FUN AND FUNKY: The African-themed Umfolozi Hotel Casino and Convention Resort, a standout in the heart of the industrial area of Empangeni. Picture: Supplied

Durban - With its fun and funky contemporary design and a colour palette ranging from vibrant limes, reds and terracottas to ochres, whites and blues, the African-themed Umfolozi Hotel Casino and Convention Resort is certainly a standout in the heart of the otherwise dull industrial area just off the N2 highway in Empangeni.

This might not be a place one would immediately think of visiting if you wanted anything beyond gambling, with some quiet time between the jingles of the fruit machines.

But it certainly provided a welcome break from the city blues last weekend, and it was fun, between the gambling, to take a short drive to the Empangeni city centre, and the fast-growing waterfront in Richards Bay.

Also within reach are popular tourist attractions such as St Lucia, Hluhluwe, Sodwana and Kosi Bay.

Established a decade ago, the casino offers 267 slots in various denominations – including 5c and 10c machines – as well as a dozen gaming tables showcasing blackjack, roulette and Texas Hold ’Em Poker. The exclusive Salon Privé ensures the ultimate gaming experience for the high-roller.

Close to both the King Shaka International and Richards Bay airports, and ideally placed for a return trip from Swaziland, the casino was expanded to include a hotel – the three-star Peermont Metcourt – in 2010.

Chic and affordable, and as attractive to leisure travellers as it is to business people, it’s a 44-room hotel with a small pool and terrace as well as secure parking facilities.

The rooms include 20 twin rooms with shower only, 11 superior twin rooms with shower only, six superior King rooms (bath and shower) and three suites (bath and shower) which are particularly comfortable. Smoking and non-smoking rooms are available.

Rooms feature air-conditioning, an electronic room safe, electric shaver point, hairdryer, international direct-dial telephone, plasma television (in both the room and lounge in the suites), tea and coffee station and writing desk. Wireless internet access is available in all rooms.

The hotel and casino restaurant facilities are a little lacking – there’s only the small Fast Food cafe and, alongside it, the small, 35-seater Umoja restaurant, offering a buffet (R99) and only a handful of à la carte choices – but a wider choice of eating places is available a short drive away.

The hotel does have another restaurant facing the terrace and pool area. It’s the airy, 46-seater F.L.A.G Café, open only for breakfast buffets, from 6.30am to 10.30am.

There was no entertainment on offer at the resort last weekend, but I am told the casino’s spacious Sugar Room bar and lounge is noted for its jazz and also hosts karaoke and comedians from time to time.

On November 30, singer Lainie May will be at the resort, followed by rapper Snotkop on December 15.

For younger visitors, a small area, The Magic Company, provides a variety of video and arcade games, while a créche facility, with games and educational activities, is also on the premises.

Facing the resort entrance is a large, fenced-off area, The Kikizela Action Park, offering fun activities including a climbing wall, two air-filled action features, a boma area, a lapa and a croquet lawn.

The hotel’s convention facilities are proving popular and include three conference rooms – the Umoba, Imvubu and Ingwenya rooms – that can accommodate up to 160 delegates.

The resort also offers a large, white, dome-like multi-purpose venue called the Jabulani Arena, close to the hotel pool, which can accommodate up to 500 people, and is popular for exhibitions, shows, weddings and launches. A fashion show was held there last weekend.

The resort is at 2 Copper Drive, Kuleka, Empangeni. The address is Private Bag X20030, Empangeni 3880. The phone number is 035 787 8200 and the e-mail address is [email protected] - Independent on Saturday