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LLake Sibaya (or Sibhayi or Sibayi, as it is also known) is named as one of the 10 jewels of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa. It is around 70km² in size and lies in the tropical north-eastern quadrant of KwaZulu-Natal.
Lake Sibaya was once at the mouth of a mighty river, and was open to the sea. Many years ago, though, things changed. Now, a high-forested duneland divides Lake Sibaya from the coastline.
Surrounding it is the thickly vegetated iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar is a town in Iran where an agreement was struck in 1971 to conserve significant wetlands).
Although its’ clear blue waters may look cool and appealing, Lake Sibaya is not a good place to swim as crocodiles and hippos paddle about in startlingly large numbers; it is home to KwaZulu-Natal’s second largest population of hippo and crocodiles.
The lake has had little development pressure, and is considered near pristine, with over 100km of unspoilt shoreline. It has been cut off from the ocean for so long that certain fish that were marine in origin have evolved to become unique freshwater specimens and are near-endemics. There are many interesting cichlids and gobies, along with various tilapias and mouthbrooders.
For birders, Lake Sibaya is paradise. Here you can find 279 species of rather special birds, including that rare vegetarian bird of prey – the palmnut vulture. You might also see the elusive Pel’s fishing-owl, the pygmy goose, bat hawk, yellow white-eye, the rufous-bellied heron and Woodward’s batis.
You will almost certainly see the malachite, pied and giant kingfishers, flamingoes by the dozen, black-winged stilts, white-fronted sand plovers, spoonbills, swamp hens, crakes and bitterns.
Apart from the more or less unmissable crocodiles and hippos, keep an eye open for smaller creatures like water mongooses, reedbuck, samango monkeys, red squirrels and endangered blue duikers.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Tel: +27 (0)35 590 1633/1602
How to get here
From Durban, head north on the N2 for just over 300km, or about 3 hours' drive. Take the turn-off to Hluhluwe and from here, head north towards the scuba diving and camping haven of Sodwana. You're essentially driving through iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a very photogenic experience, so it could take you another 2 hours or so from Hluhluwe to Lake Sibaya. Lake Sibaya is just north of Mbazwana.
Best time to visit
Mid-summers are very hot and humid. Rather visit between April and October if you can.
Things to do
The reefs at nearby Sodwana are legendary and the water is always pleasant (also mostly startlingly clear).
Local tour operators offer guided walks, kayaking, scuba diving and turtle tours.
Where to stay
There's a beautiful luxury camp at Mabibi close to Lake Sibaya. You could also opt for family accommodation at Sodwana or even Kosi Bay.
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park
- Isibindi Africa Lodges
- Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife
- Tourism KwaZulu-Natal
- Birdlife South Africa