A park with plans

2011-02-07 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’s world heritage park, Isimangaliso Wetland Park, is proving to be a catalyst for tourism in the entire Zululand region as it upgrades and expands its activities.

In the past, the area was renowned mainly as a fishing or diving destination, but is developing into a “big seven” game reserve, including elephant, buffalo, black and white rhino, leopard, lion, cheetah and wild dog. In addition, it has the added attraction of being a diving, snorkelling and fishing destination, and being the only breeding ground in Africa for the giant leatherback and loggerhead turtles.

Isimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis said tourism has been gaining momentum both in and around the park despite the recession.

Last year, the number of visitors to the park increased by 6,4% in spite of the economy.

Zaloumis said 70% of visitors are local and the rest international travellers.

Journalists on a visit to the park to coincide with World Wetland Day on February 2, were shown the results of an ongoing land-care programme that has seen 30 000 hectares of water-draining pine and gum plantations cleared to make way for indigenous grasslands and coastal forests unique to the area. Added to that, the recent good rainfall has seen a return of numerous pans that had dried up during a sixyear drought, attracting the area’s abundant birdlife, as well as hippos.

Isimangaliso is in the process of spending R125 million building and upgrading roads and game-viewing loops throughout the eastern and western shores of the park, which the public was previously unable to traverse.

New signage is also being erected across the park, additional gates are being built and existing facilities at Cape Vidal and Sodwana Bay are being upgraded.

The park is also establishing a series of ecofriendly bird hides and creating a big tree-canopy walk, viewing platforms and other facilities to enable visitors to make the most of their wetland experience.

The popular Fanies Island, Charters Creek and False Bay resorts are also expected to reopen by the end of the year. They have been closed due to drought.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be delighted by the abundant game seen throughout the park.

The eastern and western shores are already home to the “big four” (elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard), and plans are afoot to introduce lion in the future but careful management is required.

If negotiations are successful it is envisaged that adjoining Phinda Game Reserve will drop its fences in the future, allowing animals to move freely. Fences will also come down at Mkhuze Game Reserve which forms part of Isimangaliso Park.

What's on offer

 

ISIMANGALISO Wetland Park incorporates four wetlands of international importance.

According to its website it boasts the greatest concentration of hippo and crocodiles in South Africa, is the last significant breeding ground for the giant Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles, has eight interlinking ecosystems, three major lake systems, 350 kms of water surface, 220 kms of coastline and beaches, 190 kms of marine reserve, 100 species of coral, 1 200 species of fish, 25 000-year-old coastal dunes, 700 years of traditional fish traps, 36 snake species, 80 dragonfly species, 110 butterfly species, and 526 bird species.

 

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