iSimangaliso (meaning miracle and wonder) in the Zulu language , and it’s a fitting name for this World Heritage Area, home to Africa’s largest estuarine system. The park was formerly known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, but was given new name which became effective on 1st November 2007. The name “iSimangaliso” came as a result of Shaka’s subject having been sent to the land of the Tsonga. When he returned he described the beauty that he saw as a miracle.
The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, iSimangaliso is located on the northeastern coast of Kwazulu Natal of South Africa and connects eight interwoven ecosystems, including swamplands croc-filled rivers, coral reefs, lakes, towering coastal dunes, and savanna. It is no surprise that the area supports an incredible variety of wildlife. There are more than 526 species of birds inhabit the reserve as well as leatherback and loggerhead turtles, leopards, rhino, and Africa’s highest concentration of hippos and crocodiles. This unique wilderness area offers visitors the chance to merge a classic safari experience with coastal adventures in the marine reserve such as kayaking, fishing, diving, and snorkeling.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park contains several areas, some of which are protected areas for some time. It is divided into ten areas, which are:
Kosi Bay, at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is an area of 110 square kilometers consisting of an estuary, four lakes and a network of canals that join them together, and there are also vegetated dunes, white beaches, palm forests, marshes and mangroves; this is one of the most untouched places in South Africa and the African continent.
Here you can still find the traditional traps for fishing, also the kraal, by the Tembe or Thonga; it is also possible to carry out practice for sport fishing.
The Maputaland Reserve, at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park contains two parts: the Maputaland Coastal Forest and the Maputaland Marine Reserve; this area is located between Kosi Bay and Sodwana Bay and protects a long stretch of coast, with gigantic deserted beaches where turtles nest, coral reefs and Indian Ocean waters, where whales can be seen,vegetated dunes, a primary tropical forest and the Sibaya Lake.
It is one of the most remote or far away areas of the iSimangaliso and can be reached only by a 4×4 car.
The Sibaya Lake, at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa, this water basin has the peculiarity of having no tributaries, in fact its waters come from the high vegetated dunes that surround it and allow the water to filter when it rains, and as well goes to gather right in the lake, where live hippos and Nile crocodiles. It is believed that in remote times the Sibaya Lake was linked to the Indian Ocean, but today it no longer has an outlet to the sea. This is one of the favourites places for birdwatchers
Sodwana Bay is located South of the Maputaland Reserve, which is identified not only the bay overlooking the Indian Ocean, but also the hinterland, that is distinguished by dunes, positioned parallel to the coast. This is one of the best places, in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, where you can practice diving and snorkeling, in front of the coast. As a matter of fact, there is a beautiful coral reef; you can also practice different water sports and even sport fishing.
uMkhuze Game Reserve
The uMkhuze Game Reserve is located inland, far from the coast than the other areas of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park; it is bordered to the South by the uMkhuze River that, as a habitat and as a landscape,describe the reserve, there is also a forest of sycamore figs and a portion of savannah.
It is not only the oldest reserve in South Africa, but it is much loved by birdwatchers and photo safaris; you can walk the Fig Forest Walk with a park guide, you can do game drives in search of cats and other mammals and birds.
Eastern Shore and Cape Vidal
The Eastern Shore and Cape Vidal is the area of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, preferred by those who love safaris or those looking for a bit of relaxation on the beach or wanting to go snorkeling, mainly at Cape Vidal, or wanting to engage in a boat trip for whales sighting. It is one of the most visited areas of the iSimangaliso, as it is easily accessible, but it is nevertheless an enchanting area with few visitors.
Western Shore and Charter Creek
Even the Western Shore is very appreciated by those who love photo safaris, like on the Eastern Shore, also there are many animals here, but the landscapes are different; so the best solution is to visit the two sides of the St Lucia Lake.
Recently, on the Western Shore have been made pathway, observation huts, picnic areas and a suspended walkway that passes between the trees; this area is very interesting and also easy to visit as it is located near the town of St Lucia, alternatively you can stay at Charter Creek.
St Lucia Lake
The St Lucia Lake is the largest river estuary in Africa; it was the subject of an important environmental recovery project, which begun in the 1990s, and now the lake has returned to its former glory.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has taken the name of “iSimangaliso”, that means “miracle and wonder” in Zulu language, following the fact that the St Lucia Lake, that was in critical situations, has now returned to being a naturalistic paradise.
False Bay is located on the shores of the St Lucia Lake, within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, precisely between the Nibela peninsula and the Nhlozi peninsula.
This is a very nice area, where you can practice a variety of activities including: walking one of the two pathways found here, the Dugandlovu Trail and the Mphophomeni Trail; birdwatching; spotting from the observation platform, neglecting the sides of the St Lucia Lake; visit the interpretative center, where you can see the fossils of marine animals with corals, dating back to millions of years ago, that have been found in this area.
Maphelane is the further South area of the entire iSimangaliso Wetland Park, it is South of the estuary of the St Lucia Lake and is a less visited and this is a shame as it offers a lot.
Here is the dune of Maphelane, the highest vegetated dune in South Africa; it is possible to walk up from the top of the dune which you can enjoy a unique view of the Indian Ocean and the St Lucia estuary.
This is a place that is loved by the birdwatchers because here, there is a coastal forest, where many species of birds live; which is 11 km further South, there is the wreck of the Jolly Rubino, clearly visible from the shore, it can be reached on foot walking along the beach.
Impossible to choose among the 10 jewels of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, they’re all deserve to be visited.