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The Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park

 

The Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park, also know as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is on the Eastern Coast of South Africa, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, around 275 kilometers North of the city of Durban.

In 1999 it was declared the first Natural World Heritage Site in South Africa, and has more than 280 kilometers of coastline, and is more than 328,000 hectares of area. This wetland park has fifteen different Parks and Nature reserves, The St. Lucia Game Preserve, Lake Etrza Nature Preserve, St. Lucia Marine Preserve, and the Maputaland Marine Preserve, just to name a few.

With so many different areas, it is hard to focus on just one. In this virtual tour, we will take a look at the coastal Parks and Reserves, as well as some of the resorts in this area.

Where you go and how you stay in this area is really up to you. There area an abundance of accommodations, from self catering apartments for a romantic get away, or a family vacation. There are Bed and Breakfasts, as well as a number of all inclusive resorts. It really depends on what kinds of amenities you are looking for, and how much you can afford.

One of the places to stay while visiting the wondrous sites here is the Ingwenya Lodge in St. Lucia. This lodge borders the preserve, and have peaceful surroundings. You can often find hippos grazing at the entrance of the lodge during the evening hours. This a a self catering holiday, meaning that the suites and apartments are completely private, with bedrooms, separate baths and even complete kitchen facilities. You have all the comforts of home here, from WIFI, DSTV, full air conditioning, and even daily maid services. In addition, you have full access to the swimming pool, and there are many activities available for an extra fee, including whale watching and other wildlife viewing, sightseeing tours, and even extreme sports.

One the very banks of the St. Lucia Estuary is the Hippo Hideaway. This is not only a self catering resort, but also has B&B accommodations as well. You have instant access to the Wetlands, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, and the beaches along the Elephant Coast. There are a wide variety of activities, including hiking, horseback riding, and much more. Prices range from R395-R760 per person, with breakfast services an extra R50 each.

St Lucia is actually one of the biggest tourist towns in this area. It feature many attractions that will please any visitor to the area. It has seven different self catering lodgings, three different B&B, a Safari lodge, and even one backpacker’s accommodation. It features two different restaurants, and five different Safari Tours. One of the most popular tours that are offered is the whale watching tour offered by Advantage Cruises, the only legal whale watching permit holder in the area. This tour starts with an early morning drive by 4X4 to the actual boat that will take you withing 300 meters of the Humpback whales. There are also trips to watch the native dolphins, sea turtle adventures, as well as many others.

There are also extreme nature tours available, where you can watch endangered sea turtles as they are nesting, visit the Tembe Elephant park, and even swim with the dolphins. There are so many different safaris and tours available that this alone would take up many articles. It is no wonder this resort community is such a popular destination.

One of the things that you must experience while in St Lucia is a trip to the Veyane Cultural Village. This is authentic Zulu experience takes you on a tour of the Khula village, a real working totally Zulu based community, Here you will experience ancient traditions, as well as more contemporary aspects of Zulu society. This is a hands on tour, with an abundance of one of a kind experiences. You will learn about all the indigenous trees, as well as the history of the wetlands. Traditional healers will meet with you and discuss how they use the natural ingredients in the areas for their home remedies. Zulu weavers, as well as bead makers display their works and show you how they do it. You will be entertained by the story telling as well as the traditional music. One weekends and holidays you will even be entertained by traditional Zulu Dancers.

One of the best places to stay while here is at the Namib Safari Lodge. This lodge really has the best of all worlds. While it is one the main St. Lucia road, and all the restaurants and shops here are at your fingertips, just a few minutes away is the Wetlands and all that is offered. You can use the Safari Lodge as your base camp, and when you are finished with your day excursions, you can get away from it all, and unwind.

Here you can get it all in one place. For one, the lodge offers 14 self catering units, each with private bathrooms, private balconies, and television if you bring a Smart Card for access to the DS. They have 14 B&B units, with a small bar fridge, coffee makers, and bathrooms with just showers. Television service, while provided, is limited. Included with all suites are air conditioners, telephones and independent hot water.

There are barbeque facilities on request, and you have full access to the swimming pool. Meals and sundowners can be purchased the the African or Lapa style bar. From here you can also book many different tours in the Wetlands, from deep sea fishing, a hippo cruise, and even a safari to the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve. There are night drives, walking trails, turtle watching tours, and many other beach adventures. Prices range from ZAR295 and up per person, with discounts for families and groups.

 

Before getting into more about the Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park it is important to know a few things. One of them is that some parts of this area, especially the Northern areas are at high risk for Malaria. While this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t go the these places, you really need to prepare by getting inoculated, wearing appropriate clothing, and arm yourself against disease spreading mosquitoes.

It is also a good thing to know that you don’t have to find accommodation outside the Reserve itself, there are many different lodges located directly in the heart of these Wetland Reserves. In this section we will attempt to talk about some of these interior places to stay. There are just to many to be able to highlight them all, so here are just some of the more popular accommodations that are offered. You can find out more information by going online, to the SA-venues.com website.

The only private lodge in the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park, the Kosi Forest Lodge is a 16 bed facility that offers not just great accommodation, but excellent cuisine, and a host of different activities for just about any Eco Tourist. You start off thatched bush like suites, located in the sand forest, which provides each room with shady trees and complete privacy. Each room is on a raised wood deck, and has a separate bedroom, with a balcony, dressing area, and an en suite bathroom. The bathroom is romantic, with both a shower, and a separated bath. The room itself is a reed enclosed boma, and open to the sky. The whole suite is set in the white sand beach, but under the forest canopy, giving each guest a unique stay.

In addition, each bedroom has low walls, and complete mosquito netting, as well as canvas blinds. These blinds can be rolled up and away, revealing the tranquility of the surrounding forest. The honey moon suite is why the Kosi Forest Lodge is becoming increasingly popular, because of it’s complete privacy, which gives newly wed couples undisturbed surroundings.

The focal point of the main lodge is the expansive Zulu Podberry Tree, where there is a large wooden deck surrounding it and facing the dining room, lounge, as well as the bar. The lodge also takes advantage of the sultry weather, all meals are served one the decks under Albizia trees. One of the most welcome sight is the pool that is built right into the deck, at the edge of the lake. Candles are lit in the evening, giving a warm romantic glow, making people think of the wild African safaris that happened long ago.

There are also many planned activities that begin at the Kosi Lodge, and many are included with your stay here. There are guided canoe trips onto Kosi lake, with guided journeys up the Sihidla channel to view the Raffia Palms, and do some bird watching. This is a very leisurely and guided adventure, so no previous experience is needed, and this guided trip is included with your one night’s stay.

The Kosi Lake is a system of interconnected lakes and channels, that go for more than 18 kilometers. Included with a two night stay is a boat ride on these channels and lakes, the best way to see them. Full day trips include a walk through the the world famous Kosi Bay Fish Traps, as well as picnic lunch, and time to swim the ocean at Bhanga Nek.

While there are many other notable activities, the best one occurs from November 15-January 15, the tracking of the Sea Turtles. This is an excursion that can last up to four hours, and you will be able to witness both Loggerhead and Giant Leatherback Sea Turtles as the return from their long journey to nest and lay their eggs. Both of these species are endangered, so this is a rare sight to see.

Another place where are encouraged to stay is the Sodwana Bay Nature Reserve. This area is best known for snorkeling, sport fishing, scuba diving, and a wealth of other adventures. Situated adjacent to Africa’s Southern Coral Reefs, between the Maputaland, and St. Lucia Marine Reserves. This is an area that stretches from the Mozambique border, to almost Cape Vidal, a distance of 150 kilometers long, and three nautical miles out into the ocean. In addition to having one of the most exciting coral reefs in Africa, this area is also one of the most premier sport diving destinations.

There are dive sites with a multitude of underwater plants and animals, seascapes, mushroom rocks, plate as well as table coral, and so much more. Here too, during the Summer Months you can see that turtles come and nest on the beaches. You can get a guided tour here to watch them as well. There is also a self guided trail that is 5 kilometers, so tourists can enjoy the many birds species, and the joys of nature on their own.

There are four different organized accommodations here. One of them is the Sodwana Bay Camp, a self catering camp. There is 10 five bed, and 10 eight bed Swiss style log cabins, that are full self service. The Sodwana Bay Lodge is close the Shazibe Lake, nestled behind the highest natural dunes in the world, and a short walk to the sea. This lodge offers thatch and reed chalets, with twin beds. This is one of the places that offers a diving school.

Mseni Lodge sits in the Sodwana Bay National Park, and offers bathrooms with showers in each of their twenty cabins. Here you also have direct beach access. Rocktail Bay Lodge lies within the Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve, and this lodge offers the best private beach experience in South Africa. It has more than forty kilometers of pristine undeveloped coastline. You can book through Amakhulu Central Reservations online.

Now that we have talked about some of the great accommodation that are available in and around the Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park, it is time to move on to the next part of our journey, the actual Reserves, specifically the Marine areas. There are Kilometers of pristine beaches, lakes, rivers and estuaries available, which is much of the reason it has become a World Heritage Site.

The park lies on the southern border of Mozambique, and is a transitional zone between the tropical zone to the North, and the more temperate zone to the South, meaning that depending on where you are, you can experience both forms of flora and fauna.

This area is also home to more than 4,000 crocodiles, and the largest concentration of Hippopotamus in Africa. The two largest animals that can be found here is that African Elephant on land, and the Humpback whale in the ocean. There are many other mammal species as well, and this area is very close to having all of the big five, the only animals missing are the African Lion, and the Cheetah, which prefer a more inland climate. There are Rhino, Zebra, Kudu, and Buffalo here, just to name a few.

One of the best ways to see these majestic animals is by going on a wildlife safari on horse back. This is a unique experience, because since the animals view you as part of the horse, they aren’t as frightened and you can get really up close to them.

In addition, there are also more than five hundred different species of birds here, both migratory as well as permanent residents. All the different area, marine, forest and wetland birds can be found here. You will find heron, and kingfisher, including the Malachite kingfisher, a brilliantly blue, Orange and red colored bird. You experience sightings of African Spoonbill, Ibis, the saddle-billed stork, and even flamingos. There are also eagles here, the fish and crowned eagles just to name a few.

Frogs are abundant here and their chorus can be heard during the evening, night hours, and on rainy days. The coastal forests are also home to the endangered gaboon adder, one of the many different snakes that also call this area home.

Speaking of forests and other habitats, The Greater Saint Lucia Wetlands Park as an enormous variety of different and unique land and seascapes. There are a wide variety of forests, from subtropical, to mangroves and swamps. You can find a little of everything. You have thornvelds and savannahs inland, papyrus, and reet swamps. You have lagoons to explore, subtropical coastal forests, as well as the sandy beaches and dunes. Off shore, there is the many different rock formations and underwater reef systems.

These of course surround the park’s name sake, Lake St. Lucia. While you may think that with all the rivers that flow into it that this was a fresh water lake, but you would be wrong. Not only is it salt water, with varying degrees of salinity, but it isn’t really a lake at all. It is actually a shallow lagoon, 60 kilometers long. It runs along the edge of the coast, and it actually empties into the ocean to the South, in times of drought this opening can even close up, trapping any fish or other marine wildlife in the lagoon.

Because of its diverse mixture of fresh and salt water, the lake supplies an abundance of food sources to the birds and animals living in and around Lake St. Lucia. There are so many different kinds of fish that some are yet to be identified, feeding the dolphins that come here, the alligators, as well as the birds. This whole area is the biggest nature park in all of South Africa, and with good reason. With all the different areas to explore and see, this is one place that you need to come back again and again.

Even with all of this, there is still more. Another place that is a must see stop while visiting here is the Kosi Bay Nature Reserve.

This Reserve consists of the Kosi Bay Lakes and Channels, all draining into the Indian Ocean by a sandy estuary. Here too, there are many different species of plants and animals. This is considered the most pristine system of lakes on the whole coast of South Africa. It consists of more than 10,000 hectares of tropical coastal regions, with marshland, and crystal clear waters. There are wild date and palm forests, as well as a mangrove swamp. The sycamore fig forests are home to many different variety of monkeys, duiker and bushbuck, and the whole boasts more than 250 different species of birds, including the Palmut Vulture, night and whitebacked heron, as well as the reed and purple kingfisher, examples of just a few.

Here you also see an massive amount of crocodiles and Hippos, sometimes even together. Of the coast, you can what the Humpback whales as they make their way to calving waters in Mozambique. All along this vast coastline, during the warm Summer months, leather back and loggerhead sea turtles, come here to lay their eggs. Here is also where Kosi Forest Lodge is located, where you can take guided excursions to witness them late at night. This is truly a magnificent sight to be able to witness, one that will last a lifetime.

One of the best qualities here is the Kosi Bay ‘aquarium,’ where the lake system meets the ocean. For snorkeling, this is a dream come true, because along with the abundance of marine life along the mouth of the Kosi Lake system, there is even another coral reef for you to explore.

Now one word of caution to anyone looking to swim in these waters. In addition to the alligators and hippos that call this area home, you also have the Zambezi Sharks who have a habitat here as well. The other point of information about this area is that you need to be aware of is the high malaria risk here.

Now we’ve talked about Saint Lucia itself, as well as Kosi Bay, there is still much more. There are many different reserves to choose from that it would take volumes of information to talk about them all. The last one on our journey here is the Sodwana Bay National Park. Declared an angler’s paradise in 1950, this is a narrow strip of coast line that features forest covered dunes.

This is a little more remote than other parts of the greater Saint Lucia area, but it is no less spectacular, and well worth the trip by 4X4 vehicles. This park as more than 14 different reefs that are literally covered with coral as well as an abundance of marine wildlife. For anglers, you will find a great variety of big fish, including marlin, and sail fish.

For scuba divers and snorkelers, you will simply be amazed at the wealth of life here. With access at Mabibi, Algae Reef, Sodwana Bay, and Kingfisher bay, you will be able to enjoy an natural coral reef that is more than four thousand years old. There are caves, pinnacles, and outcroppings to keep you busy for days.

These underwater sanctuaries are home to lion fish, feather stars, zebras, and moray eels, plus thousands of other different species. Most of the ocean’s sharks have been known to swim in these waters, with three coelacanths living fossils, recently spotted at 115 meters, that were 1.5 meters in length. Here you will also find the gently giants of the sea, enormous manta rays, whale sharks, the Humpback whale, and even dolphins are drawn here.

Think of it this way. While the great coral reef off the coast of Australia may be many times larger, the Sodwana Reef system have over 2/3rds the species of fish. 1,200 different types of fish live here, only three hundred less than the Great Coral Reef. This means you are just as likely to see the same fish here as a trip to Australia.

Professional coral divers that live here operate a dive camp out of Sodwana Bay. You can take diving courses, rent equipment, and purchase diving packages. Dive the Big Five offers a wide variety of safaris and dive packages in and around the area, including underwater reef tours, visits to wrecked ships, and even shark cage diving. Just be prepared to have your breath taken away.

Above the water line, you will also find a wide variety of plant life, birds, and animals. The Pel’s fishing owl, storks, Commorants, and even fish eagles live here. Vanilla Roscheri, and Oecevelades Decaryanum, the only orchids in the whole area live near Lake Sibaya. Again, hippos and crocodiles abound.

Sodwana Bay has been slow to develop commercially, which is why it remains so pristine. Only since the 1980’s and 90’s when fisherman and scuba divers really realized what a wonderful and diverse area this is, was a paved 90 kilometer road from Hluhluwe to Mbazwana completed to give all people more access to these wonderful seascapes.

There are limitless activities to enjoy at the Sodwana Bay National Park, even if you aren’t into scuba diving, or fishing. There are many different bird watching opportunities, with an impressive 279 different species of land and water fowl.

The easiest trail is the Ngoboseleni trail, which begins and ends in front of the Ezimvilo Wildlife office inside the park. This journey is four hours long, and features, wetlands, some grassland, and of coastal forests. This is a leisurely walk, and can be accomplished by just about anyone.

There are interactive learning activities for people of all ages, and since the animal’s routines are mostly predictable, you can experience a variety of different learning opportunities. Many of the local lodges even offer horse back riding along the nature trails. Because the animals recognize you as part of the horse, approaching the wildlife isn’t difficult, but should only be done with the help of a trained guide.

The community of Sadwana Bay is small, yet they have developed a variety of different offerings. Accommodations of all types are available, self catering lodges, B&Bs, and even more primitive lodging. There are many services, restaurants, shopping opportunities and tours.

Now there are some things you need to remember when traveling to the Saint Lucia Wetlands Park, or any of the numerous other parks and reserves here.

As mentioned earlier, this is a high malaria area, and so precautions are a must. It is a good idea to bring plenty of malaria pills with you, as well as getting any booster shots well in advance of your departure date.

While the climate is mild and pleasant most of the year, you should always be prepared for rainy days, with at least one waterproof outer cover and other layered clothing. While you may never need it, it is better than needing it and not having an extra layer of warmth. In many cases you aren’t going to find a bank or an ATM machine, so be prepared accordingly.

We hope you have enjoyed this small tour of the Saint Lucia Wetland National Park area, and look forward to seeing you there.