Durban and North Coast | 210km

Durban North Coast.

DURBAN

Guests on South African holidays should visit the city of Durban, with its long stretch of golden beaches. It has long been one of South Africa's premier holiday playgrounds. The focal point of the beachfront is the Golden Mile, a 6-km-long strip of beachfront lined with beaches, lawns, promenades, luxury hotels and restaurants. Stretching from Blue Lagoon to Addington Beach, the safe bathing beaches attract throngs of sun-seekers, while the Bay of Plenty is famous as a top surfing spot. Among the Golden Mile's many attractions are Funworld, which features dodgems, an aerial cableway, swing-boat and other hair-raising rides, while Waterworld offers river rides, water slides and aquatic action.

Seaworld is famed for its dolphin and seal demonstrations, its shark tank - where visitors can enjoy close-up views of a variety of sharks - and the reef tank, with its rich diversity of tropical fish. The FitzSimons Snake Park has a large collection of indigenous and exotic snakes and other reptiles, and gives regular informative, entertaining demonstrations.

There is no better place to experience Durban's distinctive Asian atmosphere than at the lively Victoria Market, where anything from aromatic spices and oriental curios to engraved brasses and ebony ornaments can be bought. In addition to the nearby Jumma Musjid Mosque, the largest in the southern hemisphere, there are several Hindu temples and numerous excellent Indian restaurants.

Adding colour to Durban's cosmopolitan atmosphere are the elaborately garbed rickshaw pullers. The Durban Botanic Gardens, established in 1849, cover 14,5 ha of landscaped gardens and include collections of indigenous and exotic cycads, palms, orchids and exotic bromeliads.

Guests on South African holidays can visit Durban museums, such as the KwaMuhle Museum, which portrays the city's history from an African perspective, while the Durban Cultural and Documentation Centre focuses on the history and culture of South Africans of Indian origin. Other collections may be seen at the Natural Science Museum, Local History Museum, Old House Museum, Campbell Collection and the Natal Maritime Museum. A wide variety of Zulu and Xhosa handicrafts and artworks are sold at the African Art Centre, while the BAT Centre and the Durban Art Gallery are popular venues for art-lovers.

UMGENI RIVER BIRD PARK

...lies in a scenic setting of waterfalls, lush tropical vegetation and 30-m-high cliffs along the Mgeni River. With a collection of over 3 000 exotic and indigenous birds, it ranks among the top bird parks in the world. Many of the park's 400 species are rare and endangered birds that form part of an extensive captive breeding programme. Among the park's inhabitants are brightly coloured parrots, macaws, Asian hornbills, flamingoes and colourful pheasants. Visitors can walk among the birds in large walk-through aviaries, although some species are kept in individual enclosures. One of the highlights of a visit to the park is the bird show, during which a fish eagle, vulture, parrots and hornbills soar past visitors in full flight and react to signals whistled by their handler.

UMHLANGA ROCKS

...features kilometres of sandy and rocky beaches - perfect for guests on South African holidays. Umhlanga has a 5-km promenade offering splendid vistas of the Indian Ocean and excellent accommodation and recreational facilities. The 21-m-high lighthouse, built in 1945, is a well-known landmark. The coastline north of the lighthouse offers safe swimming, and the superb waves are popular with surfers and paddle-skiers. The resort owes its name to the Mhlanga River, a Zulu name meaning 'river of reeds', a reference to the reeds that flourish in the river's lower reaches.

Umhlanga Rocks is the headquarters of the famous Natal Sharks Board, the only institution of its kind in the world. Visitors can learn more about sharks by watching a fascinating audiovisual presentation on the board's activities, and can even watch a shark being dissected. The display hall contains a large variety of life-size replicas of sharks, rays and other fish.

SUGAR COAST

This section of the coast stretches from Umhlanga Rocks northwards to Zimbali and inland to Mount Edgecombe, Verulam and Hambanathi. The coastal hills are dominated by vast fields of sugar cane, the origins of which can be traced back to 1847, when the first plantings took place. The foundation of the South African sugar industry was, however, laid by a British immigrant, Edmund Morewood (see Tongaat). Spread out along the coast are several popular holiday resorts. Best known among these is Umdloti Beach, named after the Mdloti River to the north. It has a magnificent beach which is popular with sunbathers, surfers and ski-boat anglers.

DOLPHIN COAST

This scenic stretch of coast, extending from Ballito northwards to Zinkwazi Beach, is named after the many bottlenose dolphins to be seen offshore. With its fine sandy beaches and popular resorts, the Dolphin Coast has for many years been a favoured destination forguests on South African holidays. It. Ballito, named after an Italian brand of stockings, has two small bays and a tidal pool offering safe swimming.

Thompson's Bay has a magnificent semi-natural tidal pool, and is bounded to the north by a rocky promontory known as Shaka's Rock. Still further north is Salt Rock, once a farm belonging to the Hulett family (a name synonymous with the sugar industry) and Umhlali Beach. Salt Rock was named after the rocky pools where Zulu women used to collect salt; the two tidal pools in front of the landmark Salt Rock Hotel are famous. Zinkwazi, the northernmost resort along the Dolphin Coast, lies on the shores of a lagoon surrounded by emerald-green fields of sugar cane.

HAROLD JOHNSON NATURE RESERVE

This small provincial nature reserve covers 104 ha of coastal bush and grassland on the southern bank of the Tugela River. It has an interesting variety of epiphytic orchids and ferns, while mammals to be seen include impala, bushbuck, blue, common and red duiker, bushpig, zebra and a variety of smaller mammals. Of historic interest is a remnant of the Ultimatum Tree, an old sycamore fig under which the British delivered an ultimatum to clan leaders of the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, on 11 December 1878.

The ultimatum, among other things, defined the boundaries between Zululand and the Transvaal and demanded the immediate disbanding of the Zulu army. The Zulu rejected the ultimatum, which expired on 10 January 1879. British troops invaded Zululand the following day, signalling the start of the Anglo-Zulu War. Another site of historic interest is the remains of Fort Pearson, built in 1878 as part of a system of forts to protect the northern border of Natal. It was one of the launching points for the British invasion of Zululand in 1879, and at one stage as many as 5 000 troops were garrisoned here.

STANGER

...lies about 8 km inland amid vast sugar-cane plantations. The town was established in 1873 on the site where the Zulu king, Shaka, built his second capital, Dukuza, in 1825. A memorial set in an attractive garden marks the grain pit into which his body was thrown after he was assassinated by his half-brothers in 1828. Another reminder of the Zulu king is the Indaba Tree, a large Natal mahogany under which Shaka held meetings and where he was killed. Stanger is home to the Sappi Fine Paper Mill, a unique facility producing high-quality gloss-coated paper from bagasse (cane pulp).

TONGAAT

...is synonymous with the South African sugar industry. A few kilometres north of the town, at Compensation, an attractive memorial garden marks the site where the first sugar mill in South Africa was erected. It was here that Edmund Morewood began the large-scale planting of sugar cane after a consignment was imported from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion in 1847. Four years later, Morewood built his own sugar mill, and in January 1852 exhibited his sugar at the offices of the Natal Witness. Also at Compensation is Crocodile Creek, home to some 7 000 crocodiles, alligators and pythons. Of interest in Tongaat is the Juggernath Puri, the tallest and oldest (1901) Hindu temple in South Africa.

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