Way back in 1895 uMhlanga was a quiet seaside spot where the workers at the nearby sugar mill would come to relax; some would go fishing, others would just laze on the beach or pop to a nearby shop.
Fast forward a century and you have a bustling village with hotels, resorts, restaurants and numerous residents. One might have thought that this was as good as it would get for the village of uMhlanga, but 23 years on development is happening thick and fast.
The site of what was once a humble cottage of wood and iron is now the iconic Oyster Box Hotel, and the Umhlanga Sands stands where the Victoria Hotel once stood – a hotel that in 1935 hosted famous Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, among others. Beyond the village, the fields of sugar cane interspersed with coastal forest remained until the 1980s when development started to expand inland, eventually reaching up to the ridge when, in 1995, Tongaat Hulett began transforming former sugarcane fields into mixed-use developments. The uMhlanga Ridge development has become one of South Africa’s fastest growing development nodes, bringing a variety of elements together to create an environment that offers a multitude of business, shopping, entertainment and accommodation options.
The speed of this development was hastened in 2010 by the construction of the new King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) at La Mercy, and the construction of a number of new hotels in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup™. With the densification of the Ridge, as it’s commonly referred to, existing road infrastructure became horribly inefficient – in particular the exit from the N2 freeway in peak traffic, which triggered the construction of the new uMhlanga Interchange Bridge, which in turn triggered construction of the Cornubia Bridge giving access to Cornubia, another all-inclusive urban node of business, retail and leisure, currently under development.
And there’s more. The new uMhlanga Arch, which broke ground in October 2017 and is due for completion in early 2020, will add another mixed-use development including a hotel, upmarket apartments, office space and retail outlets – all with spectacular views, as can be expected from this location.
It’s not just the sugar-cane fields that are making way for development; uMhlanga town itself is undergoing a dramatic transformation where low-rise residential and commercial is making way for high-rise glitz. The Pearls of uMhlanga, a multi-use development, has changed the uMhlanga skyline forever with its towering apartments, luxury hotels and boutique shopping mall. And close by is the soon-to-be-completed Oceans Umhlanga another high-rise hotel, retail, entertainment and residential development. These have set the bar high for development in the region, with the total investment for both said to be in excess of R7 billion. Such is the demand for these mixed-use developments that within a few hours of its coming to market, sales for Oceans Umhlanga reached a whopping R1.55 billion, a new South African record!
So with all this development, one would think that uMhlanga would lose its appeal as a leisure destination. On the contrary, residents, visitors and holiday-makers alike now have a vast smorgasbord of leisure activities to keep them happy.
There’s something about a beach, the sand underfoot, the sound of the ocean and the warm subtropical water. And uMhlanga’s beaches, with their golden sands, rocky outcrops and iconic lighthouse (built in 1954), are one of the reasons visitors have been flocking here for decades. Add to this the fun summer, Easter, and winter festivals and it’s obvious why. For a spot of adventure uMhlanga doesn’t disappoint, with helicopter flips, ocean adventures, surfing, whale and dolphin watching and scuba diving.
And there’s nothing like green spaces to clear your head, from the landscaped Chris Saunders Park on the Ridge to the uMhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve at the end of Lagoon Drive – you can take a scenic walk along the Ohlanga River Lagoon with its extensive reed beds, after which the town is named (uMhlanga means ‘place of reeds’ in Zulu). For a different type of green, opt for a round of golf at the Mount Edgecombe Country Club, just a stone’s throw away across the new uMhlanga Interchange Bridge.
Get your walking shoes on for a stroll along the three-kilometre paved promenade, or join uMhlanga’s five-kilometre parkrun, which starts at the striking ‘whalebone’ pier opposite the Beverly Hills Hotel, heads south to the Durban View Park, up to the northernmost point and then back to the pier. Tradition says that the run needs to be followed by a post-run coffee at BTW …
From the Gateway Theatre of Shopping on the Ridge, said to be one of the largest shopping complexes in the southern hemisphere, to the local Umhlanga Centre and sophisticated Pearls Mall, all types of retail therapy are catered for. Those preferring a more informal market experience will enjoy the monthly Umhlanga Night Market at the Wavepark Gateway and Wonder Market at Chris Saunders Park.
The coolest commute It’s such a quick zip to KSIA, and a flight of about an hour to OR Tambo. From there, a quick ride on the Gautrain, and you can be in an office in Sandton two hours after walking out of your front door in uMhlanga. Not surprisingly, many people live here for three-day weekends, and spend short, effective, four-day weeks in Gauteng.
Whether it’s living, working or playing that brings you to uMhlanga, eating out is something of a necessity. Here, where Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean happily rub shoulders with hearty African cuisine, you’ll find something to suit every taste. Add to this an assortment of coffee shops, and you’re sorted – but if a ‘real’ cup of java is what you need, head to Humble Roasting Co. – a small-batch speciality roaster on the Ridge.
Visitors to uMhlanga are certainly spoilt for choice with a diverse offering of places to stay – from business-centric hotels such as the Royal Palm Court and Gateway and Coastlands hotels on the Ridge, to ocean-facing hotels like the luxurious new Capital Pearls Resort Hotel, grand dames like The Oyster Box Hotel, and the nearby Beverly Hills as well as established resorts like the Cabana Beach Lifestyle Resort. Add to this smaller boutique hotels and B&Bs, and all options are covered. Exciting future options include Radisson Blu at Oceans Umhlanga, and the Hilton Garden Inn at uMhlanga Arch.
uMhlanga is a great example of the ‘live, work, play’ philosophy, with more and more people choosing to live in this bustling environment where the continuous development is ensuring a choice of accommodation, a multitude of work opportunities and never-ending play options.
Change is constant, they say, and where uMhlanga is concerned, it’s exceptionally true.
The ambitious multi-use Oceans Umhlanga development will offer ‘all you could ever want … an abundance of entertainment, trendy restaurants, high-end retail and sophisticated nightlife’. High claims indeed. So how will these be delivered?
- the 36,000-square-metre high-end shopping mall – already confirmed are luxury brands Burberry, Versace, Armani, Hugo Boss and Paul Smith among others.
- the two towers offering 444 elegantly designed, panoramic-view apartments – included in the residential development will be a 25-metre lap pool, family leisure pool, wellness centre, 24-hour concierge and ample parking.
- the five-star Radisson Blu Oceans Umhlanga, with its luxury accommodation, state-of-the-art conference facilities and glamorous ballroom, a fully equipped gym, wellness centre, an array of restaurants and an artisanal coffee roaster.