Once a sleepy retirement village, the town of Umkomaas was transformed in the 1950s by the installation of an Italian-staffed and Italian machine-supplied rayon and cellulose factory. By the late 1960s, half of Umkomaas’ residents were Italian immigrants and their influence helped to grow the town into the thriving seaside resort of today.
The Zulu king Shaka who, after watching female whales with their calves in the estuary, called the river uMkhomazi (place of cow whales) and the town alongside took on the same name, albeit rather distorted.
But for the river regularly silting up, Umkomaas might have become a harbour port. Fortunately for vacationers and nature lovers, this never happened and the Umkomaas beaches and river can be forever enjoyed by visitors that flock to this strip of coastline annually.
Top 6 reasons to visit Umkomaas
1. Lounge in the sun and swim in the warm Indian Ocean at Umkomaas Beach. This section of the coast has magnificent sandy beaches to explore, swim, fish and surf.
2. Umkomaas is best known for the Aliwal Shoal reef nearby that attracts dive enthusiasts from all corners of the globe and is rated amongst the world’s top 10 dive sites. Various dive operators offer trips to the reefs and supply gear. Open dive amongst ragged tooth, black-tipped and tiger sharks, rays, dolphins and turtles.
3. Umkomaas has a lively restaurant scene with a number of exceptional eateries located here. Seafood restaurants abound and one popular beachfront restaurant is packed on weekends. Ask your host for details or take a walk around the town to choose one that appeals.
4. Silky greens and manicured fairways belie the challenging rough at the 18-hole Umkomaas Golf Club overlooking the ocean. Visitors are welcome and green fees are reasonable at this 100-year old course.
5. The Stihl Umkomaas River Marathon (The Umko) is a canoe race that takes place annually. The race covers a tough 67km stretch of rapids, some at Class IV level where helmets and lifejackets are obligatory. For bystanders, the scenery along the river course is spectacular with waterfalls, gorges and thick greenery on view.
6. Visit the 120ha Empisini Nature Reserve to appreciate the virgin coastal and riverine forests along the 4 hiking trails. Expect to see monkey, bushpig, mongoose and various buck species. There is a waterfall, resource centre and picnic site in the reserve.
The nearest airport is King Shaka International Airport, 80km from Umkomaas. There are many car rental agencies in Durban city centre and at King Shaka airport to hire a vehicle, or you could order a vehicle online. Several shuttle service companies are based in Durban and the airport for travel to and from Umkomaas. Uber also operates in Durban, however, fees are costly and it’s best to hire a car.
Did you know?
Migratory whales once frequented the Umkomaas (uMkomazi) River mouth to calve, however, nowadays whales only pass the bay. The humpback whale is a regular visitor.
In the 1860s, the Umkomaas River was deemed to be suitable for a harbour port and a 63-ton shipping vessel was purchased to transport goods from Durban harbour, however, the vessel only made 2 successful trips before it became stranded on a sand bank. Engineers took 6 months to re-float the ship and the proposed harbour was abandoned.