The gateway to the southern Drakensberg, this border town makes most of its money from farming and tourism
Nestled in the foothills of the majestic World Heritage Site Drakensberg Mountains lies the small settlement of Underberg, an administrative town for the dairy and cattle farming community in the Mzimkulu River valley.
Towering over area is the 1904m Hlogoma Peak (place of echoes). Underberg dates its history to 1917 when the railway line from Pietermaritzburg reached the area.
As the key commercial centre for the region’s farming industry, Underberg provides the essential support services and functions as a border town trading centre for people travelling down the Sani Pass from neighbouring Lesotho.
The town houses the provincial offices for the departments of social welfare and transport, a clinic and a municipal library, as well as pre-primary and primary education. As the gateway to the southern Drakensberg, tourism is the second largest industry in the area.
The Southern Drakensberg Community Tourism Organisation was founded in 2007 and promotes tourism under the Southern Berg Escape brand.
Underpinning the growth of tourism opportunities, Underberg offers casual accommodation and eatery options. Like Dullstroom in Mpumalanga, Underberg is also one of South Africa’s premier trout fly-fishing destinations, while the annual music festival Splashy Fen has taken place on a nearby farm for the past 30 years.
Also driving commerce in the town are the annual Sani2C Mountain Bike Race, the gruelling joBerg2C MTB Race and the Drak Challenge Canoe Race along the Mzimkulu River.
“Underberg is a caring, supportive community thriving on the relaxed, stress-free life experienced in Underberg and Himeville (5km away),” says resident and Underberg Community Facebook communicator, Rob Greaves.
“We look for ways to grow our economy and create jobs, and seek to keep residents informed about the issues pertaining to aspects that affect us and the leisure activities beneficial to our lifestyle.” Given the dominance of farming, there is little surprise the bulk of businesses for sale are farms and smallholdings.
As a reflection of prices, a country lodge on 47ha came on the market several weeks ago for R11 million, and an existing bedand-breakfast establishment for sale is asking R8m. In terms of purchasing office space, a 130m² office recently came to the market for R795 000.
Currently, an Underberg business premises situated at the main entrance to the town is on the market for R3.5m, and has the potential for conversion into a restaurant or office space. A small supermarket/convenience store situated on the Drakensberg Gardens Road and serving the community of smallholdings Castleburn, Eland Valley and Lake Naverone, and the two timeshare complexes at the Drakensberg Gardens Hotel, is on the market for R5m.
Considering rental space, a 130m² office situated on the main thoroughfare can be secured for R5 000 a month.
Adventure tourism, cheesery, restaurants, help for addicts
Underberg Meat Supply
Underberg Meat Supply has serviced the wholesale and retail butchery requirements for the community for several decades.
Vie de Luxe
This home decor outlet operates from the Clocktower Centre to supply customers with a splash of colour in their homes and businesses. The company sells curtains, cushions, pictures, linen and bedding and table decor.
Established in 1999, the Riverview Manor clinic has provided professional treatment and rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, trauma and stress.
The Grind Café and Restaurant
Tucked away in a shopping centre off the main road, The Grind Café and Restaurant says it is the “best place in Underberg for breakfast, lunch and dinner”. It serves pizzas, pastas, burgers and ILLY coffee to satisfy the fast-food yearnings of its community while still promising quality.
Established in 1998 by Charles and Gardi Major, Major Adventures specialises in tours up Sani Pass into Lesotho. The company operates a fleet of vehicles suitable for climbing the notorious road over the pass and driven by qualified guides. Major Adventures also operates the tourism information office for the Southern Drakensberg Community Tourism Organisation.
River Glen Farm and the Underberg Cheesery
A small farm just outside Underberg on the Drakensberg Gardens Road, River Glen is a family-owned dairy and cattle farming business. Its herd of Jersey cows produce quality milk used in the production of the farm’s cheeses.
Farming and tourism opportunities
Anyone with the desire and experience for dairy and cattle farming will find Underberg is an investment haven. There are farms for sale in the area and there is sufficient infrastructure to support farm maintenance and requirements, as well as transportation facilities to get the products to market.
The Unesco World Heritage Site, Maloti-Drakensberg Park, is a trans-boundary site composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. The majestic beauty of these mountain ranges has attracted tourists for generations and can provide unlimited opportunities for tourism-related investments. These include initiatives such as accommodation, tours, nature-based products, restaurants and casual eateries, curios and unique shopping experiences.
As a border town with Lesotho, there are opportunities for wholesale retail trading to supply both the local community and those travelling across the border for goods not easily available in that region of Lesotho. Several retail stores operate in the Underberg, so this investment will require investigations into the most suitable opportunity.
Linked to tourism and the farming opportunities are the development and co-ordination of cottage industry products. Numerous community members produce a variety of unique goods for sale – local cheeses, jams, pickles and preserves, breads and clothing. The potential exists for a coherent central location where travellers can acquire these specialities if they do not have the time or inclination to visit the individual venues.
Farmers’ ancillary support
Investment opportunities may exist for experienced suppliers into the farming ancillary support market. This would include tractor and motor vehicle repairs and spares, building and maintenance options, cattle feed and veterinary services.