It may not be South Africa’s most famous city, but Durban still has a lot to offer says local Cara Mullin. The founder of www.kidzworld.co.za, the go-to guide for parents in South Africa, and mother of two kids aged 9 and 11 says if you want to stunning beaches, amazing coastlines and to go on safari with kids, Durban has it all. She tells suitcases&strollers her insider tips for a family-friendly way to experience South Africa with kids.
What is so special about Durban?
You can swim in the warm Indian Ocean and build sandcastles in the morning and then visit a game reserve and learn about Africa’s amazing wildlife on a game drive in the afternoon.
Why should families visit Durban with kids? Why does it make for one of the good family holiday destinations in South Africa?
Durban has a trio of “beach, bush and berg” within a few hours driving distance. Let me explain.
Durban has a beautiful coastline with a large selection of swimming-friendly beaches.
45 minutes out of Durban you can visit a game reserve, stay in a lodge and experience Africa’s wildlife.
2.5 hours out of Durban you can stay in a resort in the Drakensberg with spectacular scenery and engage in lots of healthy outdoor activities.
Is Durban a suitable destination for families?
Yes. Durban has always been a family-friendly holiday destination. Durban has a large selection of family-friendly hotels and resorts and shopping malls and restaurants as well as activity centres.
Which are the best parts of Durban as a local?
The beaches, the nature reserves, the game reserves, the climate, the relaxed lifestyle.
What is your favourite thing to do with your kids in Durban?
Spend the day at the beachfront. The kids are entertained for hours by playing in the sand and splashing in the waves. I love photography and always come home with some amazing natural photos of the kids playing on the beachfront. I also like to sketch and often pack my sketchbook as the scenery inspires me to draw. The seafood is fantastic and affordable compared to many other destinations.
What is your kids' favourite thing to do in Durban?
Spend the day at the beachfront. My kids love the sea and the sand and can spend hours happily playing at the beach.
What about when it’s raining? Where do you like to go and why?
We love to be at home but if we decide to go out, the places of choice to visit would be the natural history museum (Durban Natural Science Museum, 1st Floor, Durban City Hall, Smith St., Durban, South Africa, Tel: +27 31 311 2242), ice-skating, adventure golf or [going to the] movies.
What's a secret family-friendly thing to do or place to visit in Durban that only locals would know about?
Treasure Beach, Mitchell Park Zoo and Splashworld.
Treasure Beach has a fascinating collection of rock pools filled with interesting sea creatures. Alongside is a coastal forest and a wetlands area.
Mitchell Park Zoo (10 Ferndale Rd., Morningside, South Africa, Tel: +27 31 303 2275) has a collection of small animals and birds. Families can see and learn about crocodiles, buck, raccoons, cranes, flamingoes, tortoises and my children's favourite, meerkats. The meerkats seem to have a natural talent for entertaining kids as they go about their daily activities! Kids will love the walk through the aviaries of exotic birds and the adjacent playground with slides, swings and jungle gyms. Shady lawns surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens offer the perfect setting for a family picnic. Alternatively the Blue Zoo Restaurant that overlooks the park caters for families who prefer to purchase refreshments on site.
Splash World in Amanzimtoti is a small water slide park. My family enjoys this water slide park because it is less well known and, therefore, fewer queues to stand in when waiting for a slide. You can also take your own food into the park and even have a braai (barbeque) there. My children love that they are allowed to go on all the water slides as there are no slides that have a height or age restriction.
Where's a family-friendly place that really captures the spirit of the "real" Durban?
Durban’s Golden Mile. This is the stretch of beachfront in Durban that runs from South Beach to the Suncoast Casino. Alongside this stretch of beachfront is a promenade where you will find restaurants, swimming pools, a shopping mall, uShaka Marine World, a skate park, markets and more. The beaches are suitable for swimming and have lifeguards on duty. There are toilet and shower facilities, surfing, kayaking and body boarding zones and, best of all, the Indian Ocean is warm!
Are the cafes and restaurants in the Durban kid-friendly?
Yes. There are many franchise restaurants that are kid-friendly such as Wimpy, Spur Steak Ranches, Pannarottis, Nandos, Ocean Basket and Mimmos. However, for those looking for a more unique (less “franchisy”) dining experience here are some options recommended by my family:
· Makaranga Lodge in Kloof
· Circus Circus Beach Café on Durban's Beachfront
· Primi Piatti in Hillcrest
· Beach Bums on Casuarina Beach
When is the best time of year to visit Durban?
Durban has a temperate climate and is therefore suitable to visit all year round. If you had to pin me down to the absolute best months to visit then I would say April and May in autumn.
Can you recommend any family-friendly accommodation?
Zimbali Resort near Ballito. It has a kids club. You can book through KDR Travel on www.zimbali.org.
Safety might seem like a bit of an issue to foreigners visiting South Africa with kids. Is it safe to travel with kids in Durban?
It is as safe to visit Durban as it is any big city in the world and the same rules apply.
Keep your kids in your view at all times in public areas, don't let them wander off alone. Establish a back-up plan incase by some chance your kids get separated from you.
Chat to the concierge at your hotel about which areas are dangerous and frequented by criminals that you should keep away from. This is particularly important for when you go out in the evenings.
Respect the ocean. The sea can be rough and have back washes and rip tides. Make sure the kids have clear boundaries where they are allowed to play and understand the rules of the lifeguards. The lifeguards put up signs to show the areas recommended for swimming. Be aware of these and swim in the area between the signs. [For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue here.]
By their nature, beaches are crowded, vibrant and full of people running around, walking up and down as well as traders. Unfortunately there will be instances of petty theft the same as there are on beaches all over the world. Do the sensible thing and make sure all valuables are left at home and those you have to bring with you remain in a safe in the hotel or in the boot of your vehicle. Never leave your bags or shopping unattended in public areas.
What are your top 3 things must-dos for tourists with kids in Durban?
These are very touristy options:
· uShaka Marine World and the Golden Mile