South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, the vast iSimangaliso is hauntingly beautiful, and befitting of its name which means “miracle” in Zulu. But it has a long history of conservation management and conflict. Timber plantations and rural agriculture are juxtaposed against 220 km of pristine beaches, several lakes and large tracts of indigenous dune forests. Despite the controversy, nature thrives here – 526 bird species occur, many of which live on what is Africa’s largest estuarine system. And the coral reefs are among the finest on the east coast of the continent. Size: 332 000 hectares. Situated on the north-east coast of South Africa.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
If I could choose to live for a year in a large protected area in South Africa, I'd probably opt for iSimangaliso Wetland Park (yes, I'm not sure that Kruger or Kgalagadi would be top of my list...)
iSimangaliso is the country's second largest (after Kruger) - about 3000 square kilometres - and extends in a long strip from Kosi Bay on the Mozambique border south for 300kms to the town of St Lucia, where the waters of Lake St Lucia find their way into the Indian Ocean.
It was proclaimed as South Africa's first world heritage site in 1994, and contains - supposedly - the most number of animal species than any other protected area on the continent (no doubt because of the inclusion of the marine offshore area, which contains Read more »
Peter Timm grew up in the farmlands of the landlocked Free State province. When I met him for the first time a few months ago at Sodwana Bay on the Indian Ocean shore, the burly 51 year-old came across like a straight-talking farmer, yet he was quick to poke fun at others – and himself.
He jokingly called himself a boer (even though he had an English name), and you could imagine someone like him driving a tractor in the mielie fields on the interior plateau of Southern Africa, hundreds of kilometres from any large body of water.
The ancient, rare fish known as coelacanth (pronounced see-la-canth), however, typically only lives in ocean waters at depths of 100 metres or more.
The dark underwater canyons of Sodwana Bay in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal are one of the few places on Read more »
Rocktail Bay and Mabibi are located in the Coastal Forest Reserve section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, just to the south of the Kosi section. Just when you think life can't get much better, you pitch up at Rocktail Bay.
This is the narrowest part of the park, where the forested dunes lie steep against the long beaches and Indian Ocean. Offshore is the best diving in South Africa. The tropical waters of East Africa are drawn southwards by the Agulhas current, one of the fastest in the world, creating a tropical climate on northern Natal’s coast.
The coral reefs of iSimangaliso stretch from south of Sodwana Bay all the way north to Kosi on the Mozambican border. The reefs of Sodwana are some of the most pristine and popular in Africa, and form part of one of only two marine Read more »
The Kosi Bay area of northern iSimangaliso Wetland Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most photogenic and beautiful in the country. Just south of the Mozambican border, this tropical place of land and water has an air of paradise about it.
The Kosi area is not easy to get to know, however, mostly because of the complex landscape. The area is dominated by four interconnected lakes of differing sizes, running south to north, where an estuary flows out into the Indian Ocean. Between the sea and the lakes are forested dunes and empty beaches.
The lakes are fringed with marshlands and raffia palm forests, while further inland to the west are rolling grasslands and pockets of swampforest. You’ll need a 4x4 to drive the sandy Read more »
My time with Chris Kelly and his team from Wildlfe Act has left me feeling both inspired and depressed. I’m inspired to see how committed and relentless they are in their efforts to ensure that endangered species like wild dogs survive.
At the same time, I can’t help feel that no matter how hard Chris and his team works, there’s a tide of greater social challenges which is impossible to prevent damaging and destroying our country’s natural heritage.
Northern Zululand’s game reserves – both public and private – are surrounded by huge communities of poor people, with few jobs and little education.
We need to be careful as privileged, educated people to make judgments on poaching – I’ve never gone hungry in my life, nor Read more »
The crocodile breeding centre near the entrance to iSimangaliso at the town of St Lucia is definitely worth a visit, as you'll get to see some huge crocs, up close! On view are Nile crocodiles, as well as two other African species - the longsnouted and dwarf crocodile, while there are also American alligators.
I was taken round the centre by Mark Robertson, the Ezemvelo ranger responsible for the centre. Mark explained that crocs which are hurt or injured, or are considered a threat to the communities, are brought to the centre for breeding purposes. The young crocs are then sold or given to game reserves.
"These animals are essentially perfect predators," Mark told me. "They evolved around the time of the dinosaurs and their basic physiology hasn't changed for millions of years. Read more »
I wish I had scheduled more time in the large, beautiful, diverse iSimangaliso Wetland Park. As in all places I’ve visited, the more I discover, the more I want to stay and explore.
Few people are more closely associated with iSimangaliso than Andrew Zaloumis. I met up with him and his son Emmanuel one afternoon, as well as ecologist Bronwyn James and marketing manager Lindy Duffield. We walked from Catalina Bay on the Lake, across the low-lying shores, up along the high coastal dunes, and down onto the long beach at Mission Rocks. (Before you go walking yourself through the park, be sure to be accompanied by someone from the park authority, as there are buffalo, hippo and elephant here!)
Andrew is the CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, and he gave me some insight into the Read more »
From uMkhuze Game Reserve, I drove south to the town of St Lucia at the southern end of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. I met up with marketing manager Lindy Duffield who took me along the road through the western shores of Lake St Lucia. This lake is the largest estuarine system in South Africa, and provides an important habitat for many species, including one of the largest populations of Nile crocodile in Africa, and the largest South African populations of hippos, white pelicans and pinkbacked pelicans. Then there are at least 82 fish species that thrive in the lake and its mangroves.
As we drove into the Charter’s Creek gate on the western shores, just off the National N2 road, we passed through several kilometres of commercial tree plantations. The sight of vast tracts of mono-type, Read more »
From Thonga Beach Lodge near Mabibi on the coast of iSimangaliso, I drove past Lake Sibaya, the largest fresh water lake in South Africa. It’s also one of iSimangaliso’ four Ramsar sites, an international accreditation given to ecologically-special lakes, rivers and water systems.
I travelled down the western shore of the lake, and spotted a croc or two as well as some hippo in the distance, but I wish I had more time – and a canoe, although no boating, kayaking, fishing or canoeing is allowed on the lake because it’s a fragile system – there is no major river flowing into it, to replenish the lake’s water. Instead, ground water and rain are the main sources of water.
Sodwana Bay was my next overnight Read more »
From Rocktail Bay in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, I continued moving south along the so-called Coastal Forest section, to Thonga Beach Lodge, which is near Mabibi beach. The road is a sandy track that meanders over the coastal dunes, all of which are forested or covered in grass. (You’ll need a 4x4 here).
More than 240 kilometres of coastline is protected by iSimangaliso, or about 9% of South Africa’s shoreline. The coastal dunes here are among the tallest on earth, some reaching over 180 metres in height. They were formed around 30 000 years ago, when the sea finally finished retreating to its current position, after the onset of the last ice age about Read more »
My next stop in iSimangaliso Wetland Park was Rocktail Bay, about 20kms south of Kosi Bay (I’m making my way south through the park). Rocktail Beach Camp is the semi-luxury lodge run by Wilderness Safaris situated near Manzengwenya Beach on an isolated stretch of the Indian Ocean shoreline. They have the exclusive concession to dive the coral reefs here. The beach camp is set back from the beach in the coastal forest. It’s stylish and comfortable, yet still maintains an understated measure that suits the surroundings.
But you won’t want to hang around at the lodge, as comfortable as it is, because the Read more »
The huge iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the far north-east coast of South Africa is a truly impressive stretch of land, ocean and fresh water lakes and rivers.
At 332 000 hectares, it’s South Africa’s second largest protected natural area, after the Kruger National Park. (The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that straddles both Botswana and South Africa is bigger than Kruger, but the South African portion would be the third largest nature reserve, after Kruger and iSimangaliso).
Interestingly, it’s not a national park, but it is a World Heritage Site, managed by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park authority and KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife. It probably should be a national park, because it deserves its place amongst the flagship protected areas on the Read more »