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Durban

© Jennifer Stern© Jennifer SternIf Johannesburg has a business culture and Cape Town has a culture culture, then Durban has a beach culture. Even the high-rise offices look out over the Indian Ocean, and busy executives hang up their suits and stilettos, slip into shorts and jog along the beachfront at lunchtime. Many keep a surfboard in their cars and catch a quick wave before or after work (or both).

The Durban beachfront is a cultural experience. Here one could find holidaying families, young surfer brats (grommets), Indian ladies elegantly walking the sand in flowing silken saris, beaded traditional healers collecting bottles of seawater to use as muti (medicine) and young girls strutting their stuff in the skimpiest of bikinis. The sea really does play an important part - there are two yacht clubs and one very big commercial harbour. The Bat Centre, Durban's most interesting cultural venue, overlooks the small boat harbour where stubby-nosed tugs come to rest after a hard morning pushing tankers around. Visitors can also lunch virtually in the shadow of huge container ships and cruise liners as they enter the harbour through the narrow entrance in front of the Bluff.

Shopping is a special experience in Durban - the eastern influence of the enormous Indian population adds a touch of spice, literally and figuratively and you can find a variety of eastern wares at the Victoria Market. Traditional beadwork and basketry are for sale at incredibly low prices on the beachfront. A tad more upmarket is the Gateway Shopping Centre, which is so much more than your average mall. It has a climbing wall and an enormous artificial standing wave - the first artificial double-point break in the world.

Of course, Durban is really about surfing, and has the country’s only surfing museum. Some of the hardest climbs in South Africa are at the Wave Cave at nearby Shongweni, and there are some fun bolted routes in the Kloof Gorge. While the diving in Durban and just to the north is not bad, the best diving near the city is on the nearby South Coast. In winter and early spring, migratory ragged tooth sharks (Carcharias tauras) are in residence at Aliwal Shoal and can be visited on a specially organised dive. But there are also a lot of coral-encrusted rock reefs with pretty tropical fish for the less intrepid. For the serious diver, Protea Banks is a must. For a less adventurous, but still exciting, look at the world under the ocean, uShaka Marine World is a state-of-the-art aquarium. Unfortunately, though, it houses captive dolphins that jump through hoops for their supper.


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