Same same but lekker: a guide to Uvongo

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 3 November 2014

Every year KZN’s South Coast swells with holidaymakers looking for their fun in the sun. In placid Uvongo, however, it’s not so much about what to do than it is about who’s next door.

Please note: we’ve included the prices, as a guideline – but although they were correct at time of travel, they’re liable to change at the owner’s discretion. Please confirm with individual establishments before booking.

Uvongo sunrise

It’s a late afternoon in the middle of January and the Hibiscus Coast has a hangover. The sun has drawn a thick grey cumulonimbus quilt over its face, refusing to come out. Even the rain seems to wince as it strikes my windshield on the road between Manaba Beach and St Michaels on Sea, considered to be the greater Uvongo region. Although the word ‘greater’ is a misnomer: end to end it’s barely six kilometres and punctuated by a single, lonely traffic light. Right now it’s glowing obstinate red, unsympathetic to the fact that I’m the only person on the road.

It’s strange to think that less than 150 years ago the coastline from Hibberdene to Port Edward belonged to nobody. Alfred County, as it’s uncommonly known, was a no man’s land – a buffer zone between Natal and the Eastern Cape. It was later annexed to Natal. Nowadays, it suffers from annexation of another kind: that of the seasonal variety. There are more holiday apartments here than there are parking spots. And I hadn’t booked at any of them. Two weeks ago that would’ve been suicide, or rather holiday-icide. But I’m glad I’ve missed the party. It gives me the opportunity to meet the locals and find out what makes the place tick.

I pull in at The Oasis, a divey pool bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Alberton. Barman Wickus Fourie, a born-and-bred local, pours me the perfect pint.

‘Ja, no. Yissus. Glad that’s over,’ he says. ‘Each year it feels more hectic.’ According to him, the onslaught of holidaymakers brings the town to a halt. Traffic crawls. Queues filter into the liquor stores and ice becomes a precious commodity. Without it, however, there’d be nothing to tide businesses over during the off season. For the locals, it’s a welcome inconvenience, like your car not starting on a weekday.

The following morning an egg-yolk sunrise over Uvongo Beach silhouettes six fishermen on the pier. Behind them, Lilliecrona Road – named after its first family of residents – bears the combined patter, whizz and pant of runners, cyclists and dogs. Over at St Michaels on Sea, surfers slice foam with fibreglass on an immaculate, almost benign, right-hand break. A last-minute booking and a marshmallow-like mattress at Ebenezer Palms Bed and Breakfast afforded me a great night’s sleep and the opportunity to be up with the first comers. It’s not even 7 am and Uvongo is alive. By 9:30 am, the small beachfront parking lot is crammed with GP plates. Clearly, the season isn’t quite over yet and the aanhangers, late-starters and own-bosses have the best deal of the lot. The beaches are navigable, restaurants aren’t crammed and the dassies are out of hiding after a season of terror at the hands of children with sticks.

In less than two weeks, when the last of the late holidaymakers head home, Uvongo will return to normal, an old Texan oil jack ticking over at its own pace. Off-season Uvongo will remain as it always has: perceptibly dormant, save for the idle buzz of locals moving between its shops, restaurants, bars and one another’s homes.

Visit the falls and go fishing in Uvongo

Right now I’m chasing a different kind of buzz. It’s coming from the waterfall cascading from the Ivungu River into a lagoon. The Zulu word ivungu describes the low murmuring sound of rushing water. Michael, a young lifeguard who looks like he’s been chiselled out of marble, tells me this as I follow him up a dense pathway from the beach to the falls.

‘A lot of Zulus here believe there is a monster that lives behind the falls,’ he says. ‘That’s why you won’t find many of them on the beaches here on New Year’s. They go to St Michaels.’

When I met him a few minutes earlier, he was shooting the breeze on Uvongo Beach with two Zulu lifeguards. ‘Of course, most of the younger guys don’t buy into that anymore,’ he adds.

We reach the waterfall. At 23-metres high and traversed by an overpass, it’s somewhat unimpressive. Below us, the beach is littered with debris that has been pushed over the falls by the torrent. Removing it, say the locals, isn’t on the municipality’s priority list. Combined with a slow recovery from the storms that eroded large parts of the coast in 2007, it has left the beach looking tatty and cost it its Blue Flag status.

I remember the question I’ve been asking myself ever since I arrived. Why here? Why, year after year, do the same holidaymakers arrive en masse to a place where nothing changes and everything is, by the locals’ own admittance, ‘pretty average’?

As Michael and I walk back to the beach, a troop of kids pushes past us. They’re giggling and whispering to one another. I wonder what the waterfall sounds like to them. Perhaps it’s more thunder than buzz. Perhaps the path isn’t a path at all, but an overgrown trail through an enchanted forest.

Back on the beach it’s business as usual. Vendors cram the walkways and tanned toes stick out from underneath umbrellas. Buckets and spades and half-built sandcastles pepper the spaces between. The smell of sunscreen lingers in the air.

The obvious answer to my question is that, for busy Gautengers, this is the elemental beach holiday: it’s not too far from home, the water is warm, the fishing is good and there’s always the chance of spotting dolphins from the shore. Towns like Margate and Port Shepstone are close and vibrant enough to pick up the slack for want of things to do. But eavesdropping on a conversation between two families on the beach offers another answer altogether.

‘Pull in at our spot at seven. Bring some wors, and the kids. You know where it is.’

This is also a place where friends meet up. Lifelong vacation buddies pack their families in the car and head for this stretch of sunshine every school holiday. There’s a good chance many of them grew up holidaying here and remember something I don’t. They recall the tingling of adolescent adventure, enchanted forests and rocks a hundred miles high. And now that joy is replaced by a year’s worth of banter with the old friend who has a timeshare next door. For everything that this seaside spot isn’t, there are two things it certainly is: when you’re young it’s the universe, and when you’re older it’s a home away from home. What better combination could you ask for when all you really need is a break?

Fun in the sun in Uvongo


Things to do in Uvongo

Spot the birds

Take a hike through the coastal forest of the Ivungu River Conservancy. Birdlife is plentiful and if you’re lucky you may even spot one of its resident duikers. The walk starts behind the South Coast Striders clubhouse on Club Road. It becomes very dense in places and there are a few low overhangs on the path. Closed shoes are advised. No entrance fee is required.

Stroll through the market

Considered to be the largest market on the South Coast, The Rotary Craft and Flea Market takes place every Saturday morning from 9 am opposite the Douglas Mitchell Sports Ground. The Rotary Club of Hibiscus Coast runs the project and keeps an eye on its vendors to ensure no two stalls are the same. Tel 039 316 6546,

Walk to the Falls

Follow the moss-covered stairs that lead up the dense coastal forest behind Uvongo Beach. The short stroll up to the waterfall isn’t clearly marked, but there are various viewpoints along the way that look down on to the lagoon. Jumping into the lagoon isn’t advised.


Places to eat in Uvongo

Beach vibes

Grab a bite on the beach in St Michaels on Sea at C-Bali. The restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes from sushi and Thai food to its renowned Flying Dutchman potjie. It’s also the only place in Uvongo where you’ll find quality cocktails with great sea view. Tel 039 315 0473,

Bring your own booze

If you like your seafood unencumbered, try LM Prawn Seafood Deli and Diner on Marine Drive. Fishing nets and plastic crayfish adorn the interior of this no-fuss spot and large benches provide enough space for the whole family. The seafood is fresh and there’s no alcohol on sale, but you can take your own. Tel 039 315 5009.

Pizza with a view

Take a break from the sand and sun and walk into Pavilion Restaurant overlooking Uvongo Beach. The fare is primarily Italian, but it offers everything from burgers to cordon bleu and the pizzas come fully loaded. Sit out on the deck and watch the action on the bustling beach below. Tel 039 315 0010, email [email protected].


Where to stay in Uvongo

Rent an apartment

Short-term apartment rental is the most popular option among holiday-makers on the South Coast. Visit and compare units or choose an apartment to suit the number of guests. From R250 a person a night.

Beat the beach

Life doesn’t start and end with a beachfront apartment. For those in need of a little more looking after, Ebenezer Palms Bed and Breakfast offers stylish rooms with daily service, hit-the-spot breakfasts and Wi-Fi. Standard rooms are R350 a person a night sharing and superior rooms are from R440 a person a night sharing. Tel 039 317 1128,

Bed and breakfast

Tucked away in the suburbs, Stephward Estate is more than just a B&B. It is home to the Stephward Orchid and Exotic Plant Nursery, which houses rare exotic plants. The rooms and dining area are Edwardian styled and Wi-Fi is available in the restaurant. Double rooms from R800 a person a night sharing (R500 a person a night single). Tel 039 315 5926,


Getting to Uvongo

Uvongo is about an hour and half south of Durban (about 130 kilometres on the N2).

St Michael's On Sea

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Getaway Magazine.


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