Umhlanga – the charming, trendy resort town on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal just north of Durban city is known today as the oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city, and is the destination of choice for many. Umhlanga boasts prestigious luxury hotels, breathtaking beaches, and some of the finest dining in South Africa. It’s hard to believe that this hub of activity had such humble beginnings.
Umhlanga Rocks was founded in 1895 as a quiet holiday resort town for mill workers and friends by Sir Marshall Campbell. In 1863, his son Alfred built a cottage named Oyster Lodge out of Burmese Teak, corrugated iron and reinforced concrete. The roof, painted white, served as a navigational beacon. The site of this lodge is now the site of the Luxury Oyster Box Hotel & Oyster Rocks Apartment Buildings.
It didn’t take long before there were a few more cottages, and a well had to be sunk to supply water, this well still exists in the park opposite The Malindi apartment building on Marine Drive, Umhlanga.
Development proceeded and the first hotel, The Victoria Hotel, was built in 1923 and included two old trams as annexes. The hotel was enormously successful and hosted, among others the famous George Bernard Shaw in 1935. After several alterations, additions and improvements, the name of the hotel was changed to Umhlanga Rocks Hotel. Among the many developments was the Wave Crest Boarding House, on the site where Umhlanga Sands Hotel now stands.
In 1955 the lighthouse was built to prevent ships from mistaking the Umgeni River mouth for the Harbour. At that time the owners of the Oyster Box Hotel had purchased a large area of land from the South African Railways and Harbours Authority, who now wanted permission to erect a lighthouse on this land. After much negotiating, the parties eventually settled and the lighthouse was erected on the beach.
Umhlanga continued to grow in popularity as increasing numbers of people and businesses moved out of the busy city to more luxurious offices and homes in the area. Surrounding suburbs experienced prolific development too, and this small town north of Durban has become KwaZula-Natal’s very own “Sandton by the Sea”.
A FEW QUICK FACTS
■ Umhlanga – the name means “place of reeds” in isiZulu and is named after the Ohlanga River, which reaches the Indian Ocean three kilometers north of the town
■ Durban’s international airport – King Shaka International Airport is near Umhlanga
■ Gateway Theatre of Shopping is located in Umhlanga Ridge and has been regarded as the largest shopping centre in Africa and the largest shopping centre in the Southern Hemisphere
■ Umhlanga’s Sea Water temperatures vary from around 25°C (77°F) in summer to around 18°C (65°F) in winter, perfect for swimming year round!