South Africa boasts a 2 500km-long coastline, stretching all the way from Namibia's border on the Atlantic, to the tip of Mozambique on the Indian Ocean side.
Considering this, it's understandable that come summer, many South African and international holiday-makers hug the shores for their place in the sun.
A definite hot-spot along SA's shores is the piping hot East Coast hub of Durban. Known for its luke-warm seas, hot locals and flaming food, Durbs will be as popular an attraction as ever this summer again, no doubt.
And with 6200 if News24's readers indicating that they'll be making their way to the coast this holiday season, it's best you get schooled on where what and how to make the best of your Durban beach holiday this summer.
Here's what you need to know:
Alerts & Info – Summer safety
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) urges the public to be extra cautious around water and around the coast every year during the festive season. This year, things will be no different, especially considering drowning is the second highest cause of accidental deaths among South Africans between the age of 5 and 24 years.
Particularly during full moons and new moons, spring tides that cause stronger than normal rip currents are a big risk factor around the coasts.
Rip tides and strong currents
Watch out for currents. If you stick to the lifeguard zone, you should be pretty safe, but still keep your eyes peeled for choppy water, a clear pull away from the beach, or a distinct difference in the water's colour. All of these could be signs of rip currents. Also, if you do suddenly feel a strong pull while wading out, rather change course and do not go deep enough to be swept off your feet.
If you do get swept out, resist the urge to panic. Stay as calm as you can, keep your head above water, breathe and signal for help by raising your arm. The current will slow down as it gets further out. Simply swim parallel to the beach and then use the waves on either side of the rip to help you get back in to the beach. If you get tired, try floating on your back.
Beach safety tips from the NSRI's WaterWise program
Stick to swimming between the lifeguards' flags. And if they blow their whistles, wave or try to attract your attention, just listen to them for crying out loud!
Never take your eyes off your children if they are playing in the water.
Don't dive head-first, especially in the shallows. While you may think it's safe, you never know if there may be a sneaky sandbank lurking around.
Keep an eye out for critters. Avoid swimming if you see an abundance of washed-up bluebottles on the beach. Their stings are seriously painful. If you do get stung, be sure to remove what remains of the stinger with soft fabric, a tweezer or a gloved hand and wash down with cool, clean water.
Never turn your back on the sea, especially when exploring rock pools.
Never swim alone
Never swim under the influence of alcohol
Sharks are very prevalent in the oceans around South Africa, but excellent structures are in place to prevent any incidents that may be damaging to humans or sharks.
Along most of the popular beaches, shark nets deployed by the Kwazulu-Natal Sharks Board, are in place to form a protective barrier for both humans and sharks. The nets are laid in two parallel rows approximately 400 m offshore and in water depths of 10 to 14 metres.
Shark nets do not form a complete barrier and sharks can swim over, under or around the ends of the nets. Their function is to reduce shark numbers in the vicinity of protected beaches, thereby lowering the probability of encounters between sharks and people at those beaches.
Beach-goers should, however, remain conscious of sharks when swimming in the ocean, where we are mere visitors.
SEE: 'It went right past my nose' - Durban Great White shark attack survivor tells his story
Durban's most popular beaches
Now that you have safety under the belt, you're free to have a good time. But be advised: most beaches forbid the use of alcohol - to ensure beach-goers' safety and curb pollution.
Unless you're heading to the secret beaches (see below) with your own picnic pack, be sure to stick to the rules of the official Blue Flag Beaches of Durban and surrounds.
Blue Flag Beaches are beaches that meet the national standards for accessibility, facilities and amenities, safety (lifeguards), cleanliness and responsibility towards the environment. The Blue Flag beaches also always forbid the use of alcohol on the beach, unless the local municipalities state otherwise.
In and around Durban, the nine official Blue Flag Beaches for the 2016/2017 season are:
Navigate your way through Durbs to the most popular beaches using our handy map:
Durban's Specialised beaches
Nothing is as relaxing as having a beach day - lounging away in the sun for the whole day... But five consecutive days of lounging can get a bit boring, let's be honest. If you're after some activity, here are our favourite beach activities to do this summer.
Durban is all the heat during summer, and the parties on this side of the world are hottest.
Auqafest is case in point. It's a strictly over 18 beach party, with some of SA best DJs showing off their skills while party-goers dance the night away. Simply a must-do if you're a party-lover in Durbs this summer.
New Beach, where Aquafest is held, is a great party beach on any given day and night in Durban, actually. As is Casaurina Beach, home of Beach Bums International - a relaxed and vibey party location any day during summer.
Diving, fishing and snorkelling beaches
Sodwana Bay Beach with its rock pools to one side and a sweeping bay to the other, is the preferred destination of deep-sea fishermen, scuba divers, snorkelling fans and swimmers.
Want to swim with sharks? Of course you want to! The Aliwal Shoal is rocky reef which is the remains of an ancient sand dune approximately 5km off the coast of KZN. The reef is a gold mine of marine life for scuba divers and snorkelers and has been internationally recognised as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.
Close to Aliwal Shoal the old harbour town of Umkomaas is another adventure hub. It's not a beach per se - the town rests beside the mouth of the navigable uMkhomazi River, which makes it the perfect spot for canoeing up the river estuary to spot birds and other wild- and marine life. Umkomaas is also a fishing hotspot, so pack your fishing rod.
ALSO READ: Road trip coast/diving
Not all beaches are pup-friendly in Durban, unfortunately. But don't fret, there are places where your pawed pal can enjoy the summer vibe too.
These are the beaches where dogs are allowed:
Tiffany's Beach, Salt Rock
La Mercy Beach (dogs can run free, without a leash)
NOTE: The Durban Beachfront Promenade, a lovely 6 km paved walkway, is also very dog-friendly. Pups must be on leashes, though.
Durban and the surrounding KZN coastal areas are renowned SA surfing hotspots, playing host to one of the world's longest running surfing contests - The Ballito Pro. If you're after some world-class waves, head to Ballito's Willard Beach.
Umdloti Beach might not be the first place that comes to mind for surfers, but the open section to the right of the lagoon is great for catching some easy waves.
And if you're after more vibey surfing, Umhlanga Rocks is the obvious answer, along with the Blue Flag Beach Lucien.
Speaking of obvious, you simply cannot visit Durban and not catch some of the city's waves. The long stretches sand, along with the epic East Coast waves epitomise the Golden Mile - and you shouldn't leave without testing the waters.
READ: A South African traveller’s perspective: What surfing can teach you about life
If you're looking for some family fun with the little ones this holiday season, you've got you covered. Just make sure you pack enough sunblock to cover the kids!
Margate beach is close to restaurants and a safe pool where lifeguards are on duty, making it our top choice for Durbs.
The other obvious choice is Lucien, a popular family beach where lifeguards are on duty throughout the year. There is an adjacent tidal pool, making it great for kids.
For something quieter, Marina Beach, located between San Lameer and Southbroom, is a Blue Flag haven with a tidal pool and ideal swimming conditions.
Do you have a different favourite? Share your beach secrets with us at email@example.com
Secret beaches of Durban and surrounds
Crowded beaches are fun and vibey, but it can get tiring to have to share your umbrella shade with the masses.
If you're after a more secluded South Coast beach experience, there are a few secret spots the locals don't want you to know about... HAVE YOU SEEN: Shhh! 7 Secret South Coast beaches
And if you're up for a bit of a drive, the surrounding Wild Coast and Sunshine Coast host some of our very favourite beaches in the country!
Hole in the Wall in Coffee Bay on the edge of the Wild Coast is a must-see.
The beach here is a pebbled one, overlooking the massive Hole-in-the-Wall landmark. When you swim to and through the gigantic cavity in the island mountain you’ll find yourself completely alone overlooking the Indian ocean.
SEE: 7 Secret beaches on the Wild Coast
Towards the more northern side of Durban, the St Lucia Beaches are secluded, protected and outright pristine. Add to those unspoilt beaches the warm Indian Ocean currents and you have yourself a summer paradise!
What to read next on Traveller24:
- Shhh! 7 Secret South Coast beaches
- 7 Secret beaches on the Wild Coast
- Beaches 101: The ultimate summer guide to Cape Town