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Cultural Discoveries

WWhen the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as St Lucia Wetland Park) became South Africa's first World Heritage Site in 1999, life began to look up for the women living in this beautiful area. 

There was a strong tradition of basket weaving at iSimangaliso but the women earned little from their work as they had limited access to markets. The products also looked fairly similar and this tended to drive down prices. 

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority brought in product developers to advise the crafters on the latest décor trends and colours they could incorporate into their work to make it more commercially appealing 

The products are made from renewable resources in keeping with the conservation ethic of the park. 

Hundreds of women now make a living weaving baskets and placemats at their homes, using local plants like isikonko reeds, ilala palm fronds and sisal. These are sold at décor stores in major towns. 

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. She was also able to buy herself a cellphone – essential for keeping up with orders! 

Did You Know?

TTravel 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 on 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 northern KwaZulu-Natal province, easily accessible by car from Durban. Once at the park, 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. 

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. 

Things to do 

You could spend weeks here – there's that much to do. iSimangaliso Wetland Park alone has plenty of wildlife, and then there are the beaches that stretch for kilometres. Scuba diving, kayaking, whale watching, bird watching and horse riding are just some of the many activities on offer in the park. 

A turtle tour is a must. In the summer, huge Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles drag themselves onto the beaches to lay eggs. This is 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. 

What to pack 

Comfortable, casual and cool neutral colours for walks, swimwear, hats and sandals. All weather windbreaker and comfortable sturdy walking shoes. Smart casual wear for dinner. 

Where to stay  

The region has an abundance of luxury guesthouses and game lodges as well as budget self-catering accommodation and camping. 

Related Links 

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