Umkomaas, a small coastal town on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa was formed when a harbour was built in 1861, to export sugar, on the mouth of the navigable Mkhomazi River. When the successful dredging of Durban harbour's sandbar and the arrival of the railway, the town suffered and like Port Shepstone the harbour fell into disuse. Large number of whales once used the estuary as a nursery, giving birth in the shallows. The Zulus named the river after this spectacle (uMkhomazi means the place of cow whales). The settlement was originally known as South Barrow, with its suburb known today as Ilfracombe then called North Barrow.
The Umkomaas or Mkhomazi River is a dominant feature of the local landscape, being the largest river on the South Coast. Occasionally, raft races, canoeing, and other sporting events are held on the river. During the winter dry season, the river mouth has been known to silt up considerably, but after heavy rains it carries substantial quantities of brown sediment into the Indian Ocean.
Additional tourist attractions include the Umkomaas Golf Course, home of Tim Clark and universally regarded as being one of the best in KwaZulu-Natal, and the beautiful Empisini Nature Reserve, a forested area that features a delightful waterfall and a number of bush walks. The nearby settlement of Clansthal was the home of Conservationist Tony Pooley in the 1980s and 1990s. Swedish tennis player Mats Wilander was a regular visitor in the 1990s, and is rumoured to have been the owner of a large hotel on the corner of Moodie and Reynolds Street.
Umkomaas is most renowned for the superb diving opportunities created by the Aliwal Shoal, a coral reef about 5 kilometres offshore. Ragged-tooth sharks, Rock Cod, and a multitude of other species can be found in the shoal. Growth in diving-related tourism has grown dramatically in the past decade, although the Shoal features two particularly fine shipwrecks, the Nebo and the Produce, that long predate the Shoal's current surge in popularity.