Durban. To those of us who used to travel “down south” for a holiday, Durban refers generally to the south coast of kwaZulu-Natal. That could be anywhere from Ballito, to Port Shepstone. So these posts do include places like Umhlanga, Umdloti, Scottburgh and, inland, Hillcrest, as well as the Valley of a Thousand Hills.
One thing that has to be a part of any trip to Durban is a Bunny Chow. But Durban is far away, so I had to make one at home. There is something really delicious and comforting about a serving of good curry in a hollowed out loaf of bread with the gravy soaked into the bread! That’s my latest attempt above. A lamb curry garnished simply with coriander leaves. A bunny chow is, of course, eaten with fingers, using the bread.
History of the Bunny Chow
The bunny chow appears to have originated in Durban in the 1940’s, though there are different stories about how it came to be. One way or another Durban, and for that matter a good part of kwaZulu-Natal, has a large population of Indian descent. Durban is known for its curries.
The bunny chow is basically a curry in bread, with the bread used as a bowl. Originally the curry would have been vegetable, but over the years mutton and chicken have become common. I have also eaten beef curry in a bunny. And, of course, it is unusual to find a mutton curry in the UK, so lamb it is!
Typically it comes, in Durban, as a “full” (i.e. 800g loaf), “half” (half an 800g loaf) or a “quarter” (typically half a small, or 400g loaf). The middle of the bread is carefully removed as a single piece, leaving the crust as the bowl. The crust is filled with curry, and the bread removed from the middle used to top the filling. Sambals can be added as necessary.
Bunny Chow in the UK and Making Your Own
There are a number of places in the UK advertising bunny chow in various forms, though I have only once sampled a local version, from a South African kiosk in Camden Market in London. I have heard that it is popular in some places, with pubs offering it on one day a week, then two, then all week.
If you are making your own bunny chow, there are two parts to remember:
Bread which can form a bowl;
Curry which has plenty of rich gravy. It can be meat or veg.
Personally I prefer to make the curry to fill the bread, but you can buy the curry from your local Indian takeaway. The do look at you sideways if you don’t order rice or naan, though.
Simply remove the centre of the bread, fill the crust with your chosen curry, and enjoy!
A Google search brought up a few UK based bunny chow restaurants. Not surprising as there are a few South Africans around:
When we were kids on holiday in Durban the Durban Beachfront was about sea sand and swimming pools, with a trip to the old aquarium and lunch at the Wimpy.
As students the beachfront was about the “Golden Mile” and Saturday nights out in nearby bars. And, of course, days on the beaches at Bay of Plenty and South Beach.
Today the Durban Beachfront is much changed. Where surfers used to park their VWs on the Lower Marine Parade, and we used to park and watch the sea over a late night coffee, is now a wide pedestrian boulevard.
of course, now we are a bit older it’s a pleasure to sit and enjoy being by the beach and watch the people and ships on the horizon and moving into the harbour.
Durban was only a short trip from our spot at Umdloti, so what better way to start the day, than with breakfast on the beach. Or maybe it was brunch, given the time of day, at Circus Circus Beach Cafe. Bacon, sausages, brinjal and pancakes all washed down with coffee, within sight and sound of the sea.
Come here at a weekend and during the holiday season and it’s likely to be heaving with people. We were there on a Monday morning, so it was quiet, but certainly not deserted. We had our pick of tables at the cafe. A great way to have a leisurely Monday breakfast!
Durban Beachfront Breakfast - pancakes Durban style! With banana and brinjal!
Sand Art on Durban Beachfront. Not sure about the nationality though?
Durban beach sand art - Stop poaching our rhinos
Walkers along the baechfront in Durban, while a big ship leaves the harbour.
The beach at Bay of Plenty in Durban, with the pier on the right.
Taking a walk along the beachfront at Bay of Plenty
Beach Sand Art
Close to our breakfast spot we noticed this piece of sand art. As always the artist has his collection tin out, so we dropped in a few Rand in exchange for a couple of photos.
This are, the Bay of Plenty is popular amongst surfers, and is known for its pier, where you can often see local anglers enjoying a few hours fishing. It was good to spend some on the pier watching the surfers and looking back at the Durban skyline.
Lifeguard tower at Bay of Plenty, Durban
The Pier - Durban Beachfront, Bay of Plenty
Durban Beachfront - Surfer
Durban from the Pier
uShaka Marine World
At the southern end of the beach area, near Addington Beach is the UShaka Marine World. This is definitely a big upgrade from the old Durban Aquarium which we grew up up with. Offering a huge aquarium alongside all sorts of water activities.
We visited uShaka to have a look around and buy some souvenirs of our trip. Having seen a number of aquariums, they held little attraction, but this is a must for first time visitors.
All along Durban’s beaches are an assortment of Beach Markets. Great for a few momentos, the offer a range of mass produced and local craft products. Watch your wallet in these areas, but have a good look. We bought a few bits and pieces to take home.
Taking a day away from the beach, we headed up the main road from Durban to Pietermaritzburg then turned right to Botha’s Hill. Eventually we came to the fantastic view of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. What a tremendous view of the hills under a stormy sky.
Valley of a Thousand Hills
Valley of a Thousand Hills
Valley of a Thousand Hills - House on a Hill
Valley of a Thousand Hills - Phezulu Safari Park
Valley of a Thousand Hills - Phezulu Safari Park - Big Tree
Comrades Marathon Country
Heading back down the old main road we came across the Comrades Marathon wall of honour commemorating the achievement of those who successfully completed the “Comrades”.
The Comrades Marathon is, of course, the annual run between Pietermaritzburg, provincial capital of kwaZulu-Natal, and Durban. A distance of around 90km Largely following the old main road. The run is “down” one year, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, and “up” the following year.
Lunchtime, Game Parks and the Meander
Heading back towards Durban we stopped off at the Phezulu Safari Park. It has a small wildlife park, but, having seen African wildlife many times in the bush, we were more interested in lunch. Sadly the restaurant was closed, but the view was good.
I’m told that a few of these parks have started up and this area features on the KZN Midlands Meander. That’s a trip worth doing if you are visiting the area. Having lived in kwaZulu-Natal we have seen most of the meander at various times, and it is a great area to visit.
A bit further down the road we found the Pot and Kettle. This somewhat eccentric appearing, family run restaurant gave us a good lunch.
If you live in, or stay around Durban you can’t help but be aware of Durban harbour. Spend a bit of time on the Durban beachfront and you can’t miss the large ships at anchor out towards the horizon. Ships of various kinds wait at anchor along the northern kwaZulu-Natal coast for their turn to unload and reload in the harbour. From our spot at Umdloti, one night we counted 33 ships at anchor, after a big storm the day before our arrival caused problems and delays.
Following the outlines of the bay discovered by Vasco de Gama in 1497, Durban harbour, technically The Port of Durban, is the second biggest harbour in Africa and is an important link in trade with South Africa and countries to the north.
Boats, Cranes and Restaurants
Durban harbour is also something of a tourist attraction. A number of restaurants are situated around the harbour. Tourists can take boat tours around the harbour, ranging from short small boat trips, to meals on one of the large floating restaurants. Want to go sea fishing? You can arrange the trip and sail from the harbour.
We took some time out at Zacks on Wilson’s Wharf and just sat and enjoyed a couple of drinks while we watched the activity in the harbour. The weather was good for a jaunt like this. Typical of Durban weather at this time of year, some days are overcast, some are sunny and hot. Even when it’s overcast, it is warm.
It’s amazing the watch the big cranes offloading containers from the ships. At a distance those big containers look like Lego blocks as the cranes effortlessly swing them away.
On a small spit of land nearby people are fishing, as we watch small pleasure craft taking tourists and school kids, on a day out, around the harbour.We noticed, too, big efforts to keep the harbour clean, with a group of workers picking up refuse which washes ashore.
Over on the other side we can see a navy ship in a berth, dwarfed by the container ship being loaded behind it. We later identified the ship online as the French Navy monitoring frigate, Floréal.
There is continuous activity going on all over.
Later in the day we headed for the harbour mouth. If you have never see a big ship coming into harbour, this is fascinating. We could see the ship clearly heading into the port.
We arrived in time to see the pilot boat returning from the ship. Obviously the harbour pilot was on board and the large container ship was on its way into the harbour mouth.
I had seen a tug move to park near some cranes, seemingly waiting for something. The tug moved up just in front of us and simply stopped dead in the water in the channel, something very odd to see, as boats normally don’t just stop in the water.
In due course the massive container ship moved in, engines just ticking over, dwarfing the tug. It looked as if it was going to run over the smaller boat. As the ship came along side the tug, it matched speed and stayed with the big boat to guide it to its berth. Obviously these crews do this every day, and make it look it look very smooth and easy, but it’s fascinating to watch for the first time.
We spent a bit of time on the beach near the Durban Ski-Boat Club. There wasn’t much activity on this Monday morning, but some good views of the city, and nearby apartments.
Visit the Harbour
In all the years I went to Durban on holiday, and then lived there I never went to see the harbour. If you are visiting Durban, make a point of it. It’s worth it.
Check out a selection of my Durban photos and buy some prints on my Pixels Site.
The Durban City Hall, now also known as the eThekwini City Hall was built in the 1900s based on the Belfast City Hall in Northern Ireland. It is still a very impressive building, though in modern times surrounding central business district buildings tower over it.
I am not a great fan of photographing buildings, but there was an ulterior motive here. I was always told that my “Spanish” Great Grandfather was a master stone mason who came to Durban as part of the crew who built the Durban City Hall. With a bit of time on our hands it was worth dropping in and taking a look, though we didn’t have the time to go inside. Here are a couple of the photos I took.
Wandering in the garden outside, the wall of remembrance has been badly vandalised, apparently by thieves looking for metal, but statues of Queen Victoria and Jan Smuts were in reasonable condition, along with a Boer War memorial.
The tidal rock pool at Umdloti. Sunrise and a stormy day.
Beach Sun and Sea
Arriving in Umdloti, there is little question about what happens in the town. Arriving on the single road into town, Umdloti spreads along the coast in two directions. Aside from a small shopping centre, it’s all holiday flats and cabanas. This is definitely a place to have a holiday by the sea. Wherever you stay the beach and the Indian Ocean are just over the road, and everywhere seems to be designed to have a view of the sea.
Prawns for dinner at Mundo Vida.
Off course, food plays a part in a good holiday. Arriving in the late afternoon, after finding our holiday apartment and doing some shopping we were keen for an early dinner. Still in shorts and T-shirt, we picked Mundo Vida, perhaps 100m from where we were staying. What a great choice! First impression was just a normal “by the sea” seafood restaurant. The reality was a top class meal.
By the sea and, of course seafood features high on the menu, with big prawns and fresh specials from the day’s catch. Munro Vida did not disappoint.
Holiday with a Sea View
Our first venture with Airbnb, we stayed at Umdloti Cabanas. These are three story cabanas, with the living area and bedrooms on the first and second floors. This means that you always have a view over the sea. There’s nothing like going to sleep to the sound of the the breakers on the beach, and waking up to the view of the sun rising over the sea. If you like to get up that early, of course. Feeling lazy, and you can just chill out on the balcony and watch the ever moving sea.
The beach is just a few steps away, over the road. Great to take a stroll before breakfast.
If you want to have a braai, there is ample space on the ground floor. In fact, the apartment owners had braai kit ready and waiting.
The sea view changes every day with the tide and weather, so some days it’s a smooth and glassy sea, on others every wave has a white cap. Ships anchor along this part of the coast, waiting to enter the Durban harbour. So there are always a number of different container ships and various cargo carriers in view.
As we have experienced on this coast before, the vervet monkeys can be a problem, sneaking in through an unattended door or window at every opportunity. They won’t come in if anybody is about, but you don’t dare walk away for too long. Sadly visitors often do not obey the warnings and feed the “cute monkeys”. They know that people have easy food, so they keep coming back. The message is “Don’t feed the monkeys!”.
Beach and Milkshakes
In October on the kwaZulu Natal coast, the wind tends to become noticeable by late morning, so the best time to sit on the beach is the early part of the morning. We quickly discovered that an hour or two on the beach was finished nicely with a couple of coffee milkshakes at the Caffé Java.
Just across the road from the beach, Caffé Java has a long balcony, where you can sit with that great sea view. The café also does good breakfasts and lunch.
The beaches in this part of Umdloti are quite steep, and not where you want to swim. Great for surfers though, and we did see a few of those.
Further along, opposite the Sandbar restaurant is a rocky area, which forms a shallow rock pool at low tide. That’s an excellent spot to swim and take the kids.
Great T-Bone steaks from Farm to Fork in Umdloti.
Not the most exciting part of the holiday, but necessary if you are staying for a while. The small shopping centre has the basics, a pharmacy, bottle store, petrol station and even a biltong shop. A short walk away is a Spar supermarket with all of the normal foodstuffs. We found the range and quality of both fresh and pre-packed food was good.
As we were, in part at least, self catering, and South Africa is braai (it’s not a barbecue and you don’t put hamburger on it!) country meat was in demand. Local butcher Farm to Forkwas excellent, especially the 2 inch thick t-bones. They also carry a good range of braai kit.
This post seems to be all about food. But isn’t that what a holiday is about? Days on the beach and good food. We were in Umdloti for 10 days, eating in and eating out regularly. By UK standards food in South Africa is relatively cheap, even in good restaurants, which does help. In our entire trip we didn’t find any poor quality food.
Inside the Sandbar
Here are a few of the places we enjoyed.
Fish and Chips: What would the seaside be without fish and chips? We had a good meal at local Spuds.
Sandbar: The Sandbar Restaurant and Cocktail Bar is a high quality restaurant directly opposite the swimming beach. Good food with a creative twist, highly recommended by locals.
BelPunto: Quality Italian food with an emphasis on seafood Bel Punto was the venue for our final dinner before heading home.
Tasca:Tasca is an al fresco pizza restaurant right next to the Sandbar. Great for a snack if you’ve been on the beach.
More Umdloti Attractions
It’s just fish and chips. At the Sandbar.
Umdloti is home to a nature reserve, though we didn’t go there.
If you are looking for some bright lights and entertainment, Umhlanga Rocks is 15 minutes drive down the road. The city of Durban is about half an hour away, a fact that we used to our advantage.
Umdloti caters mainly for South African visitors, typically coming from inland. You won’t find it as a destination in most tourist destinations. Umdloti is only 10 minutes drive from Durban’s King Shaka airport, and close to the main centre of Durban.
If you are looking for a relaxed holiday by the sea, with access to good food, and an occasional visit to the bright lights of Umhlanga and Durban, then Umdloti is a great choice.