The little town of Umkomaas lies at the mouth of the Umkomaas River, perched on a hill with views of a spectacular coastline. From here you can sometimes see whales in the bay, and it is said that Shaka himself named the place Mkomazi (the place of the cow whales) after watching a whale give birth to a calf in these waters.
The town itself was born when attempts were made to build a harbour in the river mouth, but the establishment of a railway put paid to these plans.
Umkomaas’s international reputation far outweighs its physical size and this is thanks to the reefs that lie hidden by the ocean. Just five kilometres out to sea from Umkomaas is the world famous Aliwal Shoal, a rocky reef that has been rated as one of the top-10 dive sites in the world. Two shipwrecks, those of The Nebo (1884) and The Produce (1974), add to the scuba-diving interest.
Thanks to this superb dive site, the town of Umkomaas boasts a number of first-rate dive shops and tour operators. Whale and shark dives are also offered.
Umkomaas is more than a one-trick pony though, and the Umkomaas Golf Club has an excellent course, while the Empisini Nature Reserve offers good bird-watching and day trails.
Just south of town is the resort town of Clansthal, with excellent surfing (but no shark nets), and the Greenpoint lighthouse, which is a national monument.
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The Umkomaas River is the longest in KwaZulu-Natal, starting in the Drakensberg and running for almost 300 kilometres. White-water rafting trips are organised further inland from the town and are a must for adrenalin junkies.
Scuba-diving is what attracts the majority of visitors to Umkomaas, and for good reason. Clouds of fish surround the reef, while a wreck dive adds a touch of the mysterious. When the sardines come to town, you can view this miracle of nature from beneath the waters.
Shark-diving is the latest craze to hit the KwaZulu-Natal coast and at Umkomaas you can swim with a number of different species, including the ragged-tooth shark, tiger shark and bull shark.
When the sea isn’t suited to diving, head to the Umkomaas Golf Course for a round of golf, or to the Empisini Nature Reserve for a walk and the chance to see African black duck, black sparrowhawk or any number of other interesting species.