In Mercer’s 2017 Quality of Living Survey, Durban came out tops in South Africa. Ranked 83rd for best quality of living, followed by Cape Town and Johannesburg with 94 and 95 respectively, many South Africans (myself included) were surprised.
A son of KwaZulu-Natal, I have fond childhood memories of trips to sun-kissed Durban. A decade later, I was about to revisit this City of Summer, having now lived in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. I had to see for myself what Durban had on her bigger sister cities.
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Chances are you’ll be arriving in the evening, so best head straight to your hotel, check-in, and take that shower you’ve been thinking of on the flight - or the dream bath you’ve been longing for if you’re from drought-stricken Cape Town. With a range of accommodation options to choose from, I wanted something fairly central to both town and beach, and with a little luxury thrown in.
The Hilton is an iconic Durban hotel, with both a prominent position in the city’s skyline and hospitality scene. A recent upgrade has ensured that the Hilton delivers on five-star expectations. The word ‘warm’ has become synonymous with Durban, and this certainly extends to the staff. After a day, I was on a first name basis with the team and relished the chance to practice my rather rusty Zulu.
Request a room on a higher floor as the views are astounding, and if you have sea-facing room, the ocean sunrise is something worth waking for. After that shower, head down to The Big Easy, at the bistro-style grill house. The eatery is the hotel’s in-house dining option and the brainchild of local golfing legend Ernie Els. There’s an impressive wine list, but go easy, there’s a whole weekend ahead!
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The best way to begin an exploration of Durban is with it’s cultural history. Despite being native to the area, I was deeply moved by my morning on the Inanda Heritage Route, a collection of heritage hot-spots not far from the city. I began with a visit to Gandhi's home, now a restored museum. Here, you’re not only invited into the man’s home, but also his humble and significant life. Bongani is the informed local guide, who sensitively guides you through the museum complex.
My second stop on the route was the Ohlange Institute, where guide Mandla introduced me to the home of first ANC President John Dube, a remarkable academic, author, speaker and much more. The location is also where Mandela cast his vote in the first democratic elections. Both locations are free to visit and whilst there’s minimal signposting they are well worth the visit.
After an heart-warmingly educational morning, it was time to clear the head and take the opportunity to put my feet in the water. The city’s famed ‘Golden Mile’ is a mere five-minute walk from the hotel. You can join the throngs of other walkers and runners or simply soak up the sun and take a dip in the famously warm ocean. (Remember to bring a towel) If you’re keen to ‘hang out’ with the locals, end the evening at The Jazz Joint for shish inyama (braai), and house music.
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Since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Moses Mabhida Stadium has been a prominent landmark of the Durban cityscape. The Skycar takes you up to the top of the stadium for astounding 360° views, and if you’re brave enough try out the 220m Big Swing: the tallest swing in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
It may seem a little crazy to visit South Africa’s favourite summer-city, and then choose to spend an hour or two in an icy environment, but a visit to Ice Arena is a total blast. A recent upgrade means a larger and more classy ice rink, and whether you’re a novice or an ice-whizz, there’s fun to be had for all ages.
The last day in Durban calls for some outdoor action, and where better than uShaka Marine World, one of Durban’s key attractions. Reclaim your inner child in the water park, treat yourself to some retail therapy at the Village Walk, and of course, marvel at Africa’s largest aquarium Sea World.
Before flying out I decided on indulging in a dose of decadence with High Tea at The Oyster Box. The luxurious, sunlit spaces of the hotel are a sensory encounter, and a mere walk through the hotel is an experience in itself. Throw yourself at the savouries, cakes, and yes, even samosas and chilli bites. You may overload on calories, but you’ll leave Durban lighter, with a happy heart and tummy.
Yes, #durbanhasmore, and a long weekend is only a starter, but this magnificent city has much more to serve. No doubt I’ll return very soon.
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