South Africa is large as it is diverse. Each of the country’s nine provinces offer a variety of landscapes, cultures, and experiences.
Our adventures in South Africa first brought us to the province of Kwazulu Natal. Sighted by the explorer Vasco da Gama on Christmas Day 1497, he named the area “Natal”, or Jesus’ birth in Portuguese.
In the 1800s, the British established a settlement here. Befriending the powerful Zulu king Shaka, the British were gifted a 25-mile piece of the coastline from the Zulus. The area is now called Durban, after Sir Benjamin D’Urban, a British general who was the governor of the Cape Colony.
Durban may not be as well known as Cape Town or Johannesburg, but it’s slowly catching on. Here are 7 things fun discoveries we made while in Durban:
1. It’s a truly multicultural city.
A drive through downtown Durban gives you a glimpse of a unique city, where the complex mix of Zulu, Indian and British influences survive.
The city is ethnically diverse, and has welcomed many different cultures and beliefs.
2. It’s the home of Zulu culture.
Remember the ‘80’s TV series called “Shaka Zulu?”
This area is the homeland of the Zulu people, the largest ethnic group in South Africa. They were a mighty warrior nation, and in the 19th century, a great powerful kingdom led by King Shaka. His mind for military tactics and weaponry allowed them to defeat the British in 1879.
Today, the colorful Zulu culture can be seen in the songs and dances of the people. With high leg kicks and drums, this was once a battle cry that echoes through the ages
3. You’ll find a great selection of Indian spices.
At the end of the 19th century, the British established a large sugarcane industry in Durban. Unable to get Zulu workers, they brought thousands of laborers from India.
Today, Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India.
At the Victoria market, we find a wide variety of local products – Zulu beadwork, wooden crafts, alongside heaps of Indian spices.
Buddy Madari of Madari and Sons, a popular spice shop, walks us through the bright red and orange mounds of spices.
“Piripiri, that is mama mia, that is really hot. That is the one you give your mother-in-law. It is called the murder-in-law mix,” he chuckles.
4. Enjoy the golden beaches
Durban has extensive golden sand beaches along its coast.
It has a warm subtropical climate with hot summers and dry winters, making it a great holiday destination.
A walk on the waterfront promenade or Golden Mile gives you plenty to see.
5. See the “most beautiful pier in the world.”
Further along the coast, you will find a curious structure jutting out of the water.
This is the Umhlanga pier, constructed to look like whale bones. It has been called by CNN as the “most beautiful pier in the world,” for its unique construction.
This amazing piece of architecture is also a feat of engineering, helping to disperse excess storm water from the land and into the ocean.
6. Catch whale and dolphin sightings.
Whale sightings are a common occurrence in Durban, being along the migratory route of these giants.
The best time of the year to see the southern right whales is from July to September. The rest of the year, you may be able to spot humpback whales, dolphins and other marine species.
7. Have a luxurious stay at the Oyster Box Hotel.
We checked into one of Durban’s historic hotels, right in front of Umhlanga beach – The Oyster Box.
The rooms had elegant, cozy interiors, with an amazing view of the Indian Ocean.
The Oyster Box has been the custodian of the Umhlanga lighthouse for many years, a beacon of safety in these treacherous seas.
The hotel is a favorite of visiting royalty and has kept the sophistication and charm of a bygone era, while maintaining its distinct Durban character.
Durban is a very unique place, a jumble of cultures, time periods, the man-made and the natural – a place really worth visiting while in South Africa!