South Africa’s third most populous city, Durban, has a bit of something for every type of traveler. Clara Orina finds her very own kind of paradise at Ushaka Marine World.
For a lot of the Kenyans I have spoken to, going to South Africa often means visiting Johannesburg for entertainment or Cape Town for wine, but very few people plan to check out Durban. For me, its magnificent beaches and rich history were a key draw to this coastal city.
There’s a bit of something for everyone in this city, the third most populous in South Africa. If you have some money to burn, Gateway Theater of Shopping is one of the largest shopping malls in the world with over 400 stores. For fitness enthusiasts, go for a run or bike ride along the golden sands of the beaches. City parks like Jameson Park and Blue Lagoon Park are ideal for nature lovers. Party lovers are covered as there are always plenty of nighttime events happening around town. If history is more your speed, Kwa Muhle Museum, Phansi Museum and more provide great insight into the country and city’s past, and are particularly great for learning more about the people. The Natural Science Museum is said to have the third largest collection of birds in Africa. There is the Durban art gallery where fascinating work from both local and international artists can be viewed.
For me, exploring Ushaka Marine World, the 5th largest aquarium in the world just by sheer volume of water, was like walking through paradise itself. Set on Durban’s Golden Mile, I enjoyed spending an afternoon lost in the wonder of this place while seeing a variety of marine life, some for the very first time. There was a section dubbed ‘the dangerous creatures zone’ with an array of fascinating animals like tarantulas, dart frogs, false water cobras and tree vipers. A smaller section had exotic and locally found animals such as Nile crocodiles, scorpions, black mambas and Burmese pythons.
At the open ocean section which was inside an old cargo, I gazed in astonishment at the array of colourful marine life on display. I have been snorkelling at the Kenyan coast before but the water was unfortunately murky on that day and I therefore missed out on all this beauty. The enormous glass wall at the aquarium which was 8m long by 3m high made me feel as though I was standing underwater and gazing up at the fish, it felt like being in scene in the latest Aquaman movie.
I walked by a section called “Dangers of the Deep” where sea snakes, sharks (spinner sharks, the local cat sharks, ragged-tooth sharks, hammerhead sharks etc), stone fish and devil firefish live. It was interesting watching the shark swim past me through the glass window, and even more fun watching them catch their prey. I also spotted ray fish, one of the largest cartilaginous fish in the world often distinguished by their flattened bodies, enlarged pectoral fins that are linked to their heads as well as their gill slits which are located on their ventral surfaces. Both sharks and rays are in the same family of cartilaginous fish and while most rays adapt by feeding on the bottom, sharks don’t. Rays mostly feed on snails, crustaceans, oysters and plankton. Here, I also saw kingfish, giant groupers, cobias as well as potato bass.
Though I didn’t get to see them because I was late, one can also watch dolphins swim in all their grace and strength. There are also seals in the park and quite entertaining watching how these intelligent creatures behave and interact with the audience. In another section were the African penguins which are now sadly an endangered species .
Ushaka Marine World had some affordable local stores from which I bought a few clothes before leaving. There were acrobats doing their twists and turns as well as an array of restaurants from which one can try local and international food. This really is a place where one could get lost all day.
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