A Durban Staycation
By Nicole Ashe
It’s that time of the year when everyone goes on holiday, usually to far off places in aeroplanes, requiring hours of travel, to countries where our Rand will leave you weak at the knees. No thank you! I’m staying put this festive season to enjoy my fabulous hometown – and I want you to know how awesome it is too.
So I explored my city recently, as part of a fun Durban Staycation in collaboration with Protea Hotels by Marriott to experience and showcase some of its delightful sights, sounds & tastes.
Over one weekend I managed to pack in a whole whack of exciting adventures, including eating out, outdoor sightseeing and walks, some great city attractions that aren’t a tourist trap and plenty of incredible scenery – we really are spoiled for choice between beach and bush in Durban. Feel free to take your time when you visit though – I’d recommend at least a week in Durban to really get into the laid-back vibe of the city.
If you’re planning a SA staycation soon, don’t miss the special offer available from Protea Hotels by Marriott, running until the end of January 2018 – details are at the end of this post.
So what can you expect from a typical Durban holiday?
Here’s my itinerary, with a few suggestions along the way:
I started off exploring Umhlanga, 10 minutes North of Durban Central and stayed at the newly revamped Protea by Marriott Durban Umhlanga Hotel, which is located in Umhlanga Village. It’s walking distance to pretty much everything you need while on holiday – the beach, food and drinking experiences, shopping and so much to see. This area has boomed with development over the last few years and is home to numerous hotels, restaurants, stores and malls, so you really are in the heart of it if you stay in Umhlanga.
I tend to stay away from the very big malls, preferring to support smaller, local stores, but you have The Pearls Mall, Umhlanga Centre, Granada Square, Gateway, Cornubia and La Lucia Mall all within a 5 minute drive of Umhlanga, so if shopping is your thing, you’ll be in heaven!
Instead, I hit the Umhlanga Promenade which stretches a couple kilometres alongside the coast with direct access to the beach – a real hive of activity most of the day, filled with walkers and runners – especially in Summer. The views on a clear day are magnificent and you can see all the way to Durban’s Harbour in the South, and to Umdloti in the North. The Promenade is also where you’ll find the iconic Whalebone Pier, which stretches 80 metres into the Indian Ocean.
An excerpt from CNN describes this landmark:
“This pier isn’t just a place to grab a great photo — it’s an extension of an underground culvert that helps disperse excess stormwater from the land into the ocean. The distinctive whalebone structure won the South African National Award for Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement.”
That worked up an appetite, so we headed back to the Village which you can walk on foot and attempted to choose from myriad restaurants and numerous cuisines, including Greek, Italian, Mediterranean, American and Spanish. While we decided where to eat, I grabbed a ‘coffee in a cone’ from Vovo Telo – a novel idea which fails to impress though – the amount of coffee you find inside it is minuscule and the cone was stale – but it made a great insta pic!
I’m a sucker for tapas, so we started at Pintxada for snacks and a sundowner – a great vibey place with a fabulous interior. We carried on the weekend vibe with gin cocktails at Europa, which features an extensive menu of local and international gins and we could pretty much have bar hopped our way down the road from there. Both 14 on Chartwell and The George nearby are popular drinking spots, which stay open until late. If you’re in a shopping mood though, there’s a fab little gift store situated right next to the hotel entrance called Catalyst, which stocks only South African designed and made products – and they stay open until 8pm daily.
After a refresh at the hotel, we walked across from the Village to the front of The Pearls Mall, to new restaurant Fish & Wine Co, owned by the same crew of Willoughby’s fame. The seafood is outstanding and what can possibly beat eating fresh oysters au naturel on a verandah with a sea view? We finished off a busy day with a sneaky Rocky Road ice cream from Mozart on the walk home – and rolled into our king-sized bed, tummies full after only having discovered about a quarter of what Umhlanga Village has to offer the foodie.
With the weather a little damp and grey, it was the perfect opportunity to seek out a delicious coffee. There are a few options down in the Village, but we started our caffeine kickstart at African Roots, a small coffee shop serving an exclusive range of premium 100% African Arabica coffees.
As soon as the rain cleared we headed to Hawaan Forest for a quick trail walk to the beach – a series of wooden walkways perched precariously above wet marshes, which lead to a clearing and the crashing Indian Ocean, with other paths taking you on an adventure through the forest. Please note though, that this walk should only be done during daylight hours and with 2 or more people – not recommended for solo travellers.
Old Town Italy was the favourite choice for brunch with a sneaky sweet treat or two, before we headed into Durban and down to the beach, for a walk along The Golden Mile. This Promenade runs alongside our famous beach breaks, culminating in the Moyo Pier with a view toward the Bluff and the entrance to Durban Harbour. You can walk, run, cycle or skate along this Promenade and a round trip along its entirety covers over 10km – hiring a bike is one of the best ways to discover it. Most of the beaches have designated swimming areas and eateries along the way, but you’ll also find locals picnicking on the grassy areas on the route. You’ll also get a fantastic view of the Moses Mabhida Stadium and be able to walk on at least 4 piers to get an amazing view back at the city skyline and into the ocean. We chose to have a late lunch after an action-packed day and washed it down with decadent shakes and delicious poké bowls at Surf Riders Cafe right on the promenade overlooking the ocean.
Our last day started with a drive to the Station Drive Precinct, a hub of Durban creativity and home to a Sunday weekly food market, The Morning Trade. During the week you’ll find some of the city’s best local artisans in this precinct and a walk around the vibey area presents you with loads of photo opportunities, as various graffiti artists including Resoborg and Damn Vandal, have been commissioned to bring the precinct walls to life with colorful murals. If you visit during the week, make sure to make a stop at Durban’s award-winning Distillery 031 and for the best burger in town head to S43, who also brew their own craft beer.
A sunny Durban day called for a trip to the beach for another stroll on the promenade – when the weather is good in Durbs, you cannot beat our beachfront for a walk on the beach or a dip in the sea. Get there early enough and you’ll be able to watch a sunrise and perhaps catch an early morning worshiper praising its rising. You’ll also be able to catch a few waves if that’s your vibe.
Build up an appetite and then head to Afro’s, the city’s favourite chicken shop located on South Beach. This location was its first iteration and it sits inside a beach-chic yellow container with an undercover shack to stave off the heat – it even comes with built-in showers for the surfers and racks for their boards. But what the people flock here for is the chicken and ‘tjips’ – a better flavour I’ve yet to find!
With clear skies above, we had to take a trip up in the sky car to the top of Moses Mabhida Stadium – one of the highlights of our beautiful city. For just R60 you get a 360-degree bird’s eye view of Durban, from its beaches, city skyline and harbour, to the sweeping hills of the Berea, Morningside and north toward Umhlanga. Such a fun activity and a great way to see the city.
And lastly, just to end on a sweet note, we tried the waffle cones and ice cream tacos from Plan B Dessertery in Durban North – a sugar coma inducing concoction that currently has Durban queuing for more. (At the time of our stay they were also setting up to open a branch right outside the Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Umhlanga!)
Cannot believe I fit all that into one weekend!
We really are so lucky to have such an amazing array of sights, flavours and activities in Durban and it’s the perfect city for a South African Staycation! Thank you to Protea Hotels by Marriott for the wonderful opportunity to be a tourist in my own city – I love it even more now!