031/311-2256). The usual array of very dead-looking animals is useful as a crash course in wildlife identification if you're traveling north, and kids will also appreciate the gross-out qualities of the Kwanunu section, where the insect displays include some large, truly revolting roaches. One floor up, you'll find the excellent Durban Art Gallery (tel. 031/311-2264; Mon-Sat 8:30am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm; free admission). Back in the 1970s, this was the first national gallery to recognize African crafts as art, and today it has arguably the most representative and exciting collection of traditional and contemporary South "Africana" art in the country. East of the City Hall, facing Aliwal Road, is the Old Court House, home of Durban's local-history museum (tel. 031/311-2229; Mon-Sat 8:30am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm; free admission). The first public building erected in Durban (1866), this is a lovely example of the Natal Verandah style and today houses a rather dry collection of exhibits that focus on 19th-century history. Wander past the costumes worn by the disparate groups that made up Durban society for over 200 years (look for the beadwork items). A few of Gandhi's artifacts are also housed here.

The Golden Mile Beachfront

The Portuguese explorers who first laid eyes on Durban's beachfront must have been a poetic lot, and their description -- "sands of gold" -- has stuck long after the high-rises and concrete promenades dwarfed the beaches. Central and South beaches are clean and less frequented, but swimmers and surfers (and a host of others) still head for Bay of Plenty Battery and North Beach, the latter now overlooked by the new Suncoast Casino & Entertainment World -- which, aside from the casino, contains cinemas and restaurants, including the popular Havana Grill and Winebar, which has a deck area a stone's throw away from the sea. Located in the far north of the Golden Mile, at the estuary mouth, is Blue Lagoon, a great place to spend a romantic early evening. Nearby is Umgeni River Bird Park (tel. 031/579-4600), good for kids, with more than 300 species from around the world housed in large aviaries, and planted with palms, cycads, and other tropical plants.

The Point & Victoria Embankment

The star attraction here (particularly for families) is uShaka Marine World (tel. 031/328-8000; www.ushakamarineworld.co.za), located at The Point. Set over 16 hectares (40 acres), this waterfront theme park incorporates sea and fresh water, a recreation of a 1920 cargo ship, lush indigenous vegetation, and a spanking-new aquarium, Sea World (daily 9am-6pm, some activities closed Mon-Tues; R104 adult and R70 children) -- one of the world's biggest and featuring the largest collection of sharks in the Southern Hemisphere. There are also dolphin and seal stadiums, a shark cage, a snorkel lagoon, and a "Wet 'n Wild" world -- slides and rides to keep the kids happy for the entire day. And uShaka is justifiably proud of the fact that every drop of water pumped into its system returns cleaner than when it came in.

At the Small Craft Harbour, you can shop for crafts or have a sundowner and listen to jazz on the BAT Deck at the BAT Centre (tel. 031/332-0451) and have a meal at the Yacht Mole; for even more impressive harbor views, head a little farther to Wilson's Wharf, Durban's mini waterfront complex, replete with bars and restaurants overlooking the very active harbor. This is an alternative to Suncoast on North Beach, and a good place to sink into a beer when the sun starts to go down.

Berea

This gracious old suburb is home to the Campbell Collections, arguably Durban's top attraction. Housed in Muckleneuk, the neo-Cape Dutch home that sugar baron Sir Marshall Campbell built for his family in 1914, it gives one a great sense of what it must have been like to live in colonial splendor high up on the Ridge, with sweeping views from the upstairs rooms of the harbor below. Tours take in the gracious gardens and the Cape Dutch furniture and artwork collected by Campbell's son (whose private hunting farm became what is today the private game reserve MalaMala), as well as the extensive Africana library and ethnological artifacts collected by his daughter, "Killie" Campbell. Killie was a voracious collector of traditional utensils, ornaments, art, musical instruments, sticks, and various items of beaded clothing (don't miss the necklace of British redcoat buttons worn by Zulu warriors as a sign of bravery). Today her collection, known as the Mashu Museum of Ethnology, at the corner of Marriott and Essenwood roads, is considered one of the country's finest groupings of African artifacts. Tours of the Campbell Collections and the Mashu Museum of Ethnology are by appointment only; contact the Senior Museum Officer (tel. 031/207-3432; HadebeM@ukzn.ac.za.w).

Umhlanga & North

The most popular seaside suburb on the North Coast, Umhlanga Rocks (pronounced "oom-shlung-ga") is a 20- to 30-minute drive north of the city center. Originally part of Marshall Campbell's sugar estate, it is now simply an extension of Durban, with well-developed facilities, safe bathing areas, and plenty of accommodations options. It also has its own visitor center: Umhlanga Tourism Association (tel. 031/561-4257; www.umhlanga-rocks.com; Mon-Fri 8:30am-5pm, Sat 9am-1pm), on Chartwell Drive. Besides the beach, the one noteworthy place worth visiting in Umhlanga is the office of the Natal Sharks Board (tel. 031/566-0400; www.shark.co.za). One of the most prestigious centers for shark research in the world, the board offers informative audiovisual presentations about these awesome predators -- up to 14 species swim off this coast. Get there for the first showing at 9am, or at 2pm, and you can watch one of the sharks -- who are regularly caught in the shark nets -- being dissected. Currently the most viable protection for swimmers, these controversial nets are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of sharks, as well as numerous rays, dolphins, and endangered turtles. You can also catch a ride on a Sharks Board boat to observe firsthand how the meshing crews go about servicing the shark nets; trips are 2 hours and need to be prebooked (tel. 082/403-9206).

Sibaya, the casino just beyond Umhlanga (tel. 031/580-5002), is Zulu-ethnic on a palatial scale, with a re-created Zulu village offering insight into how Zulu communities lived many decades ago -- and still do in remote corners of the country. You can see it all as either a kind of "living museum" or simply rather tacky.

If you're looking for uncrowded beaches, head farther north, beyond Ballito to Zimbali Lodge, the North Coast's premier resort. Even farther north, Blythedale (roughly 25km/16 miles north of Ballito and 70km/43 miles north of Durban) has a lovely beach; some 13km (8 miles) farther, the tiny hamlet of Zinkwasi, the least developed beach resort on the North Coast, marks the end of the Holiday Coast. If you plan to spend time in this area, contact the Dolphin Coast Tourist Information (tel. 032/946-1997; fax 032/946-3515) in Ballito.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.