‘The wetland park must be the only place on the globe where the world’s oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest land mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale).’- Nelson Mandela
Did you know that iSimangaliso means ‘miracle and wonder’ in the Zulu language. You might be aware that South Africa is rich in its natural surroundings. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park comprises eight interdependent ecosystems and an overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna and is a prime destination for those looking for a combination of marine splendour and pristine beaches.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) is situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, about 275 kilometres north of Durban. It is South Africa’s third-largest protected area, spanning 280 km of coastline, from the Mozambican border in the north to Mapelane south of the Lake St. Lucia estuary, and made up of around 3,280 km2 of natural ecosystems, managed by the iSimangaliso Authority.
Places to visit in and around
- Lake St. Lucia
- Lucia Game Reserve
- False Bay Park
- Kosi Bay
- Lake Etrza Nature Reserve
- Lake Sibhayi
- Lucia Marine Reserve
- Lucia Marine Sanctuary
- Sodwana Bay National Park
- Mapelane Nature Reserve
- Maputaland Marine Reserve
- Cape Vidal
- Tewate Wilderness Area
- Mkuze Game Reserve
iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is known for its scuba-diving, visiting Kosi Bay or Sodwana Bay for extraordinary diving experiences. Kosi Bay is also considered one of the world’s top fly-fishing destinations. Go on a 4×4 adventure to the Coastal Forest region where one will find pristine beaches and beautiful dunes.
Head out on a Big Five safari experience to the Mkuze Game Reserve and spot the Big Five as well as Wild Dog, Cheetah and many other animals, or sip on some champagne and watch the sunset on a cruise of Lake St Lucia while the Hippos splash in the water and the Crocodiles bathe on the banks of the lake.
World Heritage Site
The 332 000ha iSimangaliso Wetland Park was declared South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 while still called the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. It received this prestigious status in recognition of the beauty of the landscape, its unique ecological processes and the exceptional diversity of species that the park protects ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannas, and wetlands.
iSimangaliso is also home to significant cultural heritage sites, including evidence of Stone Age human activity and 700-year-old fish traps at Kosi Bay. You’ll also encounter five of the cultural groups who call this area home: Zulu, Swazi, Shangaan, Tonga and Gonda.
The iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is a nature lovers’ and thrill seekers’ paradise. Abundant activities will keep you entertained for days or weeks. Explore the reserve on foot on a self-guided walking trail or guided hike. Spot a variety of game species while enjoying a guided game drive or on a self-guided drive along the road network in the south. Go snorkelling, swimming, scuba diving, fishing, boating, bird-watching, horse-riding or canoeing or relax and laze in the sunshine.
Beaches and Lakes
The park’s Kosi Bay region comprises four lakes linked by a network of channels, while its estuary is one of the world’s best fly-fishing destinations.
Accessible only by 4×4, the coastal forest region encompasses the pristine beaches of Mabibi, Island Rock, Rocktail Bay and Black Rock, where snorkelling and diving are popular pastimes.
South Africa’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Sibaya, also forms part of the park. Formed against thickly forested coastal dunes, its clear waters support the province’s second-largest hippo and crocodile population.
Flora And Fauna
Along the coast lies Sodwana Bay, a top diving destination. More than 1 200 fish species have been recorded along its bountiful reefs, including the coelacanth, rediscovered in Jesser Canyon in 2000 after it was widely believed to be extinct.
The uMkhuze ecosystem is a 38 500ha bird-lovers’ paradise that supports 420 species. Leopard, black rhino, white rhino, elephant, giraffe, wild dog, cheetah, hyena and various antelope are also found here.
Sand forest, thornveld and open savannah characterise False Bay, where boating, fishing and fossils are the main attraction, while Charters Creek is a wildlife haven for larger game species such as elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, giraffe and tsessebe. In December 2013, after 44 years of absence, also lions were reintroduced to iSimangaliso.
Lake St Lucia is Africa’s largest estuarine system and home to 800 hippos and 1 200 crocodiles. Flocks of pelicans and flamingos favour the expansive lake, making for excellent bird watching. The eastern shores and Cape Vidal lend themselves to beach-and-safari tours, while Maphelane is a favoured fishing spot, with two self-guided nature trails, one estuarine and one into the dunes. The most impressive of these is the Maphelane dune at 183m high.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has 35 frog species – 30% of the 116 species recorded in South Africa – more than 500 bird species, over 100 species of butterfly, more than 2 000 species of flowering plants and all five of South Africa’s surviving mangrove tree species.
How to Reach
iSimangaliso is an easy 280 kilometre (173.9 mile) drive from Durban on a well-maintained tarred road. Travel north-east on the N2 highway toward Mozambique. Turn east onto the R618 and travel towards St Lucia town. Once in St Lucia turn left at the round-about to enter the nature reserve.
Durban’s international airport – King Shaka Airport.
Where to Stay
There is a wide range of accommodation options available to choose from while exploring the iSimangaliso Wetlands area. No matter what your budget and requirements you are guaranteed to find an accommodation option to suit your needs. Camp sites can be found at Kosi Bay, Sodwana Bay, Lake St Lucia Estuary, Mabibi and Maphelane. There are also various self-catering, B&B and all inclusive options to choose from, from luxury tented lodges to small chalets and quaint cottages.
Whom To Contact
iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority
Tel: +27 (0)35 590 1633
Fax: +27 (0)35 590 1602
Best Time To Visit
iSimangaliso has a tropical climate and can be visited all year round. Summer can be very hot though.
What to Pack
Comfortable walking shoes or boots, plenty of sunscreen, hat, binoculars and camera.
Best to Buy
Some of the best grass weavers in the world sell their goods here. You’ll find bags, mats, hats and more.
Things to Remember
The iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is located in a malaria area and special precautions should be taken prior to and during your visit to avoid contracting the disease. Bilharzia is also present in the fresh waters. Hippos, Crocodiles, Elephants and other dangerous wildlife are found within the reserve and visitors are advised to always remain vigilant. Hippos have often been found wandering along the streets and in the gardens of some lodges and in the town of St Lucia and Crocodiles are regularly seen along the shoreline.