Cape Town - As South African holiday-makers are gearing up to hit the road to their holiday destinations, coastal hotspots are bracing for impact.
The iconic iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the beautiful, warm East Coast too, anticipates a busy festive season as many South Africans will be heading to the Park’s golden beaches, especially Cape Vidal, St Lucia, Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay this December.
And iSimangaliso has pulled out all the stops to ensuring a jam-packed holiday. Improvement to the roads and gates, as well as a boost for wildlife in the area are only some of the things to look forward to this holiday season.
Here are a few exciting changes to expect on your visit to iSimangaliso this year.
Bhangazi Berm bridge
The extremely popular Grassland Loop on the Eastern Shores is open once again, as is the newly constructed Bhangazi Berm bridge, which was officially opened on 12 December.
The bridge rebuild was carefully designed to mitigate environmental impacts so as not to impede one of the great natural spectacles of the area – the occasional migration of catfish from Lake Bhangazi to the Mfabeni swamp when wetland conditions are optimal.
This 18km game drive through sweeping grasslands and past unique red dunes is a favourite among visitors.
This opening of Bhangazi Berm bridge forms part of the extensive revamp of visitor roads and facilities throughout the Park, which will be open for visitors from 15 December 2016.
NOTE: The only facility that will not be open is kuMfazana Hide on the Eastern Shores.
New, improvement gate access
Among the improvements this year is the recent implementation of new Park gate access procedures at the Bhangazi, Dukuduku, Nhlozi, eMshophi, Ophansi, and Sodwana gates.
The new system automates some of the current manual systems and assists with security in the Park. On entry, the driver’s licence and car licence are scanned and drivers are asked to sign acceptance of the terms and conditions of entry to the Park.
Car licences will also be scanned at selected points such as St Lucia beaches and Sodwana beach ramps.
NOTE: Cape Vidal (Eastern Shores), and Western Shores have day visitor limits of 120 and 50 vehicles respectively.
Sodwana Bay has a gate limit of 500 vehicles. Overflow parking is available at the boundary of the Park. The 500-vehicle limit includes the 200 daily permits issued to 4x4 drivers wishing to park on the beach.
The permit is issued at no charge on a first come, first served basis daily.
Gates are cash only, and prices can be viewed online.
Explore the iSimangaliso surrounds
Visitors who wish to avoid crowds and take a break from the beaches are encouraged to explore other sections of the park such as uMkhuze (only an hour from Sodwana Bay) and the Western Shores near St Lucia, for a spectacular summer bush experience bursting with wild- and birdlife.
uMkhuze has the Big 5, and visitors have been regularly enthralled by sightings of lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and other rare species.
Having recently suffered through a hard-hit period of drought the park has confirmed the boosting of its lion coalition through three male lions, collared and released from their holding boma into the uMkhuze section.
Added to this there have been a number of successes related to its endangered cheetah and wild dog populations.
The release of the lions from the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve sees lions that are now genetically distinct from the pride of 16 lions presently residing in iSimangaliso, all of which are from the same bloodlines. This introduction boosts the establishment of a viable population in iSimangaliso after the last lion was shot by conservationists some 47 years ago for going “rogue” in what was then an unfenced park.
The first lion introductions back to iSimangaliso took place in December 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Where to stay
Accommodation is filling up fast but there are some vacancies at several of the camping areas including Sodwana Bay, uMkhuze and Sugarloaf at the Lake St Lucia Estuary, iSimangaliso says.
Rules & Regulations
These tips are for the safety of visitors as well as animals and the natural landscape in iSimangaliso's protected areas.
Gate operating times for iSimangaliso are 05:00 to 19:00, except for Sodwana Bay which has 24-hour access. There is strictly no late entry at any gates throughout the Park. Maps are available for purchase at gates.
No alcohol is allowed into public areas of the Park. Visitors will be offered the option of surrendering alcohol or choosing not to enter the Park. Vehicle searches are conducted at check-points. iSimangaliso exercises a “zero tolerance” policy in this regard for the benefit and safety of all Park users.
Swimming in the sea is at your own risk and not advised at the St Lucia beaches. There are strong currents and bathers are reminded to be cautious. iSimangaliso does not have shark nets and Zambezi sharks have been seen recently off the shores of St Lucia and Maphelane.
Swimming in lakes including Lake St Lucia and Estuary, and Lake Sibaya, is prohibited due to the presence of crocodiles and hippos.
Feeding wild animals is strictly forbidden such as crocodiles and monkeys is strictly forbidden. Doing this put people and animals at risk as animals often become aggressive, and ultimately have to be put down. Please keep foodstuffs securely stored out of sight.
Hippos and other potentially ‘dangerous’ animals at night in all sections of the Park, even St Lucia town.
Beach monitors will assist bathers at popular beaches including Sodwana, Cape Vidal and Main and Jabula on the St Lucia Estuary beaches, from 16 December. The presence of SAPS, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and iSimangaliso staff and Siyabuya Security will be visible between 5 December 2016 and 5 January 2017.
Visitors should adhere to safety advisories and speed limits and take special care to look out for small creatures such as tortoises, dung beetles, snakes and birds on the roads.
Drones are not permitted.
All weapons must be declared on entry.
Access permits into the Park list the emergency number should anyone need assistance or wish to report incidents.
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