For me, growing up in uMhlanga, in KwaZulu-Natal, is remembering: devouring litchis and mangos bought from the side of the road; my dad teaching me how to swim in the sea; and strolls along the promenade with my wire car made by a street vendor (you know, those ones with long handles that jingle as you push).
It was the quintessential vacation town, chockful of visitors almost year round taking advantage of the warm ocean and perfect weather. And I was lucky enough to live there permanently.
Returning as an adult, the feeling of being on a perennial holiday remains, only there’s much more to see, do and eat… in addition to litchis and mangos.
Day 1: But first, coffee
If you’re planning on conquering uMhlanga in two days, a good coffee is essential to get you through. Daily Dose uMhlanga is the best spot to get a cuppa on the run – literally. It’s more of a stand than a store and locals flock for the quality beans and lekker vibes.
Pastries, biscuits and smoothies are also on the menu and there are umbrellas and benches for comfortable snacking. You’ll find it on the lawn along Durban View Road.
It’s a favourite for locals who enjoy staying active and is the best pitstop before a walk along the uMhlanga Promenade.
Dining with a sea view doesn’t get better than this. If it wasn’t for the promenade, La Spiaggia would, quite literally, be on uMhlanga Main Beach. I’ve been visiting this local treasure since I was in nappies. My folks would arrive early to secure a table, either inside, along the big windows, or outside on the promenade, under the welcoming shade of umbrellas.
Returning as an adult, my order is still the same: the best margarita pizza with a traditional Greek salad on the side. Only now, I can enjoy my own jug of sangria rather than beg for its wine-soaked apples, as my younger self used to do.
You’ll find it at 22 Lagoon Drive, or just keep walking from the pier until you spot the buzzing eatery on the corner, almost directly opposite the lifeguard tower. 071 246 0984
Full bellies and time for fun. Bend your brain with a real-life detective game at Mindgame Escape Room in Granada Square on Chartwell Drive. It’s from R200 per person for five to six players, but you can book for just two of you. Booking is strictly online. 087 238 2524, mindgame.co.za
Day 2: Plenty to do
Well rested and ready to hit day two in uMhlanga, there’s much to do.
If you didn’t explore the promenade on Day 1, today’s the day. Follow your nose towards the scent of salt. The promenade is about a five-minute walk from Daily Dose. Keep an eye out for the uMhlanga Pier. It’s hard to miss with its grand, whalebone-shaped arches that frame the 80m landmark (umhlangaarch.co.za).
From here, you can stroll for kilometres along a brick pathway with the rhythmic ‘shhh’ of the Indian Ocean’s waves as your soundtrack. There are multiple entries to the beach along the promenade, so pack a cozzie if you fancy a swim.
The foodie scene in this holiday enclave just north of Durban has recently grown exponentially. Visit Shoots and Leaves on The Boulevard on uMmhlanga Ridge (078 532 3970, shootsandleaves.co.za) for something healthy, 14 on Chartwell (031 561 1017, 14onchartwell.com) for something new age and sexy, and Mo Noodles on Beacon Rock at 21 Lighthouse Road (031 561 1722) for something authentic yet trendy.
The Beverly Hills Hotel, also on Lighthouse Road (031 561 2211, southernsun.com/beverly-hills), makes unmissable cocktails, too.
When you’re not eating or beaching, adventure through the uMhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve. You can also visit Hawaan Forest, although it is a restricted area and you need to book a guide through The Breakers Resort (031 561 2271, breakersresort.co.za), or phone guide Bernard Chatiboku directly (078 751 5991).
Hawaan Forest guided walks take place at 9 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as on weekends and public holidays.
There is a shorter walk of about three hours and a longer five-hour walk through the pristine forest. The latter is more scenic and you can sit and enjoy any snacks you bring along.
Hawaan is the last of the dry coastal dune forests and is a particularly pretty home to valuable tropical tree species, birds and animals.
The Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve is another get-back-to-nature option. umhlangarockstourism.co.za
Where to Stay
The Oyster Box Hotel
A timeless retreat on the fringes of the beach, overlooking the lighthouse, it’s the pearl in uMhlanga’s crown. Alternatively, enjoy a cocktail overlooking the pool and lighthouse, or stay a while longer for dinner.
The standing joke is that in Durban, the dingier the joint, the better the curry. The Oyster Box is the exception. Its curries are renowned and come with a view, but if spice isn’t your thing, the high tea is an experience that really should not be missed.
031 514 5000, oysterboxhotel.com
Sol Kerzner’s inaugural luxury hotel was named after his daughter, Beverly, and visitors have been flocking to the gracious hotel since 1964. It is as popular as ever, loved as much for its fabulous ocean views from every room as it is for its blissful pool.
There’s also an in-house spa to take the relaxation even further.
It may be old, but it has kept up with the times, and amenities include unlimited WiFi, Nespresso machines and flatscreen DStv.
031 561 2211, southernsun.com/beverly-hills
A version of this article originally appeared in the March 2023 print issue of Getaway.
By Robyn Simpson
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