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Umhlanga Rocks is a fashionable upmarket seaside resort on the east coast of Kwazulu Natal, 16 kilometers north of Durban. Umhlanga and Umdloti form the Sugar Coast together. Umhlanga is in a spectacular location, the Umgeni river flows from the Drakensberg Mountains through the Valley of the Thousand Hills to the sea. Rolling green hills rise up on the ridge behind Umhlanga Rocks, which overlooks the Indian ocean.
There is a wealth of entertainment, sports, golf, shopping, movies, and nature trails. The shops are excellent and provide everything you could want. There are the supermarkets, health shops, restaurants, coffee shops, sidewalk cafes and boutiques. La Lucia Mall and the huge Gateway Theatre of Shopping are nearby.
Umhlanga is a fun seaside town. Dazzling hotels were built along the seashore and the houses in the surrounding suburb have magnificent trees and gardens, monkeys play and birdlife is prolific.
The main road has restaurants, sidewalk cafes, pubs and boutiques. Day and night there seems to be a stream of very expensive cars. Above Umhlanga a few kilometers inland, is the Ridge where office parks, shopping centres and suburbs have replaced the sugar cane.
Ideally, perhaps one should do nothing as it is a perfect place to relax in a wonderful climate, soak up some sunshine on the beach, under an umbrella admiring the wavescape. It is away from everything and yet has every convenience within easy reach.
The long beaches stretch into the distance,frequented all year by locals and visitors. The 2 main swimming beaches have lifesavers. There are pools in the rocky outcrops along the shore for families with children to paddle in.The main swimming beach is Bronze beach.
The efficient Sharks Board sends crews daily on ski boats to check the nets to ensure safe swimming.Their headquarters in Umhlanga Ridge have interesting audiovisual lectures daily.
There is a strong water lifestyle culture. No wet suits are needed as the ocean is warm all year for surfing, swimming, scuba diving, kite boarding, fishing and sailing .The 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 paved Promenade curves for 3 kilometers along the beach overlooking the sea, frequented by runners and walkers all day until dark.
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, originally coastal dune forest, has 2 guided nature walks through what remains of the ancient indigenous forest, the Lagoon walk and the Hawaan forest walk.
Shopping is well provided for in Umhlanga. In the 1980"s development moved inland onto the Ridge, replacing the sugar cane fields to become a retail, office and residential centre in Durban. The Gateway has over 500 shops,the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere, with hotels, restaurants, cinemas and private clinics.
The Lagoon Nature Trail leaves three times a day, 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 in every direction from Umhlanga lead to different scenic drives. The Valley of 1000 Hills is a wilderness with lovely scenery, forests and waterfalls. There are beautiful drives along the coast, both north and south, and there are nearby less developed beaches to visit.
Where to Eat
There are several excellent restaurants around Umhlanga, so there is a wide 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.
There are restaurants at the Gateway, like Tasha and Circus Circus, and good coffee shops, such as Gloria Jean’s Coffee Cafe. These are a few of the best restaurants and there is always Mr Delivery!
Where to Stay
Umhlanga is one of the most popular places to stay along the Natal north coast, with lovely luxurious hotels right on the beach. All along the ocean are blocks of luxury units, terraced with expansive views. These provide wonderful self catering holiday accommodation with balconies overlooking the sea, and the beach a short walk away.
Many guest houses and villas are available in the Umhlanga suburbs with views of the sea. There are holiday homes for rent, cottages, golf lodges, and backpackers, something to suit everyone.
Car: The best option is to rent a car at King Shaka International Airport which is 10 minutes away. Umhlanga is well positioned to get to many major South African destinations as the roads 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 there 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
1. The Zulu meaning of Umhlanga is "place with reeds".
2. Umhlanga is often misspelt Umshlanga, Umhlunga or Umhlonga.
3. The town is a tropical paradise, and often called the Riviera of Durban.
4. Sir Marshall Campbell founded the town in 1895.
5. The first Umhlanga hotel was built in 1920.
6. Durban international airport moved closer to Umhlanga and in 2010 reopened as King Shaka International Airport.
7.The Hawaan forest in Umhlanga is 114 acres of protected coastal forest and is 18000 years old, with 175 different species of trees.
Umhlanga Rocks village began on a plantation belonging to a Scottish sugar cane magnate. A beach cottage was built on a rocky headland looking out to sea with a view of a long wide golden beach. His daughter built the Oyster Box hotel in the 1930's, in the graceful English colonial style, with surrounding heavenly gardens of flowering shrubs and trees. The vegetation in Umhlanga is lush and verdant.
A lighthouse built in 1953, is next to the Oyster Box swimming pool. It flashes every night along the Umhlanga beach and the rocks out to the ocean. Ships had been mistaking the Umgeni River for Durban harbour and hitting the rocks.Although it now without its tropical gardens, the elegant Oyster Box hotel is still open today. Sitting on their long veranda, for lunch or tea, with the view of the lighthouse, and ships on the horizon, is a relaxing experience.
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.