Proclaimed South Africa's first World Heritage Site, the exceptionally beautiful iSimangaliso Wetland Park is renowned for its diverse wildlife and incredibly beautiful landscapes.
Running up the north of KwaZulu Natal along the coastline to Mozambique, visitors will find one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Stretching across 332 000 hectares of pristine coastline, coastal sand dunes and plateaux, the iSimangaliso Wetlands incorporate the vast Lake St Lucia, as well as South Africa's largest freshwater lake; Lake Sibaya.
The reserves undulating plains find their highest points in the monstrous coastal sand dunes dotted along the landscape, with the two highest points being St Mary's Hill that rises to 138 metres above sea level near the north-east tip of Lake St Lucia and Nyathikazi at 159 metres above sea level, near to Lake Bhangazi South.
Aside from the magnificent natural beauty of the surroundings, the highlight of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the sheer richness and diversity of the African wildlife found within the reserve. Considered the richest mammal conservation area in South Africa, iSimangaliso is home to 115 mammal species, many of which have been reintroduced in recent years, as they were absent due to hunting in the past.
Game animals found within the safari park include; Savanna Elephant, Spotted Hyena, Brown Hyaena, Wild Dog and around 800 Hippopotami. Hippos splashing and playing in the water is a regular sight while out on a game drive or on a boat trip on Lake St Lucia and their playful antics provide excellent photo opportunities and wonderful memories. Antelope species found include Greater Kudu, Common Reedbuck, Bushbuck and Common Waterbuck, as well as a small population of Suni and Red Duiker which occur widely but are usually seen near to Charter's Creek, along the western shore.
For those interested in reptiles and amphibians, iSimangaliso Wetlands is a much-see location as it is home to possibly the largest population of Nile Crocodiles in South Africa and there are at least 1 200 crocodiles found in Lake St Lucia alone. The wilderness area is also a very important egg-laying site for Leatherback Sea Turtles (between October and February) and Loggerhead Sea Turtles (between November and January). Visitors can take guided night drives out across the sand dunes in search of these graceful giants who head up onto the shores to dig holes and lay their eggs.
iSimangaliso is also a bird watchers paradise and is considered one of South Africa's top birding destinations with a massive count of at least 482 bird species found in the nature reserve. The best time for bird watching is in the late summer when vagrant shore and sea birds can be seen.
Notable 'special' species include Great White Pelicans and Pink-Backed Pelicans that breed in the area in large numbers. Cape Vidal is an excellent location for seeing Purple-crested and Livingstone's Turacos as well as Woodward's Batis and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatchers. Sightings in and around the estuary mouth are good as are the sightings in and around the accommodation.
There are 51 snakes found in the area including the Southern African Python which can grow to over 5 metres in length, and the extremely dangerous and exceptionally beautiful Gaboon Adder. Rock Monitor and Nile Monitor Lizards are found in the reserve and Southern Tree Agamas may also be seen, even in the camps.
The region has lush green sub-tropical vegetation which is divided into Maputaland types; the coastal belt and the wooded grassland. In the coastal belt regions one will find grassland, thicket and forest with spots of lala palm and date palms. In the north of the wetland park one will find South Africa's only naturally occurring population of kosi palms, that grow to a height of 24 metres tall.
The wooded grasslands found with the coastal sand dunes are classified into coastal forest and dune thicket. Mangrove communities are found in several areas within the nature reserve especially in and around Kosi Bay in the north. Other common and easily identified trees in the wilderness reserve include wild banana trees and black monkey-orange trees.