The sun-drenched, subtropical coast of KwaZulu-Natal — or KZN as South Africa’s easternmost province is known — is a true year-round destination. Durban, the country’s third largest city, is home to glorious beaches and a host of events throughout the year. Lying just half an hour south of central Durban, resorts such as Karridene offer a blissful seaside break, while port city Richard’s Bay, two hours north of the city, is a gateway to safaris and historic battlefield tours.
Enjoy blissful beach days beside the Indian Ocean
The South African summer runs from December to the end of February, with school holidays from mid-December to mid-January. During this season, Durban’s golden beaches are filled with visitors and locals enjoying the sunshine and the warm Indian Ocean.
Do as the locals do and join Durbanites in the ocean: beginner surfers can improve their skills at the more sheltered sites, you could hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board to explore the coastline, or simply plunge in for a refreshing dip before a coffee at one of the promenade-side cafés. Runners, cyclists and walkers hit the five-mile promenade early, meanwhile, making the most of the cooler morning temperatures.
There’s something for all ages at uShaka Marine World on Durban’s Golden Mile beachfront, with its Wet ‘n Wild waterpark and Sea World aquarium — the continent’s largest.
For a long weekend, you’ll want to make sure your location is on point. Book a chic ocean-facing suite at the Protea Hotel Durban Umhlanga to enjoy close proximity to the popular Umhlanga Main Beach, not to mention all the bars and restaurants this upmarket neighborhood has to offer. Cool off in the hotel’s sea-view plunge pool before heading out for dinner nearby at The Chefs’ Table, one of the city’s best fine-dining restaurants.
South along the coastline, in Karridene, the Protea Hotel Karridene Beach offers a relaxed, family-friendly environment, yet is just a short drive from Durban’s many attractions. For children, there’s mini golf, a play park, a kids’ pool and trampolines, while adults can indulge a cocktail on the terrace or a round of golf at one of the nearby clubs.
Soak up winter sun, go on safari and experience some iconic sporting events
Over June, July and August, the temperature drops slightly to around 20°C (68°F), and it’s relatively dry, meaning conditions are perfect for more energetic activities. This is the time of year when many of Durban’s major sporting events are held.
Perhaps the most famous of these is Comrades, the world’s biggest and oldest ultramarathon. The 55-mile road race is held between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the direction alternating each year, with spectators lining the whole route and runners travelling from all over the globe to take part. If you’ve signed up for this bucket list event, make sure you have a suitably plush hotel for afterwards. The Protea Hotel Karridene Beach — whether you ran or simply spectated — with a glass of wine and a stunning sea view.
The Ballito Pro is held in June and July, on Willard Beach just north of Durban. The competition attracts some of the best surfers in the world — but at other times, especially in winter when the surf is at its best, you’ll be able to watch the locals master the waves.
Winter is the best time to enjoy the magic of a safari. The dry and cooler conditions make it much easier to spot big cats in the bush or to find a herd of elephants quenching their thirst around a waterhole. There are several private safari reserves in Zululand, in northern KZN, as well as the state-run Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, the oldest declared nature reserve in Africa.
Richard’s Bay and surrounds makes an ideal base for discovering northern KZN, especially if you’re combining leisure and business, since Richard’s Bay is a hub of industry in the region. It’s also close to historic battlefield sites where wars were fought between the Zulu, Boer and British forces — guided tours around Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are highly recommended.
See why the shoulder seasons offer the best of both worlds
Bridging the gap between summer and winter, the months of March to May and September to November offer the best of both worlds in KZN. March, for example, usually sees a continuation of summery hot weather, but popular holiday destinations such as Durban are typically much quieter than during peak season.
Staying at the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Durban Umhlanga Ridge, you’re close to Umhlanga Beach for when the sun’s out, but mere steps from the Gateway Theatre of Shopping, where you’ll find an array of stores, a cinema and a bowling alley – plenty to keep you busy when it’s a touch cooler.
Shoulder season – especially April and May – is the best time to explore the Drakensberg, the dramatic mountain range that runs between South Africa and Lesotho. It can be reached in around three hours from Durban. While thunderstorms are common in summer and there’s sometimes snow in winter, April and May enjoys relatively mild, temperate weather.
Keen hikers will love the Drakensberg trails, which include dozens of routes that can be done in a day. If you’re a trail runner, you might be interested in events such as Ultra-Trail Drakensberg in April, with five races ranging in distance from a half marathon to one hundred miles. Return to sea level to enjoy the divine food at Oakwood Restaurant, with its lagoon view, and a warm, comfortable bed at the Protea Hotel Karridene Beach.
If you’re staying in Richard’s Bay, be sure to carve out time for a side-trip to northern KZN. November is a special time to visit Sodwana Bay – this is when loggerhead and leatherback turtles start to haul out onto the protected coast to lay their eggs. There is only one operator running tours, which take place at night when the turtles come ashore. And in March, April and May, you might be able to see the hatchlings breaking free of their eggs and making their way down the beach to the ocean. Sodwana is also arguably the country’s top diving destination, with rich marine life and clear, warm waters.