If Johannesburg has a business culture and Cape Town has a culture culture, Durban has a beach culture. Even the high-rise offices look out over the Indian Ocean, and busy executives hang up their suits and ties, slip into shorts, and jog along the beachfront at lunchtime. Many keep a surfboard in their cars and catch a quick wave before or after work (or both).
The Durban beachfront is a cultural experience. Here you will find holidaying families, young surfer brats (grommets), Indian ladies elegantly walking the sand in flowing silken saris, traditional healers collecting bottles of seawater to use as muti (medicine) and young girls strutting their stuff in the skimpiest of bikinis. Somehow it all works in one, pretty weird, decidedly heterogeneous whole.
The sea really does play an important part – there are two yacht clubs and one very big commercial harbour. The Bat Centre, Durban’s most interesting cultural venue, overlooks the small boat harbour where stubby-nosed tugs come to rest after a hard morning pushing tankers around. You can also lunch virtually in the shadow of huge container ships and cruise liners as they enter the harbour through the narrow entrance in front of the Bluff.
Shopping is a special experience in Durban – the eastern influence of the enormous Indian population adds a touch of spice, literally and figuratively. You can explore the Indian Market, the Markets of Warwick, which feature nine distinct markets, or just wander down Grey Street, where you’ll find all kinds of interesting little shops.
At the beachfront itself, you will find wonderful examples of traditional beadwork and basketry for sale at incredibly low prices. For something more upmarket, and very interesting, you just have to see the Gateway Shopping Centre. It’s so much more than your average mall. It has a climbing wall and an enormous artificial standing wave – the first artificial double-point break in the world.
Of course, Durban is really about surf. Another fun thing to do is to paddle out on a sea kayak, or even do a short, gentle white water trip on the nearby Umgeni River.
Some of the hardest climbs in South Africa are at the Wave Cave at Shongweni, near Durban, and there are some fun bolted routes in the Kloof Gorge. The highest swing is the world, Big Rush, can be found at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
The diving just south of the city is great. In winter and early spring, migratory ragged tooth sharks (Carcharias tauras) are in residence at Aliwal Shoal, and can be visited on a specially organised dive. But there are also a lot of coral-encrusted rock reefs with pretty tropical fish for the less intrepid. For the hardcore diver, Protea Banks is a must.
Source: South African Tourism