South Africa’s east coast is home to our country’s first world heritage site. A unique and biodiverse 332 000 hectare park of 3 major lake systems, swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system and some of the oldest and largest vegetated coastal dunes.
It really is a natural wonder and so breathtaking that you will find very little reason to leave.
We spent 5 days at the Sugarloaf rest camp. Man was that an adventure. South Africa has been stricken by drought. The usually very lush and sub-tropical region of KwaZulu Natal has been experiencing one of the worst water shortages in decades. However, as luck would have it, during the week that we were there, the skies opened up with heavy, practically non-stop rain. We couldn’t be angry at this, we had to rejoice as we knew very well that the region is in desperate need for good rainfall to replenish rivers, lakes, dams and all water supplies.
We did take a beating though. Not well equipped for sub-tropical rain storms, we also made the very fatal error of not inspecting our camp site properly and pitched our tent in a slight dip. This caused rain water to gather at the center of our little setup, not ideal. We engineered trenches to divert the water, ok we just dug a hole, but engineering trenches sounds smarter. We also had to convert a tarp that we used to cover our luggage on the Jimny’s roof rack into a ‘raincoat’ for our tent and gazebo to keep the rain away. We learned a lot about camping that week, yet we still had a lot of fun in-spite of our ‘little’ water problem.
Between the bouts of rain we spent our days exploring our surroundings, a day trip into iSimangaliso is a must. The main entrance gates to the park seem to have been modeled after something in a Jurassic Park movie. Large and imposing. Very fitting we think, a great welcome to the splendor that awaits you. Make sure you head all the way to Cape Vidal and stop along the way to take short little hikes to the view points. You will be rewarded with beautiful landscapes that stretch out as far as the eye can see. The park is well marked with directions and points of interest.
Taking a walk along iSimangaliso main beach was one of my favorite things to do. The beach goes on and on and on. You could walk all the way to Mozambique along this beach if you wanted to. I think we may just do that one day.
Sadly the drought has affected the lake systems very badly. The northern parts of the lake have dried out and certain sections are uninhabitable by wild life due to the extremely high salt levels. In fact, the lake is currently saltier than the ocean!
The lower section of Lake St Lucia is home to an abundance of hippopotamus, bull sharks, yes you read that correctly, bull sharks and crocodiles. So you may be asking yourself, well how did the bull sharks get into the lake? Well you see, the sharks use the lake as a nursery and once the baby sharks are old enough they migrate back into the ocean. Sadly this cycle has been broken because of the drought. To save the lake and to prevent it from draining out into the ocean the estuary has been blocked using beach sand. Due to the low water levels the lake is currently 1m bellow sea level, which means if the estuary was opened up to the ocean, the entire lake will be drained, completely destroying the fragile eco system. So the sharks are trapped in the lake, over 1000 of them. Swimming in the lake is not advised.
A sunset cruise on a ferry boat will allow you to get up close and personal with hippos and the most astounding array of birds. We were never into bird watching, after this trip however, that changed.
The Sugar Loaf rest camp is adjacent to the lower section of the lake and a short walking distance from the beach, there is a massive sign however warning you of hippo and crocodile, we saw both on one of our early morning walks, basking on the sand banks. How much closer to nature can you get? Just magnificent!
The little town of St Lucia is a mere 10 minute drive from the camp site where you will find small restaurants, grocery stores and fuel stations. A great holiday town with a fantastic tourism information office to help guide you on things to see and do in the area. The ever popular boat cruises also depart from the banks of the lake in the main town. Be sure to book in advance and to arrive early so that you can get the best seat in the ‘house’.
iSimangaliso is also a fisherman’s paradise attracting deep sea fisherman and boat enthusiasts alike. Top tips, look out for fishing lines when jogging on the beach, I ran into a few, people weren’t happy.
The only thing we would have done differently on this trip, is perhaps stay at the Cape Vidal rest camp. It’s a better maintained site and recently upgraded. We loved our stay at Sugar Loaf, but feel that a little TLC is needed to get the camp site on par with the other national parks we have visited recently.
With that said, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a must visit, you won’t be disappointed, its biodiversity will astound you. A nature lover’s paradise.