Did you know?
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was South Africa's first World Heritage Site.
When the Isimangaliso Wetland Park became South Africa's first World Heritage Site in 1999, life began to look up for the women of this beautiful land of Lake St Lucia.
iSimangaliso's arts and crafts come from a strong tradition of basket weaving, but the women earned a pittance from their work as craft workers had limited access to markets. The products also looked the same, which drove down the price.
Clearly the goods had to be become more diverse, with colours and shapes that would appeal to more lucrative markets. So the iSimangaliso authority brought in product developers to help advise on the latest décor trends and colours.
Arts and crafts also had to be made of renewable resources, in keeping with the conservation ethic.
Hundreds of women now make a decent living weaving baskets and placemats at their own homes, using local plants like isikonko reeds, ilala palm fronds and sisal. They are now sold at décor stores in the major centres.
The difference the renewable crafts programme has made in people's lives is nothing short of spectacular. There are many examples, but that of Thembi Nkanini is fairly typical.
Ma-Thembi used to live in a one-room shack just outside the Mkhuze Game Reserve section of iSimangaliso. She struggled to raise her children on the few vegetables she could grow and money from part-time work, when she was lucky.
Thanks to the baskets and place mats she now makes, her income has increased tenfold. Five years after starting to weave her bright baskets, Ma-Thembi bought solar panels for the roof of her extended house. Her children have school uniforms and the books they need. And she has finally been able to buy herself a cellphone – essential for keeping up with orders.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority
Tel: +27 (0)35 590 1633
How to get here
The items made by these women are not sold at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, although the women do sell a small amount at the beach at Sodwana Bay. You'll find most of the stock in decor shops in large city centres such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. iSimangaliso is in the northern KwaZulu-Natal province, easily accessible by car from Durban.
Best time to visit
Summers are very hot, so best to visit during spring and autumn. Winter is also very pleasant in this sub-tropical area.
Around the area
You could spend weeks here – there's that much to do. iSimangaliso Wetland Park alone has plenty wildlife, and then there are the glorious beaches that stretch for kilometres.
Tours to do
A turtle tour is a must. In the summer, huge sea turtles drag themselves onto the beaches to lay eggs. It's a highly moving experience and guides are very sensitive towards the turtles. If you're interested in meeting some of the 'Rooted' women, speak to the iSimangaliso Wetland Authority.
Getting around depends on where you're staying. At luxury game lodges, you'll be transported in style. Otherwise, your own vehicle is the best option.
Length of stay
iSimangaliso Wetland Park has plenty to offer, so set aside at least three nights.
Where to stay
The region has an abundance of luxury guesthouses and game lodges as well as budget self-catering accommodation and camping.
Check the website for details.