It may not be Monaco, but its yacht clubs, art centres and trendy restaurants are becoming major drawcards for visitor
Yacht moles and marinas are considered prime real estate virtually globally. Cast an imaginary eye over the Marina Grande Capri (Italy), Port Hercule (Monaco) or Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to capture the value and prestige this water space can command.
Durban’s yacht mole along the Esplanade cannot – yet – compete with these international spaces and the degeneration of the Durban CBD has not helped. But the area is on the up.
The port of Durban is the busiest shipping terminal in sub-Saharan Africa, handling 83 million tons in 2018, and is the fourth largest container terminal in the southern hemisphere, providing spectacular views for investors wanting to capitalise on visual access to a working port. One of those entrepreneurs is the husband-and-wife team of Graham and Gina Neilson, who this week officially opened the doors to the relocated 9th Avenue Bistro in the Durban Yacht Mole, aptly renaming the award-winning restaurant 9th Avenue Waterside. The bistro has been a landmark on the restaurant scene since 2001.
Gina says the new waterfront site – neighbouring both the Royal Natal and Point Yacht clubs – is in a very different setting to the previous shopping centre space. “The site is so breathtaking we knew we had to move there. We wanted to be part of the regeneration of the area and create something new for our city’s residents and visitors.”
The building originally housed the trendy Café Fish Restaurant, but has been empty for years. Now renovated in a contemporary style, it can potentially inject commercial interest into the area. The Neilsons want the restaurant to become a multi-functional space for weddings and events, such as the Diners Club Winelist of the Year Awards.
But it is not the only commercial enterprise along the esplanade. Wholly owned by the provincial finance agency Ithala Development Finance Corporation, Wilson’s Wharf was developed as a waterfront initiative in the early 2000s and is part of the Ithala Properties portfolio.
The area was once an under-developed boatyard section of the working harbour that the agency sought to change into a tourist attraction. The aim was to mix leisure with commerce and harbour-related activities across its 4 200m² development. Originally the initiative housed a 185-seat theatre as well as restaurants, pubs, fast food outlets, speciality shops, a craft market and a 75-boat marina.
Today the theatre is closed and Ithala advertises more than 20 units available for rent in the precinct, ranging from 8m² to 325m² (and another large site at 295m²), with most being under 30m². This caters for small entrepreneurs keen to establish a toehold for their businesses within a relatively safe economic environment.
Businesses operating in Wilson’s Wharf include a variety of restaurants and harbour cruise companies, but the area would benefit from much-needed TLC. Education about litter and its disposal as well as general maintenance and cleanliness would vastly improve the appeal. On the other end of the marina lies the BAT Centre.
Established in 1995, it has focused on observing the quality of the arts and performances displayed by local artists within the municipality. The centre strives to develop artists in the belief the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. The initiative assists young artists to develop into successful entrepreneurs and job creators.
Anchoring the esplanade are the two yacht clubs – Royal Natal dating from 1858 and Point from 1892. The former is the oldest yacht club in the country and currently members are renovating the 120-year-old Vasco da Gama Monument and Clock located in its garden. That monument honours the Portuguese explorer first credited with reaching the port of Durban more than 500 years ago, and thus paving the way for the city’s shipping-based economy dating from the 1820s onwards.
An interesting snippet to the restoration is the club’s permission to recreate the threefeathers logo associated with King Edward VII when he was the Prince of Wales at the time the monument was erected.
Earlier this month the club secured permission from Britain’s Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, to use a reconstructed version of the badge in the project, which the club believes contributes towards the preservation of KwaZulu-Natal’s maritime history. There are various commercial properties for sale or rent along the esplanade.
These include a 120m² space currently operating as a supermarket on the market for R1.15 million and another business occupying 146m² for R2.5m. Rents range from R75/m² for a 177m² office space to R110/m² for an iconic office block measuring 1 555m².
Established businesses and things to do in the area
9th Avenue Waterside
Established in 2001 on the Berea, the award-winning 9th Avenue Bistro this week opened its doors on its renovated, modern facility in the Durban Yacht Mole as 9th Avenue Waterside. The landmark building seemingly floats above the waters akin to the boats that surround it.
Royal Natal Yacht Club
Established in 1858, making it the oldest yacht club in Africa and the fifth oldest in the southern hemisphere, the Royal Natal Yacht Club upholds its heritage by providing members with racing, cruising and social facilities. The club contributes to development and youth sailing programmes.
Point Yacht Club
Established in 1892, the Point Yacht Club is a water sports club offering a variety of services to water enthusiasts. The venue can also be hired.
On the northern end of the Durban Yacht Mole, the BAT Centre is a community arts development and entertainment centre. Its facilities range from intimate art galleries to a small conference centre, performance hall, dance studio, art and music studios, restaurant, bar and outside deck, and a host of shops selling local contemporary and traditional art, mostly from KwaZulu-Natal.
Durban Maritime Museum
This eThekwini-owned facility pays homage to Durban as the maritime trade centre for Africa and the city’s economic epicentre. This tribute to local seafaring traditions is backed by wide-angle views of the Durban harbour and bay and offers inquisitive youngsters (and adults) a peek inside decommissioned vessels including the naval SAS Durban minesweeper (1957), JR Moore tug (1961) and the tug Ulundi with her 1927 coal-fired engine.
Ku D’Ta Bar and Grill
Located in Wilson’s Wharf, Ku D’Ta promises patrons a majestic view in a relaxed harbour atmosphere from which to listen to live music and indulge in fusion food. Bands play seven days a week while Tuesday nights offer patrons the opportunity to test their singing talents with karaoke.
Sarie Marais Cruises
Among the oldest boat cruise companies in South Africa, Sarie Marais Cruises has been offering harbour tours and education trips since 1905. The company’s fleet of vessels offer patrons water experiences to suit the pocket and occasion.