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Umhlanga Rocks is an upmarket seaside resort north of Durban in Kwa-Zulu Natal on the east coast of South Africa. Together Umhlanga and Umdloti form the Sugar Coast, formerly sugar cane plantations. It is one of the most popular holiday destinations.
The beautiful surroundings were originally coastal dune forest .Rivers flow from the Drakensberg Mountains down through the Valley of the Thousand Hills to the coast at the sea. Rolling green hills rise up on the ridge behind Umhlanga Rocks, which is on the beach of the Indian ocean.
Umhlanga Rocks village began when a beach cottage was built in 1869 on a rocky headland with a magnificent sea view. The Oyster Box Hotel was built in the 1930's, in graceful English colonial architecture with surrounding heavenly gardens and gorgeous flowering shrubs and trees. The village grew around the hotel.The vegetation in Umhlanga is lush and verdant due to the warm subtropical climate.
Umhlanga has wonderful views of the sea and ships along the horizon due to its elevated position.
Umhlanga is a fun seaside destination, having beautiful beaches and lovely surrounding residential suburbs with magnificent trees and gardens. Monkeys play and roam about and birdlife proliferates.
Dazzling hotels overlook the beach and the main road of the little village has many restaurants, sidewalk cafes, pubs and boutiques. Day and night there is a stream of very expensive cars.
Above Umhlanga Rocks a couple of kilometers inland, is the Ridge. Here office parks, shopping centres and more suburbs have been built, replacing the sugar cane fields.
Things to Do
Umhlanga is a place to relax and enjoy the wonderful climate, to soak up some sun on the beach under an umbrella or go swimming in the sparkling turquoise sea. With ocean views and a casual atmosphere it is chance to be away from everything and still have every convenience within easy reach.
Nevertheless there is a wealth of entertainment available:
Sports, golf, shopping, movies, or nature trails.
The shops in the village centre are excellent and provide just about everything you could want. There are branches of the main supermarkets, health shops, restaurants, coffee shops, sidewalk cafes and boutiques.The La Lucia Mall and the huge Gateway Theatre of Shopping are nearby. The Gateway Mall has over 500 shops, the biggest shopping centre in Africa, as well as hotels, restaurants, cinemas and private clinics.
The beach, an endless straight stretch into the distance, is used all day all year by locals and visitors. There are two main swimming beaches with lifesavers and shark nets and the main Umhlanga swimming beach is Bronze Beach.
There are many pools in the rocky outcrops along the shore, ideal for families with small children to paddle in.
The Sharks Board sends crews out on ski boats to check the nets daily to ensure safe swimming .Their headquarters are in Umhlanga Ridge and interesting audiovisual lectures are on daily about sharks.
There is a strong water lifestyle culture, no wet suits are needed and the warm ocean is great for surfing, swimming, scuba diving, kite boarding, fishing and sailing. Winter is mild and brief from june to august, and the rest of the year warm, with a summer rainfall of evening showers.
A wide well maintained paved Promenade curves for 3 kilometers along the beach overlooking the sea, and is frequented by runners and walkers all day long until dark.
Numerous world class golf courses, with undulating fairways and spectacular layouts, are designed around indigenous trees and gardens.The sunny climate and lush natural environment are ideal for golf.
Other ocean and outdoor adventures are deep sea fishing, whale and dolphin watching, flying microlights or chartering planes or helicopter flips at Virginia airport.
Umhlanga was originally a coastal dune forest and there are 2 guided nature walks through what remains of this ancient indigenous forest, the Lagoon Walk and the Hawaan forest walk.
The Lagoon nature trail leaves three times a day. It is an hour and a half walk along a boardwalk beside the river, through the forest to the lagoon, with rich birdlife, butterflies, monkeys and the odd antelope.
The Hawaan forest walk is at the other end of the promenade. Inquiries and bookings can be made at the Breakers hotel.
Roads lead in every direction from Umhlanga to different glorious scenic drives. The Valley of 1000 Hills is a pristine wilderness with magnificent scenery, forests and waterfalls. There are beautiful drives along the coast, both to the north and south, and also nearby less developed beaches,like Umdloti, to visit.
Where to Eat
Excellent restaurants around Umhlanga provide a huge choice.
Remo’s Villaggio and Angelo’s are packed with customers every day, both specialise in Italian food.
Little Havana is another favourite, very smart and well run, with contemporary cuisine.
Ile Maurice is a sophisticated comfortable restaurant with french cooking.
The Olive and Oil is for mediterranean food and the Press Club does breakfasts and lunches.
The Oyster Box Hotel has 3 restaurants, the Palm Court has light meals and high tea, and the Grill room has curry buffets. The Ocean Terrace does light meals and is a delightful place to eat during the day as the view is exquisite.
Otherwise there are restaurants at the Gateway, like Tasha and Circus Circus.
There are good coffee shops too, such as Gloria Jeans Coffee Cafe. These are a few of the best restaurants and there is always Mr Delivery for those not inclined to go out.
Where to Stay
Umhlanga has always been one of the best places to stay on the north coast of Durban.
There are lovely luxurious hotels right on the beach. Also all along the ocean are blocks of luxury units, expertly terraced with expansive views. These provide wonderful self catering holiday accommodation with balconies overlooking the sea, and a swim a short walk away.
Many guest houses and villas with views of the sea are available in the Umhlanga suburbs. There are holiday homes for rent, cottages, golf lodges, guest houses and backpackers, something to suit everyone.
Business hotels are on the Ridge.
Air: Shaka Airport, South Africa's newest and most modern airport, is near Umhlanga.
Car: The best option is to rent a car at the Airport which is 10 minutes away.
Umhlanga is well positioned to get to many major South African destinations. The highways are excellent.
The N2 follows the east coastline 200 kilometers to the north, up to the St Lucia Wetlands and Game Reserves.
To the south is entirely different terrain to explore through Margate to the Wild Coast.
The N3 continues to the Drakensberg Mountains, and further inland to Johannesburg and the Kruger Park.
Did you Know
Umhlanga in Zulu means “place with reeds”.
Umhlanga is often misspelt Umshlanga or Umhlunga or Umhlonga.
Umhlanga was founded as a town in 1895 by Sir Marshall Campbell.The first hotel was built there in 1920.
In 2010 construction started on the Umhlanga Ridge New Town Centre and Durban airport moved near Umhlanga to reopen as the Shaka International Airport.
Many businesses have relocated from Durban centre to Umhlanga, as in Johannesburg to Sandton and many of Durban’s best hotels and accommodation are in Umhlanga.
The Hawaan forest in Umhlanga is 114 acres of protected coastal forest and is 18000 years old, with 175 different species of trees.
For a more down to earth experience there are guest houses. Less expensive than hotels, they offer a more homey environment, as well as more privacy. Converted from a private house it’s a much gentler environment and for those with furry friends, there are also pet friendly options. They are usually well situated with shops and places of interest nearby. Being so small it offers a much more personal and intimate attention to it’s upkeep, leaving you with a more polished and homely experience.