Area Review : Umhlanga Rocks

Private Property South Africa
Antoinette McDonald & Angelique Arde

Umhlanga is fast becoming the seaside playground of the jet set in South Africa. What used to be quaintly referred to as the “village” north of Durban is now a fully fledged suburb.

Its growth was hastened by the development of the massive Gateway shopping complex and Tongaat-Hulett’s wildly successful Umhlanga Ridge precinct. In the 1990s Tongaat-Hulett transformed a ridge of sugar cane fields overlooking the Indian Ocean into a prime chunk of real estate. The fortunes of the village were changed almost overnight as blue chip companies flocked to be situated on the ridge, close to the shopping complex and overlooking the sea.

Now suits in BMWs whiz around the traffic circles and buzz down the palm-lined boulevards past fancy offices occupied by the likes of Unilever. Umhlanga Ridge is effectively the new town centre of Durban.

Geoff Pullan is a long-time resident of the area and a city councilor for Umhlanga. His family recently sold the graceful Oysterbox Hotel in Umhlanga to new owners who have refurbished the grand old dame of the beachfront. Pullan’s aunt and uncle started the hotel in the 1940s and it became an institution.

Pullan says Umhlanga still has something of a village feel about it, but now it’s much bigger, “very expensive and quite posh”. “I think it’s one of the most popular holiday resorts in South Africa. It still has a cozy feel about it, although it’s not the same as the village. Umhlanga has a friendly feel. You can amble from one little shopping centre to the other. It’s a boutique shopping experience. Each shop is individual and there are lots of different restaurants.”

One of the swish developments to grace Umhlanga is The Pearls, a slick high-rise building that has proved hugely popular among buyers. The developers of The Pearls rebuilt the Umhlanga promenade and generally attracted a new league of buyers to the area. Owners at The Pearls include South African funnyman Leon Schuster.

Leon de Vos is an optometrist in Umhlanga. “The Man Has Vision” is emblazoned across his shop front. He loves the area, describing it as “vibey and cool”. “Over the years Umhlanga has been upgraded and the walkways and pavements have been improved. The restaurants are always open and it’s a happy place to be,” de Vos says.

Umhlanga’s residential property market booming with average price increases of 21% over the last 2 years.

Gareth Bailey, principal: Tyson Properties Umhlanga, drawing on information from property data company Lightstone, said the average price of a property, based on the last three months’ transfers there, was R3,75m. He said more people were looking for secure living in apartments, and the demand in Umhlanga “far outweighs supply, which is a significant factor driving price increases”.

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