Umhlanga Rocks, a bustling sea site town at the Indian Ocean, just north of Durban. It is a very new town with little history. So, you may ask, why do I want to write about it? The answer is simply that I spent a holiday there and made a point of finding out on how it developed over the few years.
It is 15 km north, along the coast, from Durban, geo-position': 29.7271°S and 31.0846°E, that is the position of the shopping centre. The altitude is from the sea at 0 metres to Umhlanga ridge at 145m.
There is a bit of confusion, is it Umhlanga or Umhlanga Rocks? On a map of Natal dated 1910 the place was Umhlanga Rocks, but when the municipality combined with La Lucia it's name changed to just Umhlanga. Thus for the purpose of the article I will call it Umhlanga Rocks.
The first time the area of Umhlanga is mentioned in the sources was when the Natal Cotton Company bought bushland there for 20 cent an acre. That must have been around 1850. The Natal Cotton Company was founded by Jonas Bergtheil. He had come to Natal originally from Bavaria in Germany in 184x to search for business opportunities. He found it when he thought that growing cotton would be such an opportunity. He started off in the present Westcliff. To get his farming operation going he brought in a group of German farmers and their families. This was the first major influx of Germans to Natal and resulted in the establishment of a settlement called Neu-Deutschland later translated to New Germany. But, I am digressing, the more complete history can be found in the Bergtheil museum in Westcliff.
That was just a precursor, the real history started with a beach cottage built in 1863. Here it becomes a bit confusing, I found it difficult to piece the events together. What follows is my interpretation of what I found on the Internet and I could be wrong with some of the details.
The cottage is mentioned again when it was taken over by Marshall Campbell in 1869 and referred to as the Oyster Box. Marshall Campbell later became Sir being knighted for his major contribution to the development of Natal, he became the largest sugar cane grower in Natal and had a sugar refinery constructed. But in 1869 he would have only been 21 years of age and thus only at the beginning of his endevour. He started growing sugar cane at Mount Edgecomb, the area looking from the sea behind the Umhlanga Ridge.
Umhlanga Rocks as a settlement was established by Marshall Campbell, a catalyst was a track built from Mount Edgecomb down to the Umhlanga coast. The location became popular with the local farmers who leased plots and erected holiday homes.
The first hotel, the Umhlanga Rocks Hotel opened it's doors in the 1923, it was initially called the Victoria Hotel. The Oyster Box Hotel saw it's beginnings in the in 1930's, when the site was sold to Kay and Ken O'Connor. They started a tea garden, later a restaurant and offered accommodation. It culminated in the construction of a hotel, the Oyster Box Hotel in 1954. The hotel changed hands in 2006 to Bea & Stanley Tollman, they went ahead and remodelled and extended the hotel to what it is now. The new upgraded hotel was opened in 2009. It is a graded 5★ hotel, internationally rated one of the best.
The first of the high rise hotels built was the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was Sol Kerzner's first hotel. It was opened in December 1964, is a 5★ hotel and was named after his daughter, Beverly.
Another Kerzner hotel is the Cabana Beach, not straight away. It was built in 1972 by the Anglo American company and 1979 aquired by Kerzner. 198 4 it was converted to timeshare, which it still is.
After this there came many more high rise hotels, timeshare and apartment buildings. A process that still hasn’t stopped, as can be seen in the picture. This must be one of the fastest growing towns in South Africa. I would also refer to the rapid development of the Umhlanga Ridge with it's Gateway Shopping Centre and many commercial and residential buildings.
Other points of interest are the light house and the pier. The light house was constructed in 1954 to help ship navigation. Something interesting to know about it is 21 metres heigh, that its construction time was 4 days and 19 hours, the shell was cast continuously and took 24 hours to reach the top and that it is operated by the Oyster Box hotel.
The pier, most likely the most photographed pier in South Africa, especially at night and early in the morning at sun rise it is very photogenic. It was built only very recently, finished in 2007. The prime purpose of the structure is to carry storm water further out to sea with value added to make it a tourist attraction. The 32 columns made from fibreglass glad in copper represent whale bones.
Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974