The lure of the wild for both international visitors and locals alike underpins much of the commerce of the area
As Africa’s oldest proclaimed nature reserve, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (formerly Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve) is known for its rich wildlife and conservation efforts, including the role the park’s former warden, Ian Player, played in saving the rhino from extinction in the 1950s and 1960s. Today the management is equally embroiled in saving that same species from illegal rhino horn poachers
The park is also the only Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife establishment boasting the Big Five, but the other numerous privately owned game reserves in greater central Zululand also promise tourists opportunities to observe these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
So it is hardly surprising that wildlife viewing and the game parks anchor a significant amount of the commercial business in Mtubatuba and Hluhluwe, two towns located 65km apart along the N2 and roughly in line with the upper and lower entrances to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
Mtubatuba also borders the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first Unesco-proclaimed World Heritage Site and, along with St Lucia, is the largest town within the Mtubatuba municipality.
Hluhluwe, where time appears to have stood still, is between iSimangaliso and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and, although it’s relatively undeveloped, the broader region is attracting growing international attention from film-makers and tourists. I Dreamed of Africa, starring Kim Basinger, and the Lamberto Bava film Ghost Son were shot in the area.
Opened in May 2014, the Mtuba Mall in Mtubatuba makes an impressive statement on investment and commercial opportunities. It is on the road from the N2 to Mtubatuba, and is visible from the N2.
The shopping centre boasts about 40 national anchor tenants and local brands ranging from eateries to home improvement, home décor, electronics, banking, fashion houses, cellular telephone companies, health and beauty.
Dominating Mtubatuba’s main commercial area is a variety of strip mall establishments anchored by national retailers and brands, and housing smaller trading stores and regional enterprises.
Hluhluwe’s main street has a similar, yet more rural feel. However, it boasts a modern police station and a Department of Homes Affairs office that partially speak to government investment and service delivery to the northern town. The need for other municipal services is apparent in unkempt verges and open spaces.
Industry insiders are unanimous in toting the region as a tourism haven with the potential to boom in the same vein as Cape Town, but reflect that current political undercurrents, specifically around land expropriation, are affecting investments. International investors are also not willing to wait around for political decision making, preferring to take their hard currency to “less risky” environments.
Commercial agricultural farmers seeking opportunities for converting their properties into tourism initiatives and game farms are also struggling with red tape in light of the government’s moratorium on agricultural land conversion.
“However, commercial lodges and game-based tourism are essential drivers for economic and commercial development in these areas,” one insider says.
Both towns, as well as their surrounding land areas, have a fair number of commercial properties on the market. Pam Golding Properties is marketing the Ihlozi Lodge as an exclusive bush property within the secured boundaries of the 170hectare Kuleni Game Park, about 18km from Hluhluwe. Carrying a negotiable R8million price tag, the five-star lodge has accommodation in four rooms nestled among indigenous trees, while the main area has a function facility, restaurant, bar, fireplace, viewing deck and Jacuzzi.
The agency also has a 12.6ha piece of vacant land on its books next to the newly developed Total Bonjour petrol station and truck stop near Hluhluwe. Priced at R10.3m excluding VAT, the property offers investors an opportunity to develop a hotel and conference centre, a shopping complex or a tourist-driven centre including curio shops, restaurants and other attractions.
Agency Engel & Völkers has a 12-bedroom Hluhluwe farm for sale at R14.5m.
The lodge comprises seven double chalets, two family units and two rustic bungalows, while there are four additional campsites to offer potential customers.
The 21ha property has electric fencing and the accommodation accounts for about 824m², 194m² being the main house, 60m²the manager’s house and a restaurant of 90m².
This week Re/Max Heritage brought a 994m² vacant plot to the market situated halfway along the 25km stretch of road between Mtubatuba and St Lucia. Priced at R410000, the agents tote the land as “an investment opportunity not to be missed”.
Last year the agency brought a 10ha vacant plot near Mtubatuba to the market for R8.95m, reflecting the growing investment potential emerging in the town. The property has the potential to develop 200 residential units with the opportunity for rezoning to a higher density.