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Umkhanyakude is situated in the North-eastern region of KwaZulu Natal. The District extends from Mtubatuba (St Lucia) in the south to Kosi Bay in the north, across to the Lubombo mountains in the west. The District includes the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park), the first World Heritage Site proclaimed in South Africa. The Park stretches along the Zululand coast from Mapelane in the south to Kosi Bay in the north. The name reflects the many areas that make up its 220 000 hectares, such as Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay, Mkhuze Game Reserve, False Bay, Fanies Island, Charters Creek, Lake St Lucia, and Cape Vidal. iSimangaliso made modern natural history when living fossils - coelacanths - were discovered off its warm Indian Ocean shoreline.

The N2 and part of the Lubombo Mountains form a physical divide within the District. The Lubombo mountain range is known for its spectacular scenery made up of dense natural forests, rugged rock faces, caves and rivers that wind through deep mountain gorges. Better east-west access routes need to be established to improve accessibility to tourism and Local Economic Development opportunities along the coast and in the hinterland.

The District is mainly rural with the only formalised town being Mtubatuba in the south. However, several towns are growing rapidly, such as Hluhluwe, Manguzi, Jozini, Mkuze and Mbazwana.

Current land use:

  • A high proportion of the District is under thicket, grassland and wetland;
  • Remaining areas are disturbed cultivation land and settlement;
  • Large areas of land are under communal tenure in the District – located in the traditional authority areas under the jurisdiction of the IngonyamaTrust;
  • The remaining areas are under state conservation, private ownership with limited formal urban areas;
  • Land reform is in the process of being implemented in the District and comprises around 20% of the total area at the time of survey (2007 by the Department of Land Affairs);
  • Additional land has been identified for redistribution and restitution purposes.

Umkanyakude is one of four district municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal that were selected as presidential nodes to redirect public funding to priority areas for poverty alleviation.