Surrounded by an UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is at the heart of magnificent natural coastal forests, wild animals, majestic bird life, breathtaking beaches and hospitable people. There are at least 1 200 crocodiles and 800 hippos found in Lake St Lucia.
A World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (the former Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park) incorporates an astonishing variety of habitats from the Ubombo Mountains to grasslands, forests, wetlands, mangroves and ancient dunes, magnificent beaches and coral reefs
I had also booked us on a night tour to find sea turtles on the beaches of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Our tour started at 6 pm with us being picked up from outside our hotel. There were another 6 people with us in the game drive vehicle. We drove the short distance to iSimangaliso, and we entered the park, and onto the main road. After about 30 minutes we came to a halt. Up ahead a large group of elephants had decided to use the road as part of their route through the park, and they were in no hurry to move along. Apparently, these elephants had come to the park from Mozambique and were not used to contact with people and cars, so they were more aggressive towards humans than usual. After a while some of the vehicles decided to push ahead and eventually, we were clear and, on our way.
By this time, it was getting dark. In the gloom, we were able to see some of the park’s wildlife. After about an hour and a half, we reached the campground at the end of the road. The driver pulled over and we all got out for a comfort break. He let the air out of the tyres as we’d be making the rest of the journey along the beach. It was a beautifully clear night, and the moon was full, so we were able to see clearly the beach, the cliffs and the sea – it was magical! For the next hour or so we travelled across the beach looking for turtles. There was some evidence of recent visits by these beautiful creatures, but none were to be seen. Eventually, we arrived at the turnaround point. We pulled over and all got out of the vehicle. Our driver got out our snacks – some sandwiches and beer! It was now time to set off back to St Lucia, hoping to see some sea turtles on our way back. An hour later we were back at the campground, and sadly not a sea turtle sight. We briefly stopped to pump up the tyres on the vehicle and set off. Along the way back we saw a couple of hyenas walking by the road and amazingly our driver spotted a tiny chameleon in a tree. He pulled over and picked up the small lizard and passed it to us. It was quite still and calm, to begin with, but eventually, it became agitated, and the driver took it back to the tree.
Finally, we got back to St Lucia and dropped off at our hotel. It was 1:30 am in the morning!
This morning was another early rise, but we were greeted with much better weather. We quickly got ready for our dawn game drive in iSimangaliso. Our guide was waiting for us as we exited the hotel’s gates. We headed out, picking up three middle-aged white South African women along the way.
We headed into the park along the same road that we’d taken a couple of days back on the turtle tour, but this time in the daylight. The park is not as rich as Hluhluwe–iMfolozi in terms of wildlife, but the scenery was amazing. The best of the tour for us was the very last bit where we climbed down to the beach and had a light breakfast whilst sitting on the beach.
About iSimangaliso wetlands park
A World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (the former Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park) incorporates an astonishing variety of habitats from the Ubombo Mountains to grasslands, forests, wetlands, mangroves and ancient dunes, magnificent beaches and coral reefs.
This awesome KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Park stretches along the Zululand coast from Maphelane in the south to Kosi Bay in the north, on the Mozambique border.
Covering 220km (137 miles) of coastline, this KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Park brings together eight inter-locking ecosystems and ten unique destinations: Maphelane, Lake St. Lucia/St. Lucia Estuary, Cape Vidal and the Eastern Shores, Charters Creek and the Western Shores, False Bay, Sodwana Bay, uMkhuze, Lake Sibaya, Coastal Forest and Kosi Bay.
A very special slice of Africa, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers eco-tourists some of the most diverse African wildlife and outdoor experiences imaginable. The variety of fauna and flora is unique. Four wetland sites within the park are Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance).
iSimangaliso Wetlands Park in KwaZulu-Natal protects rare swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuary and some of the world’s highest coastal vegetated dunes, which are 25 000 years old.
Planning your visit to iSimangaliso
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is situated in the northern region of KwaZulu-Natal, with the nearest international airport being King Shaka (Durban) and the closest regional airport at Richards Bay. Tour operators offer transfers and package tours from either of these hubs, which also have several car hire companies.
For those driving themselves, the Park’s gates are accessible from two major tarred roads – the N2 and the R22.
Travelling from the south, take the N2 north, travelling north of the Mtunzini toll plaza. The southernmost Park entrance is Maphelane, accessible from the Kwambonambi junction.
To visit the Eastern Shores and Western Shores sections (and the town of St Lucia), turn off the N2 at Mtubatuba.
The R22 branches off the N2 at Hluhluwe, with directions showing the way to the False Bay gate. Further north along the R22, the D820 on the left leads to uMkhuze’s Ophansi Gate. To reach Sodwana Bay, Lake Sibaya and the Coastal Forest sections, the turnoff from the R22 is at Mbazwana.
The northernmost section of the Park, Kosi Bay, is accessed via the town of Manguzi/KwaNgwanase.
Visitors from the north follow the N2 southwards, with the western entrance to uMkhuze’s eMshophi Gate signposted via the town of Mkuze. As an alternative to driving via Hluhluwe town, visitors may prefer to transit to the uMkhuze section (time restrictions apply) in order to access the coastal sections.
Best time to visit, iSimangaliso
The best time to visit Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve is in the drier winter months from May to September. At this time the vegetation thins out, and animals congregate around water sources. The shelters located at the waterholes are particularly busy with animal activity at this time. The colder winter months are also considered the low season and the park tends to be less busy with the exception of school holidays.
Where to stay
MAPUTALAND GUEST HOUSE
During our time in St Lucia we stayed at the Maputaland Guest House which as situated in a quiet area of the town. We had a lovely spacious studio which was tastefully decorated. As well as having a very comfortable bed it had a small sitting area and a fully equipped kitchen which was perfect for us.
The bathroom was all white, with a subway tile on the wall. For some people it might have looked stark, but we loved it.
An added bonus was the wi-fi connection was really good and available in the room.
There was also a large pool area, but we were only here for a short while and out and about most of the time, so we didn’t get to use the pool at all.
LEOPARD TREE LODGE
Leopard Tree Lodge in St Lucia is situated 1.6 km from Ndlovu Beach and features air-conditioned accommodation with free WiFi, as well as access to a terrace.
Each unit comes with a fully equipped kitchen with a dining table, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a private bathroom with shower, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Some units have a balcony and/or a patio with pool or garden views.
Guests can swim in the outdoor swimming pool, go hiking or cycling, or relax in the garden and use the barbecue facilities.
Set amidst a subtropical garden, The Sandpiper offers accommodation in St Lucia, neighbouring the St Lucia Nature Reserve. The guest house offers a 10-metre long outdoor pool. Free WiFi is available.
All rooms at The Sandpiper are air-conditioned and equipped with satellite TV, a small fridge, and tea-and-coffee-making facilities. A hairdryer and wall safe are available. Some of the rooms have a patio, overlooking the spacious garden, nature area and pool.
Breakfast is served every morning and restaurants are within 10 minute’s walk.
St Lucia is the gateway to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.