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TThe iSimangaliso Wetland Park was declared South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and encompasses beautiful landscapes, unique ecology and diverse wildlife, including the endangered loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.
In a speech marking the historic 2002 reintroduction of elephants to its eastern shores, Nelson Mandela said, “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).”
We couldn’t say it better ourselves!
The park's Kosi Bay region comprises of four lakes linked by a network of channels, while its estuary is one of the world's best fly-fishing destinations.
Meanwhile, the coastal forest region (accessible only by 4x4) encompasses the pristine beaches of Mabibi, Island Rock, Rocktail Bay and Black Rock, where you can enjoy snorkelling and diving.
South Africa's largest freshwater lake, Lake Sibaya, also forms part of the park. Formed against thick, forested coastal dunes, its clear waters support the province's second-largest hippo and crocodile populations.
Further 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 coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the only remaining major nesting site in Africa where endangered Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles still lay their eggs. Female turtles return every year between November and March, to the same beach that they were born, to lay their eggs amongst the dunes. The park offers turtle tours so that visitors can experience the incredible life-cycle of the species.
Then there’s the uMkhuze Ecosystem, which is a 38 500ha bird-lovers’ paradise that supports 420 species. Here you can also spot leopards, black rhinos, white rhinos, elephants, giraffes, wild dogs, cheetahs, hyenas and various antelope.
Don’t forget about the sand forests, thornvelds, open savannahs and welcoming beaches of False Bay, while Charters Creek is a wildlife haven for larger game species such as elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, leopards, giraffes and tsessebe.
Lake St Lucia is Africa’s largest estuarine system and home to 800 hippos and 1200 crocodiles. Flocks of pelicans and flamingos favour the expansive lake which makes for excellent birdwatching. The eastern shores and Cape Vidal lend themselves to beach and safari tours. 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 also 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.
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. Here you’ll also encounter five of the cultural groups who call this area home: Zulu, Swazi, Shangaan, Tonga and Gonda.
With so much to see, it is no wonder that iSimangaliso attracts thousands of visitors a year and has a variety of activities on offer to truly experience the beauty of the park. These include kayaking, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, and horse riding along iSimangaliso’s tranquil beaches.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority
Tel: +27 (0)35 590 1633
Fax: +27 (0)35 590 1602
How to get there
iSimangaliso is easily accessible by road. Take the N2 north from Durban until you reach it. Durban is the closest city with an international airport, the King Shaka International Airport. From here, St Lucia is less than four hours' drive away.
Best time to visit
iSimangaliso has a tropical climate and can be visited all year round. Summers can be very hot, so be prepared.
Things to do
Sodwana Bay, nearby, is home to Africa’s southernmost coral reefs and is the diving mecca of South Africa. Fishing, diving tours, game viewing, birding, hiking trails and more. Self-drive is best, though there are also many tour operators in the area.
What to pack
Pack comfortable walking shoes or boots, plenty of sunscreen, a hat, binoculars and a camera.
Where to stay
The choice of accommodation is comprehensive and includes camping, backpackers' establishments, self-catering, B&Bs, guest houses, lodges, hotels and game reserve facilities.
What to eat
St Lucia has a number of dining options on offer and is particularly well-known for its seafood.