Once a place where people waited on river banks when travelling north, it is now home to businesses and office parks
Before the KwaZulu-Natal north coast exploded into the fastest-growing commercial zone in South Africa, its rolling hills were green with the abundance of sugar cane, Ballito was an insignificant beach village with a handful of lonely looking houses and Umhlali was the thriving commercial, social and educational focal point.
The heart of the village was the bustling Main Road. Located about 50km inland from Durban (and now dwarfed by Ballito only 5km away), Umhlali takes its name from umhalali, honouring the monkey orange trees that grew close to the Umhlali River banks.
The monkeys feasted off the fruit, prompting the name. Another meaning is “place of waiting” as the settlers and locals had to wait along the banks when they wanted to travel north.
The village was established by British and Scottish Byrne settlers in 1850 and originally named Fort William. Taking the N2 freeway off-ramp, there is a sign dedicated to the founder of the indigenous forests engulfing both sides of the national road. Umhlali-born Belton Mwali (1955-2014) spent years planting trees along the green belt, creating homes for countless animals and providing shade for people to rest.
A field manager at Claremont Farms, his dedication is a gentle reminder that green belts do not happen without commitment. In May 2012, Umhlali locals Barry and Trevor Milstead developed Burnedale Farm, converting the original farmhouse and outbuildings into a destination shopping and entertainment experience.
The initiative houses a cafe, animal farm, studio shops and creative workshops, beauty salon, framing studio and children’s playgrounds. Elemental Framing Studio owner Sarah Dickinson says the farm was transformed into a space inspiring creativity and is a niche market for customers seeking unique gifts and offerings.
An interesting factor is the predominance of single mothers who have established businesses in the centre and the camaraderie among the tenants.
Evidence of Umhlali’s economic growth and development requires only driving down Main Road, where the older buildings housing long-standing businesses such as Cindy’s Umhlali Fresh Produce and Takeaway are neighbours to office parks like Shukela Park, Village Park, The Workstation, Chairman’s Park and Lali Park. “Umhlali has a host of growth opportunities emerging.
The buildings across the road were boarded and abandoned until late last year when investment converted them into a modern facility. Most significant is an opportunity to create employment as small efforts can make significant changes in others’ lives,” says Second Chance owner Penny Dudley.
Current investment opportunities in Umhlali include a 932m² commercial space on the market for R6.9 million. The premises is a split factory space with 200m² with its own roller shutter access and two sections measuring 532m² and 200m² opened up between with two roller shutter doors.
Alternatively the three sections can be acquired individually. Last year, a 1 300m² building capable of accommodating a commercial, retail or manufacturing venture came on the market for R8.6m. Situated in central Umhlali, it promised the right investor an opportunity to capitalise on growing foot traffic
Businesses include boxing gym and curry queen’s takeaways
The four-star Linton House offers self-catering accommodation in the main house and a garden cottage with four bedrooms (two en-suite and two with a separate bathroom) and the rooms have a lounge, dishwasher, washing machine, air conditioning and fans.
Ringside Boxing Gym
The dream of Ringside Boxing Gym began in 2011 with two friends sharing a passion for exercise and boxing joining to establish an old-school boxing centre integrated with new exercise techniques. The intention was to provide the public with the experience of lacing up a pair of boxing gloves and pushing themselves physically in a family-orientated environment.
Owner Penny Dudley acquired the second-hand furniture shop located on the Umhlali railway station platform five years ago and has transformed the business and its surrounding grounds into more than just a space into which people dump unwanted goods. Today tables, chairs, sofas and dressers sprawl over the lawns she has meticulously developed, while also using the formerly boarded railway buildings.
Elemental Frames and Frills
Owner Sarah Dickinson has more than 17 years’ experience in framing. Her Burnedale Centre outlet provides services to match any framing requirements – whether an oil painting, watercolour, photos, tapestries, objects d’art or canvas.
Cindy’s Umhlali Fresh Produce and Take-away
Cindy Valayadam is renowned as the north coast curry queen for sound reasons. Cindy’s Umhlali Fresh Produce is an institution for the local community and those travelling to the area. Part of the outlet’s appeal is purchasing traditional Indian cuisine from a fresh produce store and cafe in a small town steeped in history and tradition. The shop sells takeaway meals (strictly no sit-down), fresh home-grown vegetables and a smorgasbord of home-made pickles and preserves.
Advantages offered by the area
Umhlali is located off the N2 national freeway, providing businesses with easy access to national transport routes, the Durban and Richards Bay harbours, King Shaka International Airport and the Dube TradePort.
Umhlali was founded as a town servicing the surrounding sugar cane farming community. The attitude of a small town environment, where everyone knows their neighbours and has supported local businesses for generations, has not been lost even as the town grows with new commercial opportunities. The Umhlali Preparatory School has offered sound primary school education to generations of children over its 100-year history.
The numerous communities and informal settlements in and around Umhlali provide an abundance of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour for new businesses and investors.
Burgeoning business hub
The growth along the KwaZulu-Natal north coast is positively affecting smaller towns like Umhlali as developers and investors seek new markets and opportunities. Evidence of a burgeoning business hub is obvious in the number of new business parks and office complexes along Main Road.
Shifting land use in line with urbanisation and development means there are properties available for sale and conversion into business initiatives beyond farming.