Sugarcane fields have made way for commercial and housing developments and opportunities still abound
Meandering for 13km on the ridge overlooking the Indian Ocean, Umhlanga Rocks Drive has historically linked Durban North and Umhlanga.
In the days when the sugar cane, rather than multimillion-rand housing and commercial developments, commanded the idyllic views over the azure sea, the single-lane (originally dust) road was a quiet amble between the two residential neighbourhoods.
Now the trip from the corner of Kenneth Kaunda Road in Durban North to the bridge where traffic feeds on and off the M4 highway, near the Grace Family Church, is a dual carriageway literally teeming with commercial ventures either built new or as the outcome of investments into redeveloping and rezoning older residential homes.
These commercial enterprises are a mix of strip mall-type shopping centres housing both local businesses and national franchises, stand-alone properties that have been redeveloped and full-scale smaller shopping centres servicing community requirements not found in the larger Gateway and The Crescent shopping centres.
Travelling north from Kenneth Kaunda Road, the drive passes businesses including petrol stations, restaurants, garden equipment repair outlets, hardware stores, boutique hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and a veterinary hospital.
Property developers have also constructed large-scale housing initiatives on the former sugarcane fields, bringing to the market complexes that include The Bay, Grand Floridian, La Palma Terraces and Ilala Ridge Estate. In 2016 the Sunningdale Shopping Centre, on the corner of Umhlanga Rocks Drive and Village Way, was wholly redeveloped into a 5 000m² complex anchored by national retailer Woolworths and accessible to passing traffic into the Umhlanga precinct.
Architects FWJK said the concept was to design a space that would become “the heart of the neighbourhood” with elevations that allow for better sightings from the road as well as taking advantage of the sea views.
When approaching the Umhlanga Rocks end, the commercial enterprises are dominated by the multibillion-rand office precincts and regional headquarters that have been constructed. The strip between the La Lucia Ridge North and South traffic circles has an ethereal character with its avenue of fully-grown fever trees lining the road and fairy lights periodically hung in the branches.
According to In2Assets agent Carl Kleinhans, Umhlanga and the adjacent northern regions are considered one of South Africa’s fastest-growing urban nodes, and the Ridgeside initiative branching off Umhlanga Rocks Drive comprises 140ha of combined residential, office estate, mixed-use and managed open spaces to house most of the country’s leading business brands.
Given the dramatic growth in Umhlanga, opportunities for renting and purchasing commercial space are plentiful. Prices vary in line with position along the route with a 1 509m² office building available in Umhlanga Ridge for R160/m² and a 1 010m² space in an older building available for R150/m².
Typically rentals range between R140/m² and R180/m² in the prime Umhlanga node. Free-standing houses along Umhlanga Rocks Drive start around R5 million.
Family-style butchery and an award-winning hotel
Award-winning five-star boutique hotel Endless Horizons offers unsurpassed 180deg views over the Indian Ocean from its vantage point on Umhlanga Rocks Drive. The location offers patrons a wide variety of activities and destinations for exploration and visiting.
Bellair Gold Exchange
Expanding from the original outlet in the city’s southern suburbs, Bellair Gold Exchange buys old gold and diamond jewellery. Its services include jewellery manufacturing as well as being a lending facility against valuable jewellery, offering patrons competitive rates.
Sun Sun Chinese Restaurant
Servicing demand for good Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine in Durban, Sun Sun Chinese Restaurant offers quality lunches and dinners as well as a supermarket outlet for purchasing Asian ingredients for home cooking. Reviewers contributing to online travel site TripAdvisor credit the restaurant with 4.5 stars from its possible 5 star maximum.
Rachawadee Afrique Spa Traditional
Thai massage has gained a reputation for its ability to alleviate aches and pains and nervous tension. The Umhlanga Rocks Drive outlet is among several belonging to this group and operating across the city.
This local butchery and deli specialises in quality meats, fresh deli goods and readymade meals. The Umhlanga Rocks Drive outlet is the flagship store operating as a family-style butchery focusing on customised services and an exclusive shopping experience. The desire to expand the brand has seen a second store recently launched in the Richden’s Village Centre in Hillcrest.
HRTorQue Outsourcing helps small, medium and large companies improve their efficiency and professionalism in dealing with employees by introducing practical outsourced solutions. These include web-based payroll and human resources (HR) administration, employee relations, tax, skills development, employment equity, executive coaching and team interventions.
Pros and cons offered by the area
Busy arterial road
The 13km road links Durban North and Umhlanga Rocks, traversing several residential neighbourhoods and commercial enterprises on its route. The busy arterial road contributes to foot traffic for new and established businesses.
The neighbourhoods along Umhlanga Rocks Drive and its arterial roads have always been affluent, now escalated by the significant development that has happened north of the city in the past 20 years. Businesses along the route have access to local residents for their trade as well as the ability to attract customers from further afield.
Active community policing forum
The neighbourhood has an active community policing forum and security presence as a deterrent to criminal activity and as an encouragement for businesses and patrons to feel safe.
Property and land available for development
Umhlanga Rocks Drive has a long history with numerous houses now calling out for redevelopment and tender loving care. This paves the way for investors to acquire good properties or vacant land at reasonable market prices and to convert them into commercial spaces or wholly redevelop the land, provided any demolition of buildings has been approved by the heritage association Imafa.