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The five-star Zimbali Lodge. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Fun in the South African Sun: Durban

If you’re thinking about going to Africa for your next big family vacation, chances are you’re dreaming about seeing lions, elephants, and giraffes. Rightfully so. Going on a safari is undoubtedly one of the continent’s greatest draws, and countries like Kenya and Tanzania offer world-class tour packages for families.

But if you’re looking for an itinerary with a little more variety, few places can match South Africa for its mix of culture, beauty, and wildlife adventure.

As I prepared for my sixth visit to the country (the second with the entire family in tow), I wanted to move beyond what we’d already seen while keeping it age-appropriate. So, working with DSA Vacations, we decided to build in a few days in and around the beaches of Durban before heading into the bush.

Here’s a sample of the kid-friendly activities we experienced in South Africa’s third largest city:

Durban is an essential stopover on any in-country itinerary. Located along the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal and renowned for its year-round warm weather, the city is a beach lover’s paradise. The water was a bit too rough for the surf lessons we had planned for the boys, but there are miles of soft sand to explore, along with convenient snack bars and restaurants when tummies start to growl.

Although it’s tempting to stay on the beach, plan to spend at least half a day at uShaka Marine World, South Africa’s version of Sea World. There’s a nice aquarium and dolphin show to check out in between the Wet ‘n Wild Water Park rides. And if your hotel is located along the promenade (I’d recommend a family room at the Southern Sun Elangeni), you can walk, rent bikes, or even skateboard to get there and back.

One of Durban’s newest attractions, Moses Mabhida Stadium, built especially for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, offers a SkyCar that takes you high over the arena for a bird’s-eye view of the city. Spoiler alert: We didn’t think it was all that exciting. On the other hand, if your family has a teenager (or parent) who’s an adrenaline junkie, you can always take the plunge on the Big Swing, a 660-foot arc that swings you through the stadium itself. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

If you have the time (and money), it’s well worth spending a few extra days at the Zimbali Lodge nestled in a coastal forest reserve 45 minutes northeast of Durban. While the five-star resort’s many pools will dominate your child’s attention, an on-site golf course provides a challenging diversion for active parents. You can also rent bicycles and cruise around the grounds exploring the diverse flora and fauna on display. The boys were excited at their first wildlife sighting — some vervet monkeys — which got them in gear for the second leg of our trip: a return to the South African bush.

Follow Rainer’s story on Twitter @JenssTravels.