iSimangaliso Wetland Park: Get wet

2014-09-14 15:00

This month, we celebrate our heritage with the second in our series showcasing our World Heritage Sites. This week, Denise Slabbert visits the water wonderland of iSimangaliso. Enjoy!

Come explore iSimangaliso Wetland Park


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How to get there

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is an extensive, 332?000-hectare park. The town of St Lucia is the main centre of activity along the Elephant Coast and one can fly to either Durban or Richards Bay and drive to St Lucia (about 2.5?hours from Durban and about an hour from Richards Bay). From Durban, take the N2 along the north coast.

SA Express flies to Richards Bay daily. Although it’s a more direct route, these flights are more costly than flying to King Shaka International Airport then driving up the coast. So it’s a good idea to compare prices when planning your trip.

The driving distance from Joburg is approximately 600km. Head along the N12 to Witbank and then on to the N2 South through Ermelo, Piet Retief and Pongola. Continue south on the N2 past Mkuze and Hluhluwe.

Take a left on to the R618 to Mtubatuba and follow the signs to St Lucia (about 25km).

Stopovers en route

The best lunch/breakfast break is probably Ermelo, a quiet town with a few known restaurant chains and definitely a good few places to stop for a break.

If you are camping or self-catering and haven’t brought supplies, it might be a good idea to stop at the main chain stores (Pick n Pay and Checkers) in Richards Bay or Mtubatuba for groceries or provisions. The Spar in St?Lucia is stocked with just about anything from fishing rods and groceries, to suntan lotion and sandals, but it’s not always the best place for good-quality produce. For fresh fruit and a variety of vegetables, the market on McKenzie Street is a good option.

Where to stay


The campsites in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park vary in size – there are campsites in Cape Vidal, Kosi Bay, Maphelane, St Lucia Estuary, Sodwana Bay and uMkhuze, all of which are run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The Mabibi campsite in the Coastal Forest Reserve section is run by iSibindi Africa.


There are self-catering chalets run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife that offer basic accommodation and facilities in Kosi Bay, Cape Vidal, Maphelane, Sodwana Bay and uMkhuze. At Sodwana Bay, Coral Divers also provides self-catering options in the form of safari tents and standard log cabins (with communal ablution facilities). You can also book a cabin with en suite ablution facilities. There is also a catering service if you’re not in the mood to cook.

.?The Nhlonhlela Bushcamp in uMkhuze and the Bhangazi Bush Lodge on the Eastern Shores are exclusive eight-bed facilities.


Lodges within the Coastal Forest in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park include Rocktail Beach Camp and Thonga Beach Lodge. You’ll find Coral Divers and Mseni Lodge in Sodwana Bay. Rocktail Beach Camp is run by Wilderness Safaris and Thonga Beach Lodge by iSibindi Africa. Makakatana Bay Lodge is a luxury lodge situated within the Western Shores, with just six suites on offer.

.?If you’re looking for a five-star experience, &Beyond?Phinda in the Phinda Private Game Reserve offers a number of places to stay, including &Beyond?Phinda Forest Lodge, &Beyond Phinda Homestead, &Beyond?Phinda Rock Lodge, &Beyond?Phinda Mountain Lodge, Vlei Lodge and Zuka Lodge.

St Lucia

The town of St Lucia has grown and at times it may take you five minutes or so to bump into someone not speaking French, Dutch or German. Down the main drag of St Lucia (McKenzie Street), there are a number of well-priced, self-catering apartments, and there are numerous bed and breakfasts and guesthouses in the town, as well as backpacker establishments and a hotel.

.?Hippo Hideaway. You don’t get more convenient than Hippo Hideaway on McKenzie Street, opposite the Spar, bottle store and restaurants. This has basic accommodation in one- or two-bedroom self-catering units, serviced daily, in a well-run establishment with friendly staff. In fact, there are numerous self-catering apartments on offer on McKenzie Street that offer the basics for travellers who want a value-for-money experience.

.?Seasands Lodge. This popular establishment offers the bed and breakfast option as well as self-catering. It has achieved a four-star rating. Situated in a beautiful garden, this lodge offers a more up-market experience in the heart of the town.

.?Serene Estate Guesthouse. Think Plettenberg Bay meets St Lucia. This guesthouse has a distinct boutique hotel feel to it – and offers the one and only “designer” experience in St Lucia – beautiful works of art, stunning design and an exquisite location. There are just four guest rooms to choose from, so make sure you book in advance.

Additional costs

It currently costs R45 per vehicle and R40 per adult to enter the Eastern Shores section of the park (closest to St?Lucia), to be paid at the gate. It’s a good idea to book one of the guided tours into the park. Shakabarker Tours and Leisure Eco Tours are excellent choices.

Another additional cost to consider is a boat trip on the estuary. You need to book beforehand and the cost is roughly R170 per person. Licensed bar facilities are available on these boats.

When to go

It’s always a good time to visit the Elephant Coast, as the climate is generally excellent all year round, with very hot summers and mild winters. If you are keen to see the turtles hatching, the best time to visit would be between January and February. But remember, the place is on the hot list with international travellers so best to plan your visit in advance.

Where to eat

St?Lucia is bustling with activity all year round and, as a result, there are a number of eateries to choose from.

.?Ocean Basket is a well-known brand name and is popular in St Lucia, but for something special, stop in at Braza Portuguese Restaurant for either lunch or dinner.

The extensive menu offers a wide choice of options for every appetite – ranging from vegetarian platters to their famous espetada. The flatbreads are an absolute win for lunch or dinner, and service is fast and friendly.

.?Vida e Caffé is now in St Lucia, so if you need a good cuppa in the morning, Vida is reliable.

.?The best view in town is found at the St Lucia Ski Boat Club, which serves a range of light meals overlooking Lake St Lucia.

Fun activities and attractions

.?Deep-sea charter fishing. St Lucia is a popular fishing destination along the Elephant Coast and there are numerous fishing charter companies that will assist in getting you out to sea.

.?Estuary boat cruises. See the hippos and crocs from the deck of a large boat. There are currently four companies operating boat cruises in St?Lucia, including Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

.?Estuary boat and walking safaris. Shakabarker Tours and Shoreline Boat Safaris offer estuary boat and walking safaris in the park.

.?Game drives into the park can be organised through various operators, including Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Night drives and 4x4 game drives are also an option (day and night). Book with Shakabarker Tours and insist on being taken out into the park by Sakhile Dube, who has the incredible ability to see chameleons on night drives.

.?Horse riding trails – enjoy riding on the St?Lucia beach or in the game park area with Bhangazi Horse Safaris.

.?Scuba diving (mainly in Sodwana) is very popular, with numerous companies offering tours and facilities.

.?Birding. More than 526 bird species have been recorded throughout the park, and the area is known for a large number of water birds.

.?Turtle tours. Go on a turtle safari to view the loggerhead and leatherback turtles in an ancient nesting and breeding ritual. These operate from St Lucia and Cape Vidal, as well as Sodwana Bay, Mabibi and Rocktail Beach Camp, or take a walking tour with the community guides to Bhanga Nek.

.?Whale watching. View southern right or humpback whales as they pass by on their annual migration route from the Antarctic to the warm coastal waters of northern Mozambique and beyond. Boat-based whale watching trips run from June to November at St Lucia and Sodwana Bay.

Information and contact details

iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority

The Dredger Harbour, Private Bag X05, St Lucia, 3936.

Tel: 035?590?1633

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Tel: 033?845?1000

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