The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is located in the Eastern part of South Africa, in the KwaZulu-Natal province; it protects a long stretch of coast that goes from the St Lucia Lake and the St Lucia estuary, near the town with the same name, to Kosi Bay, not far from the border with Mozambique.
The park, as we know it now, was recently established, but inside it contains several areas, some of which are protected areas for some time, while others have only recently returned to the ancient primordial splendor and have been added within the boundaries of the iSimangaliso park.
Within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, with its 220 km of coastline and its 3320 sq km of protected area, there are different ecosystems:marshes, mountains, savannah, palm groves, vegetated dunes, tropical coastal forest, grasslands and coral reefs.
"ISimangaliso" means, in the Zulu language,"miracle and wonder" because part of this area, thanks to a colossal recovery work, has returned to its former glory; the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park was South Africa's first place added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.
And if the iSimangaliso is a miracle and a wonder, its ten areas in which it is divided are its jewels.
The 10 areas of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park:
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 connects them, and there are also vegetated dunes, white beaches, palm forests, marshes and mangroves; this is one of the most pristine places in South Africaand the African continent.
Here you can still find the traditional traps for fishing, the kraal, by the Tembe or Thonga; it is also possible to practice for sport fishing.
The Maputaland Reserve, at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, consists of 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 immense deserted beaches where turtles nest, coral reefs and Indian Ocean waters, where whales can be seen, a primary tropical forest, the vegetated dunes and the Sibaya Lake.
It is one of the most remote areas of the iSimangaliso and can be reached only by a 4x4 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, that then goes to gather right in the lake, where live hippos and Nile crocodiles.
It is believed that in remote times the Sibaya Lake was connected to the Indian Ocean, but today it no longer has an outlet to the sea.
This is one of the favorite places for birdwatchers.
Sodwana Bay is located South of the Maputaland Reserve; with the name "Sodwana Bay" is identified not only the bay overlooking the Indian Ocean, but also the hinterland, that is characterized by dunes, positioned parallel to the coast.
This is one of the best places, inside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, where you can practice diving and snorkeling, in front of the coast, in fact, there is a beautiful coral reef; also here you can practice different water sports and even sport fishing.
uMkhuze Game Reserve
The uMkhuze Game Reserve is located inland, farther from the coast than the other areas of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park; it is bordered to the South by the uMkhuze riverthat, as a habitat and as a landscape, characterizes the reserve, there is also a forest of sycamore figs and a portion of savannah.
Not only it is the oldest reserve in South Africa, but it is much loved by birdwatchers and photo safaris; you can walk the Fig Forest Walkwith a park guide, you can do game drives in search of cats and other mammals and birds and you can also observe nature and its animals from one of the observation huts.
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, especially at Cape Vidal, or wanting to participate in a boat trip for whales sighting.
It is one of the most frequented areas of the iSimangaliso, as it is easily accessible, but it is nevertheless an enchanting area with few visitors.
It is possible to stay overnight in the town of St Lucia or at Cape Vidal.
Western Shore and Charter Creek
Even the Western Shore is very appreciated by those who love photo safaris, like on the Eastern Shore, here too there are many animals, but the landscapes are different; so the best solution is to visit both sides of the St Lucia Lake.
Recently, on the Western Shore have been made paths, observation huts, picnic areas and a suspended walkway that passes between the trees; this area is very interesting and 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, 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 the 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 paths found here, the Dugandlovu Trail and the Mphophomeni Trail; birdwatching; make sightings from the observation platform, that overlooks the St Lucia Lake; visit the interpretative center, where you can see the fossils of marine animals and 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 little 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 the dune, from the top of which you can enjoy a unique view of the Indian Ocean and the St Lucia estuary.
This is a place loved by birdwatchers because here there is a coastal forest, where many species of birds live; furthermore, 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 all deserve to be visited.