Located on the east coast of South Africa, Durban is Kwazulu-Natal’s largest city and features golden beaches and warm waters that stretch along the city’s coastal boundary from Durban harbour in the south to the upmarket suburb of Umhlanga in the north.
Characterised by a mild subtropical climate, Durban enjoys an average of 320 days of sunshine per annum, making it the ideal choice for visitors seeking a summer holiday – all year round. The time difference is GMT +2.
Durban has a population (including surrounding municipalities) of approximately 3.5 million, making it the third most populous city in South Africa. The metropolitan land area of 2,292km2 (885mi2) is comparatively larger than other South African cities, resulting in a lower population density of 1,513/km2 (3,920/mi2).
Durban is an industrial centre, a major seaport, and a year-round resort. Industries include sugar refining, shipbuilding and ship repairing, petroleum refining, fishing, automobile assembly, and the manufacture of food products, paint, chemicals, fertilizers, soap, footwear, and textiles.
The city boasts two main centres for tertiary education: The University of KwaZulu Natal, and the Durban University of Technology.
Consistently warm weather encourages visitors to make the most Durban’s outdoor lifestyle. The city is situated in a summer rainfall area where the climate ranges from hot and humid in the summer months (November– March, average 30°C/86°F), to more moderate and dry conditions during the short winter (June-August, ranging from 16-25°C/61°F-77°F).
Highest rainfall occurs from spring (October) to autumn (April). Durban has an annual rainfall of 1,009 millimetres. In December, tropical afternoon thunderstorms bring relief to the heat.
The annual mean sea temperature is 22.2 °C (71.9 °F).
Adventure and outdoor activities distinguish this laid-back city, with a multitude of water options available including deep sea fishing, diving, dolphin viewing, boat cruises, jet skiing and shark cage-diving. For those who like to keep their feet on solid ground, Durban offers hiking, mountain biking, game viewing and shopping in world class malls.
A paved esplanade – the popular “Golden Mile”, extends about six kilometres from Blue Lagoon to Addington Beach and Durban Harbour. Along the way, visitors and locals alike enjoy the sea air as they move from Ushaka Aquarium (a must-see) to Durban’s North Beach, once the site of the famed Gunston 500 surfing competition, and beyond. Walkers, joggers, cyclists, surfers and body boarders enjoy daily exercise along this well-secured promenade.
Remnants of British colonialism and a mix of Zulu, Indian and Afrikaans traditions give the city a rich cultural diversity. English is widely spoken and is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa. In KwaZulu-Natal the dominant language is isiZulu, followed by English and Afrikaans.
South African cuisine is an earthy combination of African, European, Indian and Malay influences and classic South African dishes exhibit a blend of flavours, drawing inspiration from the various nationalities that have infused their character into the food.
Archaeological evidence from the Drakensberg mountains suggests that the Durban area had been inhabited by communities of hunter-gatherers since 100,000 BC. These people lived throughout the area of present-day KwaZulu-Natal until the expansion of Bantu farmers and pastoralists from the north saw their gradual displacement, incorporation or extermination.
Little is known about the first residents of the area around Durban as there is no written history of the area before it was “discovered” by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in December 1497, when he sailed parallel to the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Da Gama called the bay “Natal”, the Portuguese word for Christmas.
Very little activity took place in Durban until 1842 when the British Lieutenant FG Farewell arrived from the Cape Colony with a group of men and established a small settlement. The adventurer Henry Flynn accompanied Farewell and famously befriended Shaka, King of the Zulus, by helping him to recover from a battle wound. Shake gave Flynn a 25-mile piece of the coastline in thanks. In 1835, it was decided to build a capital which was named “Durban” after the Cape Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban.
The Afrikaans Voortrekers, who had travelled eastwards from the Cape, established the republic of Natalia in 1838, making the town of Pietermaritzburg the capital. The Voortrekkers had many conflicts with the Zulus and British settlers before being forced to accept British rule in 1844.
Durban has a strong association with India. The sugar cane industry was established in Durban with the British importing thousands of indentured labourers from India to work in the fields. In fact, it was here that Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi first embarked on his career as a political and social activist. People of Indian descent now make up 40% of the city’s population.
Most international visitors will find their way to Durban through one of two main routes. The city is situated two hours’ flight from Cape Town International (www.capetown-airport.com)and an hour from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport (www.acsa.co.za/airports/or-tambo-international). Airport taxes are included in flight tickets.
Local flights land at King Shaka International Airport (www.kingshakainternational.co.za), situated a 30-minute drive north of Durban’s city centre. Various shuttle buses and taxi services are available, and there are a number of car hire companies to choose from should you wish to make your own way.
Durban has an excellent highway and road system, and car hire companies are readily available at the airport and through most major hotels.
The minimum permissible driving age in South Africa is 18 years. If you wish to hire a car, however, the minimum age is 23 years, and you must have a licence valid for 5 years. A valid national driving licence is acceptable if it is written in English, and contains the driver’s photo. If not in English, then the driver will have to obtain an International Driving Licence before he/she is allowed to hire and drive a car in the country.
In South Africa, cars are right-hand drive and drive on the left-hand side of the road. Keep left and pass right is an important rule. The speed limit is 120 km per hour (75 mph) on open roads, 100 km per hour (62 mph) on minor roads, and 60 to 80 km per hour (37 to 50 mph) in urban areas. The wearing of seat belts is compulsory.