The timeline of human habitation in Durban goes back to long before the advent of recorded history in the region. While some of the earliest remnants of humanity are found in the nearby Drakensberg, it is now established that prior to the arrival of the Nguni people and subsequent European colonialists, the area was populated by the original people of Southern Africa, now collectively called the Khoi/San. Then, several thousand years later, on Christmas day in 1497, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama passed the mouth of Durban Bay and promptly named it Rio de Natal (Christmas River), presuming that several rivers flowed into the bay.

Back then, before the intrusive advent of industrialisation, the bay was separated from the sea by a sandbar, where crocodiles, hippopotamuses and flamingoes spent their days in the vast waters of the bay while its swampy edges were densely populated with mangroves. Beyond the bay lay a ridge of hills which was home to elephants, hyenas and lions until about a century ago, and now houses Durban’s suburbs.

Over the subsequent years, Rio de Natal came to be a popular stop-off point for explorers and traders, mainly because the bay offered one of the few protected anchorages on the southern coast of Africa.

In 1823, the first European settlement arrived on the vessel the Salisbury under the command of Lieutenant James King with the aim of trading up and down the South African coast. While inclement weather forced the Salisbury to shelter in the roadstead off Durban, her accompanying ship, the Julia, sailed over the sandbar and surveyed the bay.

King immediately recognised the importance of the bay and returned to England to try and garner support for an English settlement. Despite his efforts he was unsuccessful, and so he returned to Port Natal as it had come to be called by the Europeans.

King befriended King Shaka Zulu who granted him land around the bay, and sent him to England with two of his chiefs. But the party got no further than Port Elizabeth and King returned to Port Natal once more, moving to the Bluff across the bay, where he died of dysentery in 1828. This rough, uncertain life frequently had lethal results and at one point the number of settlers at the bay was no more than six.

At a meeting in 1835, attended by the full complement of settlers at the time, 15 in total, a town was proclaimed, and named in honour of the Governor of the Cape, Sir Benjamin D’Urban.

Despite initially grandiose plans, little development took place in the early settlement. Dwellings were of rudimentary mud and wattle nestled in the coastal bush, and a full 12 years after the proclamation, there were still no streets in the settlement.

Although the settlers maintained cordial relations with the powerful founder of the Zulu nation to their north, matters changed for the worse when his successor Dingane took over. Dingane showed open animosity and aggression, while Shaka instructed his citizens to live in peace with the white settlers. Natal was regarded by the Zulus as their own territory and they tolerated the white settlers, whose trading habits had become useful to them.

In 1838 the Voortrekkers arrived from the Eastern Cape, already having laid claim to the territory, despite the fact that several columns of wagons had been massacred by the Zulus along the way. Later that year at the battle of Ndondakusuka, a number of British traders lost their lives, along with hundreds of Zulus, and were forced to flee. The British sent a force in 1842 to maintain order in the area, and were promptly besieged by the Voortrekkers. It fell to Dick King and his Zulu servant Ndongeni to ride to the British Garrison in Grahamstown to get help.

King earned a legendary place in local history by riding the 960 kilometres in 10 days, past the Voortrekkers and through wild, uncharted territory, crossing more than 120 rivers. A month later the besieged British were relieved.

In 1844, the British annexed the southern portion of Natal to their already existing Cape Colony. This annexe was significantly boosted in the early 1850s, when several thousand settlers arrived courtesy of an Irishman named Byrne, who had once visited Durban, and who hoped to make money by shipping in settlers to this difficult paradise.

In 1860, finding the Zulus to be unco-operative labourers, the British imported the first of several thousand indentured labourers from British India to take up work in the sugar cane fields. Along with them came “passenger” Indians who were not indentured, and who were free to engage in business.

It took a young immigrant named George Cato to lay out the town properly with three main streets, each 100ft wide enough to turn a wagon and 16 oxen. This is the reason why city centre roads in South Africa are so wide.

In 1860, a railway linked the harbour with the small town, and within 30 years, it reached all the way to Johannesburg, as the town of Durban began to expand from the swampland to the cooler hills of the Berea. The discovery of gold was a major boost to the port, and the discovery of coal in Dundee resulted in many ships using the port for bunkering. The progress of the port led finally to the troublesome sandbar at the harbour entrance being removed. As a result of the increased use of the harbour, many marine-related industries such as ship building, stevedoring and chandling were established in Durban, along with a dry dock.

By 1900, the town had a sewerage system, hardened roads and water reticulation. The expansion of the railways also had the effect of attracting people from the Transvaal, who wished to vacation in the town. This established Durban as a major tourist destination, a position it retains over a century later.

During the frequent conflicts in the colony, Durban was also the major disembarkation point for British troops. In 1932, a number of satellite suburbs were incorporated into the town and in 1935, Durban was granted city status.

In the years after World War II, the history of Durban was defined largely by the implementation of apartheid, and the struggle for equal humanity that ensued. Today, this legacy has resulted in the construction of extensive shack settlements throughout the region. As the Group Areas Act got under way, the City Council decided to build more formal communities, and large townships were constructed to house African workers both north and south of Durban.

In 1994 South Africa had its first democratic election, which changed forever the tone and flavour of Durban. In 1996 Durban was further enlarged to become the Durban Metropolitan Region, or Durban Metro, by including large areas both north, south and west of the city. Four years later, a further expansion resulted in the inclusive Durban Unicity.

Durban, eThekweni in Zulu, is South Africa's third largest city and one of its leading vacation destinations, with many top attractions. It is also a haven for surfers. Long beaches lapped by the warm Indian Ocean, a mild subtropical climate, and excellent infrastructure lure tourists by the millions. Located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, this vibrant city can be reached by air within an hour from Johannesburg and two hours from Cape Town.

An important industrial center and port, the city owes its cosmopolitan air to its rich ethnic diversity forged from a turbulent history. Clashes between the British traders, who settled here in 1823; the Zulus, on whose tribal land Durban lies; and the Boers, played a part in shaping Durban's character.

Contract laborers who hailed from India in 1860 to work on the sugar plantations remained after their contracts expired, making Durban the largest population of Indians in South Africa. Mahatma Gandhi, who went to South Africa as a lawyer, developed his political views alongside Dr. John Dube, the first president of ANC, African National Congress, in Inanda Valley, 20 minutes north of Durban. It was here that Nelson Mandela cast his first vote in a democratic South Africa in 1994.

Experience Durban's rich multi-cultural heritage in the Zulu and Indian markets and culturally significant attractions, walk the beautifully manicured parks along the water, and taste delicious Indian influenced cuisine. 

1. Golden Mile

This bustling beachfront promenade is lined with high rise hotels, entertainment complexes, shops, and restaurants. The broad, golden beaches are a magnet for water sports enthusiasts who come here to surf, swim, fish, or just bask in the sunshine. Lifeguards and shark nets protect most of the beaches year round.

Along the busy oceanfront path, pedestrians jostle with joggers, cyclists, Segways, and skateboarders, making the area feel a little like California. Other highlights along this coastal stretch include uShaka Marine World and Moses Mabhida Stadium.

2. Durban Botanic Gardens

The Durban Botanic Gardens is the oldest surviving botanic garden in Africa. Set on the slopes of Berea Hill, northwest of the city center, the gardens were established in 1849 for the trial of agricultural crops. Today, visitors can stroll among the indigenous and exotic subtropical plantings, including majestic heritage trees, some of which are more than one hundred years old. The main plant collections include cycads, orchids, bromeliads, and palms, and visitors can also experience the Garden of the Senses. In addition to the rich plant biodiversity, at least fifty different species of birds are permanent residents of the gardens.

3. Indian Quarter

Encompassing the Victoria Street Market and Juma Masjid Mosque, the largest in the southern hemisphere, Durban's Indian Quarter is now a multicultural mix of sights, sounds, and exotic aromas. Chinese, Pakistani, Indian, and Somali street vendors haggle along the narrow pavements, selling everything from spices and saris to beaded sandals, incense, and intricate handmade jewelry. Savvy shoppers will find bargains here, and the restaurants boast some of the most authentic Indian cuisine in Durban.

4. Mitchell Park and Jameson Park

Mitchell Park, in the upmarket suburb of Morningside, is one of Durban's oldest parks. It is also popular for picnics and walks thanks to its shady lawns, mass plantings of colorful blooms, and wide wheelchair friendly paths. Children will love the playground, mini zoo, and walk through aviary, while those seeking a bite to eat can dine at the alfresco cafe. Adjoining Mitchell Park is Jameson Park, which displays more than 200 species of roses.

5. uShaka Marine World

uShaka Marine World, one of the main attractions on Durban's Golden Mile, is a water themed wonderland packed with attractions. Sea World, set on replicas of four shipwrecks, features the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere, where visitors can get up close to marine life through underground viewing galleries. Other attractions here include a Dolphin Stadium, Seal Stadium, and Penguin Rookery.

Wet 'n' Wild is an extravaganza of splash pools, slides, and super tubes, while uShaka Kids' World is a paradise for two to 12 year olds. Little ones will love the playgrounds, treasure cave, and creative activities here. After a fun day enjoying all the sea themed attractions, visitors can stroll among the outdoor shops and restaurants at Village Walk.

6. Moses Mabhida Stadium

Moses Mabhida Stadium is a world class sporting and event venue on Durban's Golden Mile. The stadium hosted eight of the FIFA World Cup Games in 2010. It provides a spectacular 360 degree view of Durban from the top of the stadium's arch. The Sky Car whisks visitors to the top, or they can climb the 500 steps.

Thrill seekers will love the 220 meter Big Rush Big Swing, the world's highest. Segway tours of the stadium are available, and visitors will also find a few restaurants on site, as well as shops selling sporting merchandise.

7. Valley of 1000 Hills & Phe-Zulu

Inland from the popular resort area of Umhlanga Rocks lies the Valley of 1,000 Hills, a beautiful region of gently rounded hills sprinkled with scenic viewpoints, Zulu homesteads, and gorges. The hills rise up along the banks of the Umgeni River as it flows into the Indian Ocean from the distant Drakensberg mountains.

The old road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg runs along the southern edge of the valley, an area with magnificent views. After passing Hillcrest and Botha's Hill, it comes to Phe-Zulu, a typical Zulu village where visitors can see traditional dance performances and witness the rituals of witch doctors.

PheZulu Safari Park has an abundance of animals that can be spotted, and a Crocodile and Snake park where visitors can go on a tour by knowledgeable guides. The park also offers accommodations.

8. Umhlanga Rocks

Umhlanga Rocks, 16 kilometers north of Durban, is a popular, upscale resort town. Long golden beaches, interrupted by rocky coast, stretch for 200 kilometers north of Durban to the beautiful Isimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing eight interlinking ecosystems; three major lake systems; and Africa's largest estuarine system, Lake St. Lucia.

In Umhlanga Rocks, water sports enthusiasts will find plenty of things to do. Surfing, deep-sea fishing, whale watching, dolphin viewing, scuba diving, and kiteboarding are some of the aquatic pursuits on offer. Shopping is also a favorite pastime. The Gateway Theatre of Shopping here is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. Other attractions in the region include championship golf courses, the KZN Sharks Board, nature reserves, and museums, including the former dwelling of Mahatma Gandhi.

9. Florida Road

Known for well preserved 100 year old Edwardian structures, Florida Road, stretching from Sandile Thusi Road to Innes Road, is a happening attraction in Durban. Lined with cafes, boutique stores, galleries, and eateries, the street comes alive after the sun sets with locals and tourists who come to eat, shop, and enjoy Durban's endless summer.

Art lovers can enjoy the African Art Centre, Elizabeth Gordon Gallery, and the Artisan Contemporary Gallery. This is the best place in the city to taste "Bunny Chow," a staple Indian Durban dish made with a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with savory curry.

Golden Mile
Golden Mile (popular surf location)
Durban Botanic Gardens
Indian Quarter
uShaka Marine World
uShaka Marine World
Moses Mabhida Stadium
Valley of 1000 Hills & Phe-Zulu
Valley of 1000 Hills & Phe-Zulu
Valley of 1000 Hills & Phe-Zulu
Umhlanga Rocks
Florida Road
Mitchell Park

Dramatically beautiful and surprisingly diverse, KwaZulu-Natal, in the northeast of the country, packs in many of South Africa's most popular attractions, despite its small size. Here, visitors can enjoy the World Heritage listed Drakensberg mountains with their jagged-backed peaks and spectacular scenery, Durban's golden beaches and surf breaks, a thriving Zulu culture, and exhilarating wildlife adventures.

KwaZulu-Natal is also home to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, the oldest game park in Africa, as well as pampering private game reserves, where lucky visitors might spot the Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino). Along the coast, nature lovers can explore the stunning scenery of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and dive the coral reefs of Sodwana Bay. 

1. The Drakensberg

The Drakensberg, from an Afrikaans word meaning "Dragon Mountains," is a place of breathtaking beauty and one of the most popular destinations in the country. Jagged-backed peaks rise above dense forests and deep valleys, and cascades feed clear mountain streams. This spectacular region includes uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with soaring basalt peaks that are some of the highest in the country and San (Bushmen) rock paintings, as well as Royal Natal National Park with the Amphitheatre, a five kilometer long rock wall with one of the world's second highest waterfall tumbling from above.

The 3,282 meter high Mont-aux-Sources rises beyond, and is the source for some of the nation's mighty rivers. Nearby, visitors can see herds of eland, bearded vultures, and superb Bushman rock paintings in Giant's Castle Game Reserve.

Another highlight of the region is Cathedral Peak with some of the region's most beautiful mountain scenery. This area is also home to the renowned Cathedral Peak Hotel, which has been pampering guests since 1939. Outdoor enthusiasts come to these velvety green mountains to fly fish for trout, hike and bike the wilderness trails, rock climb, abseil, and raft the mountain rivers.

To best appreciate the dramatic landscapes, visitors can soar over the area in a hot air balloon or take a scenic helicopter flight.

2. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Established in 1895, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, is the oldest game park in Africa and one of a few parks in KwaZulu-Natal where visitors can see the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Including the wildlife corridor connecting the two sections of the park, it covers more than 96,000 hectares and is famous for its rhino conservation effort, both black and white rhino are found here. The park lies deep in Zululand and was once the royal hunting grounds of King Shaka.

Today, the park offers a rewarding safari experience with an impressive diversity of flora and fauna and typically less crowds than Kruger National Park. The Hluhluwe section in the park's north is mountainous, while the iMfolozi section reveals sprawling savannah with taller trees along the riverbanks.

In addition to the Big Five, wild dog, cheetah, zebra, blue wildebeest, hippo, hyena, and more than 300 species of birds are among the animals that make their home here. The best game viewing is in the cooler and drier winter months from May through October, however the summer brings lush growth and newborn animals. Guests can opt to stay within the park in modest chalets, safari tents, and a range of lodges. More lodging options are available just outside the park.

3. iSimangaliso Wetland Park

About 250 kilometers from Durban, World Heritage-listed iSimangaliso Wetland Park, formerly the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, protects the largest estuarine system in Africa. iSimangaliso means "miracle and wonder" in Zulu, and the name is fitting for this beautiful biodiverse park. The eight interconnected ecosystems here include coral reefs, crocodile filled rivers, lakes, swamplands, savanna, and coastal dunes.

Thanks to this diversity of habitats, wildlife is abundant and varied. All in one day, visitors can snorkel, dive, or kayak along coral reefs, where leatherback and loggerhead turtles swim; spot an incredible array of birds; and see leopard, buffalo, zebra, and rhino on a game drive. The park is also home to the highest concentration of crocodiles and hippos in Africa.

Also in the park, secluded Kosi Bay offers empty seascapes of sun-bleached shores and shimmering lagoons. The area is also known for its traditional fishing techniques, fish are trapped here in woven baskets.

4. Sodwana Bay National Park 

On the Elephant Coast, Sodwana Bay National Park is one of South Africa's best diving destinations. Part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the reserve lies on the shores of the Indian Ocean with South Africa's southernmost coral reefs shimmering just offshore with schools of colorful fish. Divers can see caves, pinnacles, and both hard and soft corals, as well as an incredible array of aquatic life, including lionfish, crayfish, moray eels, rays, and many species of sharks.

Whale sharks also swim these waters. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest on the beaches here, and nature lovers can join turtle tours to see them in season. Apart from SCUBA diving and snorkeling, other popular things to do here include sports fishing for marlin and sailfish, horseback riding on the beach, and hiking the coastal nature trails.

5. Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project

At the Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project, inside the gates of Nambiti Private Game Reserve, animal lovers can enjoy exhilarating hands-on interactions with these graceful creatures and help out a worthwhile cause at the same time. The experience begins with an educational presentation about the plight of the cheetah. Visitors are then able to pat the animals, take photos with them, and watch a demonstration of their incredible speed.

Depending on the residents at the time, visitors may also see other cats such as servals, caracals, and African wildcats. The successful captive breeding program here seeks to increase the cheetahs' gene pool and prepare the animals for a life in the wild. The project only runs one tour a day to protect the animals from excessive stress, so advance bookings are highly recommended.

6. Nambiti Private Game Reserve

About a three hour drive from Durban, near the spectacular Drakensberg mountains, Nambiti Private Game Reserve offers exciting guided safari adventures in search of the Big Five: leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Scenery here ranges from sprawling savannah and grasslands, with unimpeded views of game, to lush riverine bush, and the wildlife is plentiful. In addition to the Big Five, the reserve protects more than 40 different species of game such as cheetah, zebra, kudu, and hippo, as well as a diverse array of birdlife.

Day visitors are welcome, and those who wish to stay overnight can choose from six self catering or full board five star lodges, some with swimming pools, as well as a raised luxury tented camp. This popular private game reserve also lies near the KwaZulu Battlefields, so visitors can combine a guided historical tour with their wilderness experience.

7. Sani Pass

Sani Pass is one of South Africa's most spectacular mountain roads. Connecting Kwazulu-Natal with the Kingdom of Lesotho, the pass is an eight kilometer long unpaved road that climbs to heights of up to 2,876 meters. The road runs through the Mzimkulwana Nature Reserve, with scenery ranging from towering rock outcrops and green cloaked mountains to dizzyingly steep ravines.

Only vehicles with four wheel drive are allowed on the road between the two frontier posts; on foot it takes between two and three hours. To the north of the pass is the 3,482 meter high Mount Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest peak in southern Africa. The pass takes its name from the San (Bushmen), who fled over here to escape from their white and black persecutors.

Check weather conditions before setting out, as snow and ice can make the pass even more challenging.

8. The KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields Route

During the 19th century, central Zululand, now part of KwaZulu-Natal, was the site of many historic battles between the Zulus, Boers, and British. Today, sightseers can explore this rich history on the Battlefields Route. Knowledgeable guides take visitors to see battle sites, museums, memorials, and forts and share fascinating details and descriptions of these historic events.

Two of the most famous battlefields lie a short drive from each other: At Isandlwana, visitors will learn about the clash between 22,000 Zulu warriors who prevailed against 1,350 British troops in one of the first battles of the Anglo-Zulu War. About 16 kilometers from here, Rorke's Drift is the site where British troops defended a mission station from the attack of more than 3,000 Zulu warriors.

Vryheid is the largest town on the Northern Natal Battlefields Route, and takes in the scene of clashes between British forces and Zulus and between British forces and the Boers. Blood River Heritage Site is another popular Zulu-Voortrekker battle site near the town of Dundee. After the annexation of Zululand and its incorporation in the province of Natal, the British authorities built a number of forts in the region, including Fort Nongqai in Eshowe.

Drakensberg Mountain Range

Drakensberg Mountain Range

The Drakensberg (Royal Natal National Park with the Amphitheatre)
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Sodwana Bay National Park
Sodwana Bay National Park
Sodwana Bay National Park
Nambiti Private Game Reserve
Sani Pass
The KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields (Rorke's Drift)
Kwa Cheetah Breeding Project

9. Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve

This stunning canyon is in the southern portion of KwaZulu Natal, about 120 kilometers south of Durban and 25 kilometers from the holiday destination of Port Shepstone, which is known for its great surfing and swimming beaches and lots of sunshine.

The Oribi Gorge is 24 kilometers long and 165 meters deep and dominated by sandstone cliffs and ravines that were cut by the sometimes wild Umzimkulwana River flowing through it. The reserve is a bird watcher's paradise, with more than 250 species of birds identified here, including five types of kingfisher and seven different eagles. There are also leopards, baboons, and small antelopes in the vicinity.

The gorge can be visited on a day trip or overnight, as there is lodging in the reserve. Things to do here include multiple hiking trails, as well as ziplining and whitewater rafting. And then there is the adrenalin pumping Wild Swing over the gorge itself that will really test your fear factor. This is the highest swing in the world, and you can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour. To partake, you are secured by a full body harness before leaping off the top of a waterfall and swinging back and forth across the 165 meter deep gorge.

10. Nelson Mandela Capture

Site The Nelson Mandela Capture Site marks the spot where Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962. Although not his first arrest, this one led to his incarceration for the next 27 years. The site consists of a visitor center and an impressive sculpture that was erected at the spot near the town of Howick in 2012, which was the 50th anniversary of Mandela's arrest.

The 3D style sculpture is the creation of artist Marco Cianfanelli and is made up of 50 steel poles between five and nine meters tall. They have been arranged in the ground to recreate an image of Mandela's face when seen from a certain distance. Up close, the image disappears, and you just see steel beams planted in the landscape, which is part of the artist's concept. There is also a visitor's center museum at the site and some stalls selling colorful handicrafts.

The Capture Site is located just outside of Howick off the N3 highway that runs from Durban to Johannesburg. Take the Tweedie turnoff to Lions River and make a right onto the R103. From here, follow the signs.

11. The Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander is an 80km network of sightseeing routes winding through the green belly of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, an easy hour’s drive from Durban. Meander means to “wander at random” and this is exactly what the route is about. Just north of Pietermaritzburg, the Midland Meander extends from Rietvlei and Currys Post in the east, to Dargle Valley and Nottingham Road in the west.

This stunning stretch is brimming with amazing sights, sounds and activities. It offer visitors hospitality in truly beautiful surroundings, outstanding accommodation, conference and wedding facilities, fascinating local events, fabulous cuisine and restaurants, revitalising outdoor activities and over the top adventure sports, historic landmarks, wildlife conservation, and best of all "shop till you drop" unique arts and crafts.

Nelson Mandela Capture
The Midlands Meander
Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve

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