Best for: Leisure diving and wrecks
Dive sites: Wrecks - The Odd, Ovington Court, Coopers Light, Fontao, T Barge and reefs – Harlequin, Number 1, Blood Reef.
Average water temperature: Summer 24deg C winter 21 deg C
Best time of the year: March to July
Dive centres: Durban Underwater World, Durban Undersea Club, Umhlanga Scuba.
One of the oldest and most established dive centres in KZN, Durban Underwater World offers diving along the KZN coast, but is one of only a few to offer dives right off Durban.
Dive sites depend strongly on weather conditions on the day, but you meet at Wilson’s Wharf in the morning for your day’s dive charter. We were spoiled by Shumwari Charters, which on day one took us to Number One for some exhilarating and pretty diving.
For those overseas visitors who are stunned by our wild beach launches, launching from Durban Harbour is more sedate and also takes you through the vibrant harbour and along the picturesque Durban coastline.
On the second day, a stand-out dive with relatively good 10 to 15m viz was T-Barge, off Glenashley, which makes for great pictures and was teeming with lion fish, crayfish, ghost shrimp, friendly batfish and a giant scorpion fish.
A braai on the boat after the dive is a great way to end the Durban experience. Kit can be organised through Underwater World, which is situated near uShaka Marine World.
Being a large seaside city, Durban offers accommodation across the board from backpackers to 5-star hotels.
Happy Hippo Backpackers Lodge: Ideally situated at the entrance to uShaka Marine World and a few minutes walk from the South Beach promenade, the Lodge is African-themed, colourful and comfortable.
Rooms vary from shared dormitories with clean and efficient communal bathrooms to twin and double en-suites.
There is a communal kitchen where you can prepare your own food and tea and coffee, but there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance. It also has a laundry and some great communal areas. On a good day – or night – The Globe bar on the rooftop provides great views of the city.
They do offer wifi, but it didn’t work very well while we were there, and they could do with more easily accessible plug points in the rooms.
Tours can be booked at the front desk.
Blue Waters Hotel: This recently renovated art deco hotel offers three- star comfort and is perfectly situated on North Beach with sweeping views of the Indian Ocean.
The en-suite rooms are large and offer air conditioning, tea and coffee making facilities, DSTV, mini fridge and free wifi. Some have private balconies.
The buffet breakfast in the Versailles Restaurant, which has panoramic views of the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium, Suncoast Casino and Entertainment Complex and the sea, is probably the best in town. You can also enjoy a la carte lunch or dinner in the restaurant of pizza and sushi in the Blue Dolphin Bar downstairs.
For all-year-round enjoyment the hotel also has an indoor pool.
Great value-for-money hotel for singles, couples or groups.
Durban Backpackers on the Beach: Situated between Durban and Umhlanga and just a stone’s throw from the beach, this is a very comfortable B&B establishment which offers backpackers dormitories, but also single, double and family rooms and self-catering apartments.
Rooms are cosy, including air conditioning, TV, bar fridge, en-suite bathrooms and balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean. Continental breakfast is served in the morning and the communal lounge/dining area offers a bar and coffee and tea making facilities.
It has a swimming pool and outside deck area with braai facilities. Free wifi.
Contact: Call 031 5621591
Restaurants we tried in Durban:
Neo Café: Just behind the Blue Waters Hotel, this is a laid-back Mozambique-style restaurant offering hearty Portuguese food at reasonable prices.The peri-peri chicken is a stand-out dish and the fish and seafood dishes never disappoint. Prego steak egg and chips with a jug of sangria is another favourite.
Locals come here to enjoy a meal and a game of rugby or soccer on the television and a local beer. Note the restaurant opens at 12 noon and is closed on Sundays.
Contact: Call 031 3322299
Surf Riders Café: Perched on South Beach near uShaka Marine World, the café may have a casual beach vibe, but the food is seriously top notch. On a good day breakfast here is spectacular – you can watch the world go by while enjoying some of the best poached-egg dishes and coffee in town.
Lunch is always busy as locals and visitors stream in for the delicious100% free-range burgers, hotdogs, wood-fired gourmet pizzas and seafood specials.
Early evening in summer is cocktail and house music time.
Contact: 071 3768684
Spiga D’Oro: A landmark of Durban’s famous Florida Road, Spiga (as it is fondly known) is the go-to casual Italian restaurant in town. The food is always consistently good and well priced and the service is friendly and efficient.
Open from breakfast until late, the menu offers all the classic favourites. We tried the Cannelloni Alla Marco (beef mince, bolognaise and gorgonzola sauce) which was very moreish along with a delicious Don Corleone pizza (meatballs, onions, feta, mozzarella and rocket.)
Contact: 031 3039511
Other rated activities:
Ushaka Marine World: You can easily spend a day or more at this world-class sea-themed entertainment park, which offers a beautiful aquarium, Wet ’n Wild fun water park, shops, restaurants, a beach, a rope adventure park, kids’ playground and daily dolphin and seal shows.
Opened in 2004, uShaka not only provides year-round entertainment, but is also actively involved with marine conservation. During holiday seasons, it also offers various entertainment options from special Christmas dolphin shows, to music and food festivals. Entrance price varies according to activities and seasons. Entrance to the Village Walk shopping and food area and the beach is free.
Contact: Call 031 3288000, website www.ushakamarineworld.co.za
Beachwood Mangrove Nature Reserve: Just 10 minutes outside the city, this piece of paradise lies between the M4 highway and the beach. The 76ha reserve boasts three protected mangrove species – black, red and white – as well as mudskippers, fiddler crabs, dwarf chameleon, mangrove kingfishers, sunbirds, dikkop, weavers and even Natal nightjar. We spotted a beautiful African flycatcher.
The reserve is accessed via boardwalks which keep visitors above the muddy swamp and tidal waters.
Bookings can be made through the Durban Green Hub (situated at Blue Lagoon) and a guide will accompany you to visit this special national monument.
Contact: 031 3038476 during office hours and weekends.
Woza eNanda Ohlange Trail: Considering we were in Durban over Nelson Mandela Day, it was a no brainer to do a tour which followed in this legendary man’s footsteps.
A great way to get a feel for township life, this trail starts at Ohlange Institute, home of first ANC President John Dube. You will visit the hall where Mandela cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic election and Dube’s grave where Mandela stated: “I have come to report Mr President, that South Africa is now free.”
The trail includes a storytelling experience and an urban walk.
iSithumba Valley of 1000 Hills Village Explorer Tour: An authentic tour of this rural Zulu village takes you to the iSithumba Adventure Centre where you meet your guide to the home of a spiritual healer to a walk along the beautiful Umgeni River and a traditional lunch at a local home.
You will hear fascinating stories about the area’s rich culture, heritage and way of life. The tour can be customised, depending on your time constraints, to also include a visit to a local tavern, mountain biking, horse riding or a picnic at the scenic Mqeku River.
Mfula Store: This famous landmark in the Valley of 1000 Hills is worth more than just a quick visit - it’s the perfect way to finish off your iSithumba experience. Accessed via some rather scary but majestic mountain passes, the little store is a haven of peace, quiet and total tranquility.
Nestled on the banks of the Umgeni River, the store was opened in 1947 as the first trading store in the remote area. The house that the founding family lived in has been lovingly restored and renovated to provide rustic accommodation for up to 16 people.
On arrival you are met by the friendly resident dogs that are happy to show you around, along with housekeeper Happiness. It is a self -catering facility, but if you bring your own supplies, she is happy to cook for you.
There is a lovely communal dining room and kitchen with all the basics. Linen can be provided for smaller groups, otherwise you need to take your own.
Sitting outside by the fire at night under the stars is heavenly, but if you’re there in winter it can get rather chilly, while summers are very hot.
Best for snorkeling
Tidal Tao night snorkel: You’ll be amazed by how many unusual marine creatures you’ll see around the Salt Rock seas during this unique two-hour adventure. Depending on the weather and tides you either snorkel in the rock pools or in the tidal pool with a knowledgeable guide who will show you some of the hidden gems of the sea.
You will likely see octopus, crab, shrimps, nudibranchs, sea urchins, slugs, unusual fish species and corals – all under torch and UV light which turns this underwater world into a magical landscape. Just wallowing in the water gazing at the stars is surreal.
Contact: Call 079 3070608 or visit www.tidaltao.com