KwaZulu Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Stretching from Cape St Lucia northward to the Mozambican border on KwaZulu-Natal’s northeastern coast, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park has the distinction of being the first site in South Africa to be added to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage List in 1999, acknowledging the incredible diversity of species that depend on the area’s variety of landforms, such as coastal dunes, sandy beaches, coral reefs, lake systems, grasslands, freshwater swamps and reed and papyrus wetlands. Due to its geographic location between tropical and sub-tropical Africa, along with its coastal setting, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to more species of animals than are resident in the much bigger Kruger National Park.
The spectacular beauty of the scenery, along with the abundance of wildlife, makes iSimangaliso a popular leisure destination for outdoor enthusiasts. A network of hiking trails through the park offer options for short walks and multi-day hikes, with animal and bird life all along the way. The park is also popular with fishing enthusiasts who have a choice of rock and surf fishing, fly fishing, estuary fishing and deep sea spearfishing. Other activities include boating, whale watching, horse riding, game viewing and bird watching. There are more than 530 resident and migratory bird species that use the wetlands and Lake St Lucia, including up to sixty thousand greater and lesser flamingos and vast numbers of ducks. The area is also home to 36 species of amphibians – the highest of any nature reserve in South Africa – and supports South Africa’s largest hippo population. Moreover, it is an important breeding ground for sea turtles.
As Africa’s largest estuarine system, Lake St Lucia lies parallel to the coastline, separated from the sea by high forested sand dunes within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Other areas included in the park’s borders are the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, the Kosi Bay Natural Reserve, Lake Sibaya and the Coastal Forest Reserve. The park features a number of interpretative and educational facilities, as well as accommodation and visitor amenities, and is the perfect setting for truly getting in touch with nature.