Reporter KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO literally can’t stop raving about the beauty of Durban and the greater KwaZulu Natal after a recent adrenaline pumping whirlwind tour that saw her at the Durban July, defeating her fears of height in the Micro light scenic flights, enjoying an ocean safari, and exploring the Ushaka Marine World. She is already planning her return trip.
Tagged the warmest city in the world, Durban’s friendly weather has managed to over the years endear it to holiday lovers looking for the right temperatures to relax their body and get that much needed natural tan in winter. That, maybe paired with the biggest lifestyle event the city has hosted for decades; The Durban July, it can be safely said that Durban has earned and kept itself as the ultimate winter destination in many people’s minds.
In fact, there is more to this beautiful South African city and the Kwazulu Natal province than most people are aware of. From the beautiful culture of a people blended and united beyond colour and racial boundaries to its unique landscape; a mixture of dry and bushy like terrains and the abundance of ocean water, Durban has an array of activities and tourist packages any tourist regardless of budget can think of.
This coastal city is not dubbed the capital city of the world for nothing. The hospitality industry in the city is without doubt thriving and offering value for money to revelers. The city’s hospitality properties are not only breathtakingly gorgeous but also offer quality inside out. From the Beach front hotels in Umhlanga to Cosmopolitan hotels in the CBD and several boutique-styled hotels in and outside the province of Kwazulu Natal, a traveler is spoiled for choice. Perhaps like one player in the industry puts it Kwazulu Natal offers the beach, the bush and the breath to a tourist.
For example, in my experience, a night spent at the beautiful Zimbali resort and estate could have been similar but was different to the one spent in Mondazur San Lameer hotel in Margate. While the two hotels are in the outskirts of the city and both cater for a more or less the same kind of clientele, experience from each is different. In the city, while waking up in a beach front hotel like the Southern Sun Elangeni hotel offers the serene and calm effect of the sea, lodging in a cosmopolitan city in the CBD such as the Three Towers Royal palm hotel is again as rewarding.
As for the food, a traveller is spoiled for choice. Sea food lovers in particular would love a holiday in Durban. During my stay in Durban we had the chance to sample different sea delicacies from several outlets and while each chef had his own signature to their cooking the food had one thing in common - they were fresh; not surprising, as the sea is just nearby. Spicy Indian dishes, also makes up the menu of most hotels and restaurants; Cocktail bars in and around the city also make it easy for anyone looking for a good time to relax. From frozen margaritas and daiquiris, smooth martinis to pina coladas only the best is served.
The city of Durban is also home to Ushaka Marine World, Africa’s largest marine themed park and the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere. Ushaka marine has several sub brands, the sea world, which has the dolphin show; the seal show and penguin presentations. Ushaka also offer animal encounters like the snorkel lagoon, and xpanda shark dive that is coupled with educational presentations of course. The park caters for all from adults to kids through the fun-filled Kids world.
Every July the Greyville Racecourse plays host to one of the biggest events in South African events calendar - The Vodacom Durban July. The event boasts horse racing, high fashion, elegance and fine cuisine. So big is the is the day that it has attracted interest from across the South African border and is one of main tourist pullers to the Kwa Zulu Natal Province every year. Botswana as one of South Africa’s neighbouring countries to the North has not been spared the ‘Durban July’ fever too. Batswana have fallen in love with the KZN horseracing event and it would seem the love grows bigger each year. Fortunately enough this glamorous event happened to be in my itinerary and I could not have asked for anything else.
Though ideally horseracing is supposed to take centre stage, in reality high fashion and the taste of the good life prevails. Big corporations host their VIPs in glamorous marques and afford them only the best of Durban, from music, fashion, food and networking opportunities. This year the theme was ‘the captain’s table’ and revelers as is custom did not disappoint. Celebrities and other public figures mesmerised multitudes with their high-end fashion taste as they graced the event in large numbers. Batswana celebrities including Leungo, of the BTV Flava Dome fame, former Miss Botswana Sumaiya Marope and others also graced the event.
The adrenaline pumping
While the city faces tough competition from other coastal tourist’s destinations like Cape Town, Durban is surely claiming its position in the South African tourism industry as an all-rounder holiday destination. Being home to many firsts and unique features, it would be a lifetime mistake for any adrenaline junkie not to include Kwa Zulu Natal in their bucket list. Though not an adrenaline Junkie myself, my host Tourism Kwazulu Natal (TKZN) had nonetheless made sure I did not miss this remarkable lifetime experiences. The first stop-over to the adrenaline pumping chart drawn for me was the Micro light scenic flights in Ballito in the outskirts of Durban.
I must confess I had over the years self-diagnosed myself with Acrophobia; fear of heights, however the Ballito Micro Light scenic flight experience showed me that I would not have made it past med school. Flown by a professional pilot, the flight over Durban’s gorges, sugarcane fields and the ocean in an open micro light planes gives one a feeling of flying without wings, no window no mask , just you, the safety belt and the pilot, with nothing to hold on except your knees and piece of steel. The flight takes about 20 minutes and is worth every minute.
Then next on the list was the ocean safari at Shelley beach. Done in a speedboat with a carrying capacity of up to 11 people, the safari exposes one to a real life experience of the marine life in the ocean. Because our safari was in the morning we sailed through a mixture of gentle and strong waves, which our skipper assured us will only present us with an opportunity to enjoy more. And boy did we have fun, spiced up by an encounter with a pack of dolphins which swam besides us obliviously. The zip line experience at Lake Eland Game reserve; dubbed the longest zip line tour in Africa at 4.5 kilometres, should not be missed by anyone either. While the experience can be nerve wrecking, it is exciting and adventurous as well. The 4.5 kilometre across the magnificent Oribi Gorge enables one to soar over 300 metres, providing breathtaking views and fun-filled adventure while challenging yourself and taking memories with you.
Culture and history
It is no doubt; South Africa has under her belt, one of the most interesting histories among her peers in Southern Africa. Kwa Zulu Natal also has its fair share in this beautiful history. Being the land of the great Zulu Kingdom, Kwazulu Natal offers this to travelers through various platforms. In the cultural side there are cultural villages and tours. Phezulu Safari Park - a few kilometres outside Durban - offers a cultural dancing show and a Zulu Cultural Village. Zulu dancers from the Kasa clan from the nearby Kwanuswa village entertain and offer Zulu history and background information.
The political side of the history is also as intriguing as the cultural aspect. It is perhaps interesting to note that it is in Kwazulu Natal where Nelson Mandela was arrested and where he would later cast his first vote. This one fact is by far the most understated piece of history yet powerful. The Inanda Heritage Route is literally an embodiment of South Africa’s pre-democracy times in Kwazulu Natal. It is route heading down out of Durban with heritage sites along its way. Starting with the ancestral home of Pixley Seme - the founder of ANC and the publisher of ANC newspaper Abantu-Batho – it ends at the Phoenix settlement, founded by Gandhi, an important site of resistance during Apartheid. Activists including Mandela came over to Phoniex for political education during apartheid era.
To date Gandhi’s house Sarvodaya, printing press building and the Phoenix interpretation centre all form part of the settlement. The Zulu Christian School, the Inanda Seminary for girls, shembe settlements, the Ohlange Institute, founded by John Dube, the first president of the ANC and where Nelson Mandela cast his first vote in 1994, are all found in this route. The wooden ballot box that received Mandela’s golden vote is displayed in Ohlange Institute to this day. Although in my mind, I had expected an excursion to Kwazulu Natal or Durban in particular to be a week long experience of basking in swimwear next to the beach, after my experience everything has changed and I am already planning my return.