One of the reasons South Africa is so proud of its country is the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This is the country’s first World Heritage Site which was awarded in 1999. iSimangaliso is like nothing you have ever seen in the world. Its 332,000 hectare area has 8 ecosystems, 3 major lakes, majority of the country’s swamp forests, coastal dunes that are over 25,000 years old, the country’s biggest estuarine system, and hundreds of bird and other animal and plant species. The park’s name, which was originally Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, means “miracle and wonder” and has 10 jewels or extremely special locations to explore and enjoy.
This park is also the only one in the world where the rhino and the elephant share the same ecosystem with the whale and the coelacanth.
It was discovered in 1554 by survivors of a Portuguese ship, the St. Benedict. At that time, they called it Rio de la Medaos do Oura or River of the Dows of Gold. The main river itself was called Tugela which was later changed to St. Lucia in 1575. Over 247 years later, it was turned into a township and 70 years after into the St. Lucia Game Reserve.
How to Get to iSimangaliso Wetland Park
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is in the east coast of the province of KwaZulu-Natal and closest to Durban although Durban is about 275 kilometers away. From Durban, the N2 northward will take you to the town of Hluhluwe. About 50 kilometers before you get to this town, turn right to the town of St. Lucia and when you get to St. Lucia, you will see the park’s entrance.
Things to Do
Like many places in South Africa, there are also opportunities for self-managed tours although there are guides available if you prefer this. It is also possible to see the park on a budget which means there are many affordable lodges and services. Some of the common adventures one can do in the park are taking hikes although be sure to steer clear of protected or dangerous zones, swimming at the beaches, bird watching, snorkeling, boat cruising, whale-watching, and going on a safari.
It’s easy to get distracted and confused with the many parks and reserves and which one to start with but you can always get a map and create your own course of action. A few of your choices are Kosi Bay, Lake St. Lucia, Lake Sibhayi, St. Lucia Game Reserve, St Lucia Marine Reserve, False Bay Park, Cape Vidal, Mkuze Game Reserve, Ozabeni, Lake Ezra Nature Reserve, and Mfabeni, to name just a few top picks. Whatever you decide on, be sure to bring your Nikon CoolPix camera along!
The New Transfrontier Park
The iSimangaliso Park will soon be integrated into a transfrontier park or the Ponta do Ouro-Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Area. Other parks that will be added to this new transfrontier park are the Sodwana Game Reserve, Cape Vidal Game Reserve, Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, Mkuzi Game Reserve, Maputoland Marine Protected Area, and Maputo Protection Area which is located in Mozambique. The plan is to eventually turn the transfrontier park to cover even more areas and call it the Greater Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Discovering iSimangaliso is like coming across great laptop deals, you’ll want to take advantage of your time in the area and let other people know about the noteworthy find!