The idea of Durban as a port dates back to 1824 when the first European settlers made a landing with the intention of setting up a trading post.
The Bay of Natal (Durban Bay) was one of the few natural harbours available along the east coast of southern Africa between Algoa Bay and Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay).
Vasco da Gama is said to have sighted the Bay on Christmas Day, 1497, when he hove to off the Bluff with his three small ships San Gabriel, San Raphael and Berrio, before naming the land Natal as a mark of respect for the Nativity. However subsequent studies by Professor Eric Axelson have suggested da Gama's 'discovery' was actually further south in the region of the present Port St Johns.
A later paper by Brian Stuckenberg, director emeritus of the Natal Museum and an entomologist by training, undertook extensive research into certain aspects of the Portuguese voyages of discovery and concluded that da Gama was indeed off the present KwaZulu Natal coast on Christmas Day 1497 (Natalia Vol.27 pp 19-29).
History appears to have decreed that it was while off the KZN coast and not Pondoland that the Portuguese named the land they saw 'Natal' in honour of the nativity.
Since then ships called sporadically over several centuries, and who knows which honest merchantman or perhaps pirate ship or infamous slaver sheltered behind the protection of the Bluff, that wooded peninsular that forms a dramatic landmark of present Durban.
The first harbour master was appointed in either 1839 or 1840 (true records do not exist) so perhaps Durban as a port should be considered from this time. Once the notorious bar - a sandbar across the entrance channel - had been 'conquered' (a story in its own right) Durban went on to rapidly become Africa's busiest general cargo port and home to one of the largest and busiest container terminals in the Southern Hemisphere.
Situated at Longitude 31º 02'E and Latitude 29º 52'S, the port is 680 nautical miles north-east of Cape Agulhas and occupies the natural expanse of Durban Bay - an area of 1850ha, with the water area being 892ha in extent at high tide and 679ha at low. From the Point to the opposite side of the entrance channel on the Bluff is 21km, with the emerging Point waterfront development and central business district to the north and northeast, Maydon Wharf in the west, the Bayhead ship repair area in the south and the Bluff Peninsular forming the southeast.
Durban Bay also served a different kind of purpose in the 1930s until late in the 1950s when it was used as a base for flying boats. First it was the graceful Short C class of Imperial Airways, for Durban was the terminus of the first commercial air route between South Africa and Europe. During World War II PBY Catalina flying boats and later the Short Sunderlands took over reconnaissance duties flying from their base at Bayhead, which lasted well into the 1950s.
Stirling Castle alongside the Ocean Terminal
Windsor Castle with either Africa or Europa in the foreground