Just a six hour drive from Johannesburg, Durban is one of the most popular holiday destinations in South Africa, and with good reason. Most people visit for the warm, Indian Ocean beaches and laid back vibe, but there’s so much more to the city. With tons of activities, great shopping, endless entertainment, and an exciting food scene, Durban has it all.
You have four basic options for getting there: driving, flying, taking a bus, or taking a train. The busses turn the six hour drive into a fourteen hour affair, but if you don’t want to drive and have good company, it’s a relatively cheap way of travelling. The busses stop frequently, giving you plenty of time to stretch your legs and are relatively comfortable. Once in Durban, you can take an Uber or taxi to your lodgings, or simply walk there from bus stops conveniently located at the beachfront. Book a bus ride here.
The trains are also rather slow, some luxurious, some not. They are however, notoriously unreliable and we wouldn’t recommend taking them, due to the inevitable delays and state of the railway infrastructure in the country. They are however, quite budget friendly at less that R400 each way from Johannesburg to Durban, but the journey takes about fifteen hours! Where the Gautrain is maintained to the highest standards and are quite safe, the general PRASA trains are the opposite, with frequent reports of people being mugged on board. The long distance options like the Shosholoza Meyl or Blue Train are in much better condition and much safer, but are also subject to similar challenges in terms of delays, and also make use of the same railway infrastructure that often isn’t maintained to the best standard.
Flying is convenient, and you can catch some great deals during the off-season from local carriers like FlySafAir and Mango for under R500, one-way. Other options are Kulula, British Air, SAA, SA Express, and SA Airlink. We can’t vouch for Express and Airlink, but we’ve had good experiences flying with the others, and SAA had the best in-flight snacks. Note that most SafAir flights only come with carry-on luggage so if you need to check a bag in, allow for the additional cost when comparing prices. We had good luck in terms of punctuality as well, with none being delayed when we travelled.
There are flights out of Lanseria and OR Tambo, and with ridesharing services like UBER and Lyft, or even the Gautrain, getting to either one is easy.You can also opt to park at the airport, and the airportsa website has a calculator where you can check what the parking fee will cost. Note that it is often cheaper to book in advance. Just keep in mind that all these costs add up pretty quickly, for example a train ride from Sandton to OR Tambo airport will set you back R151. If you want to save money and don’t mind changing transport modes, you could opt to travel to Rhodesfield station for R35, and then take an Uber to the airport. See this link for a detailed breakdown of prices.
One of the perks of flying was getting access to the SLOW Lounge, through our FNB Credit Cards. It’s a really nice place to relax before your flight, especially if you’re flying out of Lanseria Airport, since it’s a rather small airport and is not particularly well-appointed. They have tons of snacks and drinks, comfy couches, tables with plug points to work at, and even a selection of books to read. Just be sure to keep an eye out as you won’t hear any announcements in the lounge and you don’t want to miss your flight! The thing is, even though the flight is just over an hour, it still took us five hours from home to our Airbnb, so it only saves you about an hour compared to driving, under normal conditions.
Driving is probably the most common way to get there, and also the most fun if you enjoy road trips. The drive is beautiful, with rolling green fields and dramatic mountain passes. The N3 highway is the preferred route, and there are tons of garages dotted along it to stop at for fuel, food, and a place to stretch your legs. There are five toll-gates between Johannesburg and Durban, and as of March 2019, the total cost is R254 each way for cars. The route gets quite busy, particularly during long weekends and school holidays so plan your time accordingly. The N3 Twitter page is helpful to follow and alerts you of traffic volumes at each toll gate, as well as protest action, accidents, and route closures. Make sure to check it as protests with burning trucks have become rather common, unfortunately, so the Twitter Page will advise as to alternate routes to use.
For halaal food, Wrap it up at Bergview Engen (at Harrismith) is your best bet, and they also have an adjoined store that sells biltong and other snacks. There is also a nice, clean salaah room and place to make wudhu, which also makes it one of the busier stops on the route.
There is also the option of stopping at small towns along the way, for example the Howick Falls are just a few minutes off the highway, and makes a great place to stop and stretch your legs.
There are also a few art galleries and tiny stores selling unique trinkets, making it a good place for an extended break.