South African Natural Heritage Sites
South Africa's four natural heritage sites each foreground the planet's natural elements - water, air, earth and fire - in some way.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park may feature a surprising range of habitats and eco-systems, but the overpowering theme here is water. Trailing up 280 km of KwaZulu-Natal coastline, it includes Africa's largest estuary at Lake St Lucia, a 60 km-long river mouth parallel to the coast yet separated by forested sand dunes. Drawn to this water world are hundreds of bird species and some interesting amphibians, while in the wild Indian Ocean waters off shore, the passing sea traffic includes whales and sharks.
Air or, more precisely wind, has been a force in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, shaping the spectacular mountain scenery. Carving breathtaking precipices and soaring peaks, the wind has left South Africa with a natural world heritage site not only for the eyes to marvel at, but to challenge the body with rock climbing, abseiling and hiking. In the winter, when snow dusts these wind-hewn monuments, the stunning visual effect is doubled.
In the Cape Floral Region, a South African natural heritage site that stretches from the Peninsula to the Eastern Cape, Mother Earth has given birth to a plant life so rich, it includes 3% of all the species to found in the world. A good share can only be seen in this corner of the globe.
In the formation of the fourth Natural World Heritage Site in South Africa, the Vredefort Dome that traverses the Free State and North West border, fire played a key role. This vast crater was shaped billions of years ago, when a meteorite the size of Table Mountains slammed into the earth. As it passed through the earth's atmosphere it heated up enormously, crashing to earth as a blazing fireball.