There are few cities on Earth quite like Durban. I am not saying that because I am in any way biased. I am simply stating a fact. Durban is that magic place which has all the trappings of an international metropolitan hub and none of the press. It is as off grid as a city with 3 and a half million people can be. Basically, Durban is that band that nobody has heard about.
I have decided that there is not nearly enough personalized information about Durban lurking about the web. This is a city which has given the world Bunny-chow, bad rugby and arguably the greatest lounge music act ever (Kreme). We need to celebrate this paradoxical city more. It is my hope to do articles on parts of Durban, both known and unknown, to help travelers and locals alike enjoy this coastal beauty.
A friend once described living in Durban as being inside a GTA map. I understand that at the time this was borne out of his frustration but he had no idea how correct he was. Durban is very much a city designed by software developers in the mid 2000’s – diverse, colorful, full of hidden levels and bugs.
There is the bustling heart of the city; full of smells, grand architecture and beach-going vagrants. There are clean suburbs; antique edifices; old-world restaurants and algae-covered yachts. Do you want some drugs? We have those. Do you want a discounted mani-pedi? We have that too. Want to buy drugs from a mani-pedi salon? That can probably be arranged though this is getting pretty niche. The point is; our city is marvelous and weird in one complete hamper. You need to learn the cheat codes, figure out its hidden corners and only then will you get true joy out of it.
So what is Durban? In clinical terms it is a coastal city found in the province of Kwazulu Natal in South Africa. Its skyline is identified by the majestic arch of the Moses Mabhida stadium – named after the former head of the South African Communist Party. It cost 450 million dollars.
Durban is arguably the most multi-ethnic city in South Africa, if not Africa. A quick trip to a corner store could end with you hearing any of the following languages (breathes in deeply):
Zulu, Xhosa, English, Chewa, Hindi, Farsi, Urdu, Tamil, Shona, Mandarin, Yiddish, Afrikaans (both inland and other) and Portuguese.
As is evident from the above, Durban has a massive Indian population. Point of fact, it is the largest outside of India making us the go to place for great hospitality, spicy food and soft toilet paper. Here black, brown and white rub shoulders with each other in a spicy mix of sun, sand and terrible talk radio. Which brings me to the next point of discussion…
The beach. Ah yes, few coastal cities have beaches quite like ours. We are home to one of the cleanest and safest promenades in the world. In fact, favorable comparisons have been made between ours and Miami’s. Like Miami, we also have eighty-year-old men in speedo’s patrol the promenade on bicycles. These tend to come out during the afternoon and are dealt with by throwing lotto scratch cards in the opposite direction of your escape. The surf here is tremendous and there is no shortage of beach-going activities for those with a day or two to spare. Take a trip to the highest waterslide in the Southern Hemisphere at uShaka Marine World, sous vie your body under the unforgiving African sun or just drop an ice cream off the back of a rickshaw; the possibilities are endless.
Not a fan of the beach? That is okay. We have this whole other world for you to explore called The Valley of a Thousand Hills. The name is more approximate than accurate. A quick trip up the hill will find you in beautiful Kloof and surrounds where everything is greener than Willie Nelsons lungs. Here in the cooler air you can sample some of Durbans best eateries, markets and outdoor living. Saturdays find half the bourgeoise world at the Shongweni Farmers market buying trendy food and homeopathic dog delousing oils. A little trip into the heart of Kloof will put you in some of the finest hiking territory you can imagine, with the added benefit of being able to grab a breakfast from a diner ten minutes away. Meet a lynx, take pictures with monkeys or just unfold your picnic in the absence of wasps. There are bees though. Loads of them. Keep a Fanta out as a sacrifice.
There is more. There is so much more. The point is Durban is arguably the only city on Earth where ten minutes behind a steering wheel puts you in a completely new biome. You can shop, surf, hike, camp, eat and play all within a temperate climate and welcoming embrace. Durban’s relaxed atmosphere belies the energy of the city. It is this city which I hope to explore more. Even as a resident I keep finding new layers to my home.
What a damn privilege.