Disabled-friendly Durban

I’ve been in and out of Durban a number of times recently and decided that I really needed to write about how “Disabled Friendly” the city is, so I arranged to do a couple of site inspections. Photos by Dean Potgieter

With the knowledge that our National Director of QASA lives in this fast growing metropolis and that world-renowned ergometric specialist and architect, Joan Seirlis sits on the Metro Council, I was looking forward to visiting the various sites.

After a not so good start with a huge Highveld storm causing me to arrive late at JIA and being delayed 1 ½ hours before takeoff, I finally arrived at Durban Airport. The Passenger Aid Unit staff were, as usual, extremely efficient and helpful.

But as I was late, I suggested to my friend who was picking me up to just drive through and pick me up instead of parking. Well it was a shock when I got outside. They are upgrading the parking, and there is none. The drop off zone for people with disabilities was completely full of able-bodied people and there is a huge fence separating the drive through. We received huge dissent from the officials when my friend came inside the fence to pick me up. But how does one climb a fence in a wheelchair? Not a very good start to my “Disabled Friendly Durban” weekend!

Durban really does have extremely good facilities for the disabled, obviously the usual hotels, shopping centres, and tourist attractions are constantly being upgraded. Umhlanga’s Gateway Centre is really a shopping centre in the forefront of facilities. Not only do they have clearly marked parking bays for people with disabilities close to the entrances, but also bays for mothers with children, which makes a lot of sense. There are also visible attendants who are on the ball and who will not let the usual able bodied lazy into these bays. Most restaurants within these new centres are accessible, but not so for some of the smaller areas, although I visited a delightful wine bar in Berea called Snap Wine Bar & Restaurant, which has an entrance at the back of the restaurant which feeds onto the parking for the Woolworths which has a bay for the disabled, and they have an accessible loo. Of course when in Durbs one wants to visit the tourist spots like the harbour area, where there is a great fish restaurant called Splashes on the Point which has facilities, and the beachfront, which now extends from Ushaka Marine World right through to North Beach. There is a wonderful paved walkway right along this stretch. [A good area to practice your hand cycling I’m told!]

Our first stop on Saturday was Ushaka Marine World, which I was keen to see, as I had been a regular visitor and diver at the old Sea World. The Manager on duty - Graham - was most helpful and assigned us a personal guide for the Grand Tour. On arrival there are about seven parking bays Disabled-friendly Durban I’ve been in and out of Durban a number of times recently and decided that I really needed to write about how ‘Disabled Friendly” the city is, so I arranged to do a couple of site inspections. for the disabled and a gentle ramp up to the entrance. One has to pass through the entire shopping arcade and then go down quite a steep slope to get into the actual park. We started in the aquarium, which is situated inside a huge ship, we made our way down into the ‘bottom of the sea’ along a series of ramps, which surround the most fascinating skeleton of a whale. Mind the small step at the end though. What an improvement from the previous one as most of the large displays have floor to ceiling viewing windows, and the smaller tanks have at least one side that does not have a step so that a wheelchair can get alongside to look in. There are disabled loos situated at various points down in the aquarium, which is great, as one wouldn’t want to have to tackle the ramps to the top in a hurry! Should you wish to access the restaurants on the top of the ship, you have to go outside the park and back up to the shopping level. They are not as accessible as the rest of the area.

Of course, the rest of the Marine Park has other exhibits on the surface next to the ship, the Turtle pool, the Rocky Reef and Penguin rookery and the Snorkel pool where one is issued a life jacket, mask and snorkel and you can spend as long as you like checking out the creatures usually found under the waves. Should you wish to go under – there is a Shark Dive Experience where you are lowered into the shark tank in a Perspex cylinder and can observe these fascinating creatures close up. You can also have an Oceanwalker experience – by donning a special helmet you can walk along the bottom of the tank with the sea creatures.

For most the highlight is the Dolphin Show which takes place a couple of times throughout the day. I must say that I was a little bit disappointed with the show. It was not as spectacular as the ones at the old aquarium. There are about nine dolphins and we got to see four young females, but I missed the old faithful like Gambit and his fantastic aerobatic tricks.

There is a seal show aimed mainly at the children visitors, which only featured one of the two seals that we saw before the show.

Water wonderland

For those who want the water excitement, there is a wonderful water park, with two tube rides, a number of exciting slides and a number of swimming pools. These are usually well supported, which makes moving around in a wheelchair a little difficult. Of course, one can’t make use of the slides and other features that are upstairs, but I did take a couple of turns on the lower tube ride.

The costs for a day are quite steep – R130 per adult for a combo pass for the Sea World and Wet & Wild but there is an annual pass for those regular visitors.

If you are really feeling like spending those bucks, you can always take a helicopter tour from the pier outside Ushaka, which gives you a 15-minute spectacular view of the Durban beachfront and bay for R195.

Well once you’ve spent your day splashing in the water, why not splash out at the Sunshine Casino & Entertainment World, which is just down the beachfront walk from Ushaka.

This entertainment complex has cinemas, a casino and shops and restaurants. They also have a wonderful enclosed grass area in front, which borders onto the beach. You have to pay R5 per person to enter this area, but is well worth it as you can relax on the grass without being to crowded, or sandy. There are stairs to get to the beach, should you wish to swim in the sea.

For those who are not going to Durban just for the fun, the International Convention Centre is one of the leading convention centres, which host many local and international shows, conventions and exhibitions.

The parking and facilities for the disabled are very good and should you want to attend any function, you only need to contact the organisers to make arrangements.

The sporting facilities are good too; the Kings Pool and Kings Park are but a few. Kings Park is the only stadium in the world that has a suite owned by wheelchair users. It seats 92 people and has its own loos and a bar at wheelchair height. Should you want to attend any match or music concert that is being held there you need to contact QASA to make arrangements. All in all – the upgrading of the airport aside, Durban is really an accessible and friendly city to visit.

Columnist Photos