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iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The Zulu word iSimangaliso means “miracle,” a befitting way to describe the amazingly diverse iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Because of its biodiversity, unique ecosystems, and natural beauty, in 1999 the park was declared Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

Nelson Mandela, the ceremony’s guest of honor at that occasion, remarked, “iSimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale).”

iSimangaliso Wetland Park encompasses over 1,200 square miles on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It includes three major lake systems, eight ecosystems, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, and ancient sand dunes. The major areas are divided into ten sections, affectionately referred to as “jewels”: Kosi Bay, coastal forest, Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay, uMkhuze, False Bay, western shores, eastern shores, Lake St. Lucia Estuary, and Maphelane.

As with any trip to Africa, game viewing is a major highlight. Both guided and self-guided walking trails are available, as well as game drives. Guided night drives are especially popular in the eastern shores and uMkhuze areas. Guests report sightings of hippo, elephant, leopard, buffalo, wild dog, black and white rhino, impala, zebra, crocodile, and a great variety of birds.

Marine game viewing is also spectacular, whether guests choose to look from the shoreline or get a closer view by scuba diving or snorkeling. Dolphin, whale, manta ray, octopus, squid, whale shark, and various coral reef fish inhabit the surrounding ocean. In November, loggerhead and leatherback turtles make their annual return to the iSimangaliso beaches to nest and lay their eggs. Later, from January to March, the hatchlings emerge at night to make their trek to the sea. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park coastline is the only remaining major African nesting site for these turtles, and guests are welcome to take part in watching the amazing spectacle.

Other major park activities include boat cruises, deep sea charter fishing, birding, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and whale watching. A wide range of accommodation caters to any traveler’s wishes.

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