With around 300 days of sunshine and swimmable surf that doesn’t require a wetsuit, KwaZulu Natal is the perfect place to add a tropical twist to your getaway cravings
Experts in the hospitality sector forecast that over one million tourists are expected to visit Durban during the winter season and that they will directly spend R1.45 billion (€85,4m), with the GDP contribution being R3.6 billion (€212m).
Arguably the gem of the entire KZN North Coast is the Umhlanga coastline. Despite Umhlanga’s sophistication – its fancy mansions, slick apartment blocks and rollicking restaurant scene – there’s still a sense of encroaching wilderness.
The promenade parallel to the beach connects all the way to a remnant of forest at the northern end of the strip, great for nature-immersive walks with vervet monkeys gallivanting through the treetops, duikers on the ground and raptors overhead.
Between Gateway’s sprawling mall and Umhlanga’s bustling seaside village, there’s plenty to keep you busy, but if you have children in tow (or simply need a gearshift), it’s worth driving into the city, just 20 minutes south.
At one end of Durban’s Golden Mile, uShaka Marine World is a world-class aquarium where penguins, seals and sharks are on view. Children will scream their appreciation as they ride the watery slides at Wet ‘n Wild – you can leave them to their own devices while you can sink cocktails at Moyo uShaka’s pier bar situated 100m out to sea.
If you crave more grown-up pleasures, Station Road is where you’ll find Durban’s original craft distillery. Distillery 031’s founder, Andrew Rall has made a point of reimagining classic spirits using African ingredients – taste the difference those ingredients make by signing up for a distillery tour.
Or take the plunge at Moses Mabhida Stadium, where the world’s tallest bungee swing requires you to leap from the stadium’s basket-handle-shaped arch above the soccer pitch.
If you’re more intent on disconnecting from the bustle, use your base at either of the new 4-star and 3-star Premier Hotels that have opened in KwaZulu-Natal’s prosperous Umhlanga Ridge, a mushrooming business district just north of Durban, as a springboard to explore KwaZulu-Natal’s more northerly stretches.
Both properties are conveniently close to a trove of experiences and come with Premier’s signature touch of personalised service, designed to elevate your stay in this lush pocket of South Africa’s East Coast.
Of great appeal is its immediate proximity to Gateway, where opportunities for a shopping spree are legion; besides countless eating-and-drinking spots, the vast complex also has outdoor playgrounds – a water-park full of crazy slides, a huge skate-park designed by skateboard legend Tony Hawk – and a farmer’s market.
Beyond what’s available right at your doorstep, Umhlanga Ridge’s location also makes it an excellent starting point for exploration in just about any direction. Umhlanga Rocks - with its distinctive lighthouse, tree-shrouded promenade, rock pools and charged tropical energy - is fringed by several of South Africa’s most beautifully maintained stretches of beach with designated bathing areas and tidal rock pools where youngsters can splash around safely. All along this epic stretch, you’ll find lovely spots to wade, bodysurf, or simply stare across the distant horizon.
Further afield, dotted along the seaboard beyond bustling Ballito are such charming holiday hamlets as Shaka’s Rock, Salt Rock and Sheffield. Each has a choice of wide-open beaches (make sure you pick ones watched by lifeguards and swim between the flags as tides are unpredictable). 52 minutes from Durban you’ll find Scottburgh, a charming bay situated on the south bank of the Mpambanyoni River and a favourite among tourists, beach-loving families and scuba divers.
The resort, situated on the beachfront, is set amidst 14 acres of beautifully manicured grounds, unspoilt indigenous vegetation and 180-degree sea views, with the grassy embankments leading to golden sandy beaches. In addition to comfortable accommodation, families will also find amenities like a swimming pool, bar, pizza oven and a restaurant terrace.
The world-renowned Aliwal Shoal diving experience is nearby, with the Scuba Xcursion Dive Centre onsite offering various ocean activities for adventure-seekers. Attractions and activities for the family: Family-friendly activities include Aliwal Shoal, Crocworld (animal park), Scottburgh Beach, TC Robertson Nature Reserve, a golf club, and scuba diving at Aliwal Shoal. There’s no shortage of fun things to do for the whole family at Premier Resort Cutty Sark, Scottburgh.
Further up the coast, the conservancy village of Mtunzini sits adjacent to Umlalazi Nature Reserve, where the Mlalazi River spills into the ocean and zebras freely roam the streets, saunter across the golf course and sometimes end up inside the Spar.
Things get wilder still when you head all the way into the protected areas of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches for 220km along the coast. Rare turtles nest here; migrating whales, dolphins, and whale sharks congregate off-shore; and there are at least 526 bird species worth noting.
In some areas, if you don’t watch where you’re going at night you could run into grazing hippos. Even in the little tourist village of St Lucia, you are on the fringe of incredible wilderness with dune forests and crocs basking on the banks of the estuary. Undersea safaris happen at Cape Vidal, where snorkelling is popular, and at Sodwana, one of the world’s finest scuba spots. And if you want a more traditional safari experience that includes the big cats, elephant and rhino, you can make a foray into Africa’s oldest declared nature reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park – or visit uMkhuze Game Reserve nearby.
And, if you tire of the seaside, you can always head inland instead. The Midlands Meander is a great network of towns, hamlets and farming communities across the KwaZulu-Natal interior where you’ll find craft emporiums, art galleries, farm stalls, haunted pubs, wineries, and a few indelible monuments such as the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. Keep your eye on the horizon, too, for the looming high-altitude expanse of the Drakensberg mountain range. Whether you’re in town on business, fishing for that next deal, or looking to soak up some seaside downtime, savour the province's laid back vibe.