iSimangaliso Wetland Park

A miraculous place in South Africa


iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

GPS: -27.635910921179, 32.582712360283

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Meaning “miraculous place” in Zulu, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park lives up to its name. It is one of the few natural sites on the planet that combines such a great biological diversity in one area. Together with Lake St. Lucia, this protected area forms the largest network of estuarine lakes on the African continent and is home to a multitude of wildlife species.

The 3,320 km² iSimangaliso Wetland Park stretches along the Indian Ocean to Mozambique and has a coastline of 220 kilometres. Its location in a transitional zone between tropical and subtropical Africa gives it a scenic beauty. This includes the highest forested dunes in the world, prolific seabeds, large stretches of some of the most beautiful beaches in South Africa, marshes and swamp forests, and the three lake systems of Kosi Bay, Lake St Lucia and Lake Sibaya. The many interconnected ecosystems of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park generate an abundance of wildlife and biodiversity. According to some authorities, this natural site concentrates more terrestrial and marine animal species than any other protected area in Africa. In any case, it was the first South African site to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the early 2000s.

Renowned for the variety of its natural environments, the park is home to the greatest diversity of birds and amphibians on the African continent, as well as the highest density of black rhinoceros in the world. Adored by birdwatchers, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is also popular with divers and fishermen for the richness of the marine life on its coral reef. In addition, the coastline of the Maputaland region serves as a nesting site for many sea turtles (loggerhead and leatherback species) at the foot of the coastal dunes of Sodwana Bay. Since 2001, and the successful reintroduction of elephants in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, it is even possible to see the Big Five (including lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant) and humpback whales. Rarely visited by tourists, unlike the Kruger National Park, this land of abundance offers an amazing experience and adventure in the wild.

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  • A world-renowned wildlife conservation area; the different types of natural environments in the park (coral reefs, coastal forests, dunes, estuaries, lakes, swamps, mangroves, marshes, rivers, ocean, grasslands, savannahs, and wetlands); the alternation of freshwater and saltwater
  • Wild beaches stretching over 200 kilometres of coastline (including Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, Kosi Bay, Black Rock, Nine Mile, Lala Nek, Bhanga Nek)
  • Populations of hippopotamus, crocodiles, monitor lizards, snakes, frogs, elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, buffaloes, rhinoceros (black and white)
  • The large number of bird species (more than 500 species easily observable)
  • Sibaya Freshwater Lake and St Lucia Salt Lake; Sycamore Fig Forest; uMkhuze Wildlife Reserve; Sodwana Bay Dunes (nesting site for leatherback and loggerhead turtles)
  • The reed and papyrus wetlands and the wide variety of tropical plants
  • Swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, fly-fishing, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, walking and horse riding, boat trips in the estuary or on Lake St Lucia, humpback whale, shark and dolphin watching in the Indian Ocean, guided walks with park rangers; Tonga’s traditional fishing techniques
  • The two hiking trails in Maphelane; the walks around Cape Vidal and Kosi Bay
  • The half marathon in May, the mountain bike competition in August and the iSimangaliso Sodwana Shootout Festival in October
  • The iSimangaliso Wetland Park includes both the world’s highest vegetation dunes (Sodwana Bay site) and the world’s southernmost coral reef.
  • South Africa has more mammal species on its soil than all of Europe and Asia combined. For example, more than 90% of wild white rhinoceros are found in this Southern Africa’s country.
  • The wild rhinoceros population in Africa numbered over one million in the 19th century, compared to about 20,000 today (a quarter of which are endangered black rhinos). It is undoubtedly the sexual performance of this herbivorous animal that has fed the myth of the supposed property of its horn. Mating between a male and a female rhino can last more than 30 minutes, and this sexual intercourse can be repeated several times during the same day.
  • With a diet similar to that of the elephant, the rhinoceros weighs an average of 3 tonnes (it is a monogastric animal). It has excellent hearing and a very good sense of smell despite its poor eyesight. Rhinos have a gestation period of 16 months. They regularly live in the company of spotted birds, which clean their skin and that of other mammals by feeding on parasites.
  • About 25 million years ago, the rhinoceros’ ancestor was the largest mammal on Earth after the dinosaurs (fossils have been found in Georgia). Called a Baluchitherium, this megafauna lived mainly in Asia and dominated the food chain. It could measure up to seven metres and weigh up to 20 tonnes (four times the weight of an elephant).
  • In 2015, more than 1,000 rhinoceros were killed by poachers and horn traffickers (horns are sold at a premium on the black market in Asia for their alleged aphrodisiac and anti-cancer properties). A new method of protection, aimed at voluntarily cutting off the horns of rhinos, makes it possible to protect them from poachers (this operation must be repeated every 2 to 3 years on the same individual because the horn grows back 3 centimetres per year). A rhinoceros horn can fetch €40,000 to €50,000 per kilo on sale, which is worth more than gold.
  • Lake St. Lucia has the largest concentration of hippopotamus and Nile crocodiles in Southern Africa. Despite its harmless appearance, the hippo kills more people than lions, buffaloes, or elephants in South Africa. If you have the misfortune to be charged by one of these behemoths, try to take refuge in a tree as quickly as possible.
  • On the sea side, the park’s waters are home to one of the world’s last remaining colonies of coelacanths (known locally as Gombessas). This 350-million-year-old prehistoric fish was known only as a fossil until a living specimen was discovered in 1938 (scientists thought the species had become extinct 65 million years ago). It is up to 2 metres long, has pedunculated fins and a primitive lung that allows it to live at great depths (120 metres). The study of this ancient species of marine life could shed light on the transition from fish to the first vertebrates in the history of biological evolution. Threatened with extinction, the coelacanth still lives in South Africa, the Comoros and Indonesia.
  • The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is part of a transboundary project with the neighbouring countries of Mozambique and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). It is expected to eventually cover almost 13 300 km², making it the second largest protected area in South Africa after Kruger National Park (as part of the creation of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area).
  • The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is located three hours drive north-east of Durban.
  • Plan to spend several days here to take in its unique natural attractions and diverse terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Humpback whales can be seen between June and November, while sea turtles enter their nesting season between November and February.

Where to eat

  • John Dory's St Lucia
    (casual atmosphere)
  • Kauai
    (refreshing stop)
  • Braza
    (generous cuisine)

Where to go

  • Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park
    (oldest game reserve in Africa)
  • Zulu Croc
    (large reptile park)
  • Ithala Game Reserve
    (abundance of wildlife)

Where to stay

  • Santa Lucia Guesthouse
    (charming hosts)
  • AndBeyond Phinda Vlei Lodge
    (in the middle of the savannah)
  • Thonga Beach Lodge
    (on the Indian Ocean)

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