Exploring iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Learn about the different areas of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park One of South Africa's World Heritage Sites, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park stretches over 200km (136 miles) up the coastline and has several distinct areas. This article serves to give the reader an idea of the different areas and the experiences that can be had in them.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated on the north eastern shores of KwaZulu-Natal that conserves 328 000 hectares of pristine ecosystems. It includes a vast range of habitats from coral reefs in the marine reserve, to beautiful lakes, swamps, woodlands and coastal forests. It stretches 220km (136 miles) up the coast from Kosi Bay to the Mozambican border.
The park includes Lake St Lucia which is South Africa's largest estuary which is home to the biggest concentration of Crocodiles and Hippos in South Africa. The region has a wide diversity of flora and fauna and is a very important breeding ground for waterfowl, with over 500 species of birds recorded. It is also an important breeding ground for Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles. The region is made up of 8 interlinking eco-systems and has 3 major lakes.
The bulk of the park consists of the estuary, but is divided up into ten different areas which are referred to as the "10 Jewels". These are Kosi Bay, Coastal Forest Reserve, Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay, uMhkuze, False Bay, Charters Creek, Lake St Lucia, Cape Vidal and Maphelane. Each of these areas is best for seeing a different ecosystem and doing a different activity. There are also a range of different activities on off from game viewing through to snorkelling and diving.
This section of the park consists of 4 lakes linked by a network of channels. Fishing is a very popular activity in Kosi Bay, and it is considered to be one of the world's top fly fishing destinations. The local people also practice the traditional fishing practices like they have done for over 700 years. Their stick fences that are built to catch fish with the out-going tide are one of the features of the estuary. Snorkelling is another popular activity in Kosi Bay.
The Kosi Bay Nature Reserve protects South Africa's last remaining mangrove swamp and forest that is home to over 250 different species of birds, notably Fish Eagles and Palm Nut Vultures. It includes five different species of Mangrove trees which is a unique feature. Animals that can be seen in the reserve include Bushbuck and Duiker as well as Monkeys. At certain times of year Humpback whales can be seen passing up the coast to their breeding grounds in Mozambique.
Coastal Forest Reserve
This region is only accessible to those with 4x4 off-road vehicles. Island Rock and Rocktail Bay are included within this section of the reserve. Diving and snorkelling expeditions are the most popular activities in this area. The region is characterised by picturesque dunes and large banks of Strelitzia's.
This is South Africa's largest freshwater lake, which is home to the second largest population of Hippopotami and Crocodiles in South Africa. The lake was once connected to the estuary but that channel has been closed creating a freshwater lake. Access to these beaches is restricted, so you can have endless white beaches to yourself.
The lake is home to a prolific number of birds and birding walks are offered by expert guides. It is one of the few places where you may catch a glimpse of the rare Pel's Fishing Owl, Kingfishers and Cormorants. The lake is also home to a large population of African Fish Eagles and their haunting cry is commonly heard echoing across the lake.
Sodwana Bay is one of the top diving destinations in the World, consistently appearing on top ten lists. The bay is home to some of the most southerly tropical reefs in the world, the coral reefs in this marine reserve contain over 1200 species of fish as well as many different species of marine flora and fauna.
It is the site of the rediscovery of the Coelacanth, which was thought to be extinct. The coast around Sodwana is undisturbed and natural migrations of fish still continue undisturbed. Divers are likely to see Whale Sharks, Ragged Tooth Sharks as well as Mantas and Dolphins.
Mkhuze Game Reserve
The Mkhuze Game Reserve is one of the best birding spots in South Africa and more than 420 species have been seen within the reserve. It is also a great safari destination as it is so remote. The Reserve is home to Black and White Rhino, Elephant and many species of antelope. It is also home to many predators including Leopard, Cheetah and Wild Dogs.
One of the special activities that the reserve offers is a guided walk through the Sycamore Fig Forest and Nsumo Pan which is a great opportunity to spot many of the species of birds. Guided game drives are a popular activity, as is spending time in the 3 hides which overlook the Kubube, Kamasinga, Kwamalibala pans.
This area consists of sand forest interspersed with open savannah. There is an interpretive centre that houses a variety of marine fossils of both animals and coral that is worth a visit. The region also has excellent bird watching and you can go on game drives. There are also two self-guided walking trails that offer great bird-watching opportunities. Boating and fishing are popular activities while at False Bay, but due to the high concentration of Crocodiles in the Lake, swimming is not permitted. There is a viewing platform that has wonderful views over St Lucia which is an ideal spot to relax and enjoy sundowners.
This is a large campsite that can accommodate up to 250 visitors. It is located on an island in the middle of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. In this region of the park you could see Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino and Leopard. Popular activities include boating and fishing.
Lake St Lucia
This is Africa's largest estuarine system. It stretches 80km long and 23km wide at its widest point. It is renowned for having large flocks of 20 000 greater Flamingos and 40 000 lesser Flamingos as well as many Pelicans and other waterfowl. So naturally bird watching is a popular activity in this section of the Park.
Game drives in search of the larger mammals such as Buffalo, Rhino, Eland and Elephant are also offered. In this section of the park, horseback safaris are also offered, and these are a great way to get close to the local wild animals as they are not frightened as easily when you are on horseback.
Cape Vidal is one of the best sites for snorkelling in South Africa. It is a sheltered bay that has a number of shallow pools at low tide that are home to a wide array of marine life. It is however dangerous to snorkel here at high tide and on an incoming tide.
The area has miles of pristine beaches to walk along and sunbathe on. There are several hiking trails through the wetlands and coastal forest. As it is a reserve you can see Hippopotami, Crocodile, Buffalo and Elephants. Marine highlights include Whales, Dolphins and turtles.
The Maphelane reserve is home to the highest vegetated dune in South Africa and the second highest vegetated dune in the world. Birding is a popular activity in this area of the park and there are two self guided walking trails through the beautiful coastal forest. One of the paths follows the estuary and the other goes up the dunes and has wonderful views over the Ocean and river mouth.