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Hugging the country's east coast, Durban's requisite amount of sunshine has earned the city the nickname "South Africa's playground." Here you'll find the colonial-inspired suburbs of Berea and Morningside, the coastal village of Umhlanga, and the warm waters and vacation towns that populate the areas known as the Dolphin Coast and South Coast. Head inland to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains for the antithesis of coastal beauty. Further north you'll find the Battlefields and Zululand that portray the province's bloody history, as well as the Big Five roaming in various game reserves.
Durban. South Africa's third-largest city, Durban is southern Africa's busiest port (chiefly cargo). Durban's chief appeal to tourists is its long strip of high-rise hotels and its popular promenade—known as the Golden Mile (though it's actually several miles long)—fronting its beaches.
Umhlanga. The previously small vacation village has mushroomed with increased residential and business development but remains one of the most sought-after coastal holiday destinations in the country. It offers beautiful beaches flanked by a strip of hotels. Despite its expanding surroundings, the heart of Umhlanga has retained its village charm.
Side Trips from Durban. To find beaches unmarred by commercial development, you need to travel north to the Dolphin Coast or south to the aptly named South Coast. Moving inland takes you to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, just off the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg. Here racehorse and dairy farms stud rolling green hills and lush pastures that are reminiscent of England. The Midlands Meander (a series of routes set up by the local tourism board) is a great way to experience the area's farms and crafts shops.
Zululand and the Battlefields. Zululand, the region north of the Tugela River and south of Swaziland and Mozambique, is the traditional home of the Zulu people. Prominent towns (though these are all relatively small) in this region are the industrial towns of Empangeni and Richards Bay, Eshowe, Pongola, and Ulundi. The farther north you go, the less populated and more rural the area becomes, with traditional Zulu huts and herds of long-horned brown-and-white and black-and-white Nguni cattle tended by boys or young men scattering over the hills.
The Battlefields (Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer) are inland, to the north of the Midlands and northeast of the Drakensberg. The towns dotted among the Zululand battlefields tend to be a little ugly and dusty during the dry winter months, but this is an area to visit more for its historic than its scenic value.
Durban Tourism Beach Office (1 K.E. Masinga Rd., Beachfront, Durban, 4001. 031/322–4173. www.durbanexperience.co.za.)
Durban Tourism Office (90 Florida Rd., Durban, 4001. 031/322–4164. www.durbanexperience.co.za. Weekdays 8:30–5.)