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iSimangaliso: South Africa's coastal jewel

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of the jewels of South Africa's coastline, with a unique mosaic of ecosystems - swamps, lakes, beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, woodlands, coastal forests and grasslands - supporting an astounding diversity of animal, bird and marine life.

Formerly known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, the Park was renamed in 2007 to better reflect its unique African identity - and to avoid confusion with the Caribbean island country St Lucia.

Located on the north-eastern coast of KwaZulu-Natal, stretching from Kozi Bay in the north to Cape St Lucia in the south, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was the first site in South Africa to be inscribed on the World Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Remarkable diversity

iSimangaliso's uniqueness lies in its remarkable diversity, particularly its combination of a subtropical coastline and a classic African game park.

It is South Africa's third-largest park, spanning 280 kilometres of coastline, from the Mozambican border in the north to Mapelane south of the St Lucia estuary, and made up of around 328 000 hectares of pristine natural ecosystems - including swamps, lake systems, beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests.

The park takes in a 60-kilometre river mouth that creates a huge estuary, Lake St Lucia, running parallel to the coast and separated from the sea by the world's highest forested sand dunes. The lake is part of the St Lucia estuarine system, the largest estuarine system in Africa.

The park incorporates the whole of Lake St Lucia, the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, the Coastal Forest Reserve and the Kosi Bay Natural Reserve. The 40 000 hectare Mkuzi Game Reserve is also in the process of being incorporated into the park.

Variety of ecosystems

iSimangaliso's wide variety of ecosystems and natural habitats provides for an astounding diversity of species in the area. With its lakes, lagoons, freshwater swamps and grasslands, iSimangaliso supports more species of animal than the better-known and much larger Kruger National Park and Okavango Delta - from the country's largest population of hippos and crocodiles to Giant Leatherback turtles, black rhino, leopards, and a vast array of bird and marine life.

According to Living Lakes, more than 530 species of birds use the wetland and other areas of the Lake St Lucia region. "These waters also are graced by 20 000 greater flamingos, 40 000 lesser flamingoes, as well as thousands of ducks. With 36 species, this area has the highest diversity of amphibians in South Africa.

"... Here, and nowhere else in the world, can one find hippopotamuses, crocodiles and sharks sharing the same waters."

In proclaiming the iSimangaliso Wetland Park a World Heritage Site in 1999, Unesco said: "The interplay of the park's environmental heterogeneity with major floods and coastal storms, and a transitional geographic location between sub-tropical and tropical Africa, has resulted in exceptional species diversity and ongoing speciation.

"The mosaic of landforms and habitat types creates superlative scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitat for a range of species from Africa's marine, wetland and savannah environments."

In 1989, a mining company seeking titanium and other metals sought to bulldoze the dunes along the eastern shore of Lake St Lucia.

In 1996, the South African government followed the recommendations of an environmental assessment in barring the mining proposals - and began work on an integrated development and land-use planning strategy for the entire region.

Under the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative, the governments of South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique aim to foster sustainable investment and job creation in the area, using the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as the core.

Tourist attraction

The variety of natural settings, the abundance of wildlife, and the sheer beauty of the place draw tourists to the area in increasing numbers. There is plenty to do - from fishing, boating and scuba diving to hiking, horseriding, game viewing, whale and bird watching.

The park is also one of South Africa's most popular fishing destinations, lending itself to rock and surf fishing, kite fishing, spear fishing, fly fishing, estuary fishing and deep sea fishing.

There are plenty of hiking trails through the park - ranging from a few hours' to a few days' worth - offering the opportunity to see a huge variety of animal and bird life. Accommodation options are extensive, ranging from camping to private game lodges, and including hotels, flats and chalets in the nearby town of St Lucia.

Wonders and miracles

Announcing the park's new name in May 2007, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the change followed two years of extensive consultations.

Van Schalkwyk said the isiZulu word iSimangaliso - meaning "miracle" - had a rich historical context. "Ujeqe was King Shaka's insila [aide who keeps all the king's secrets and gets buried with the king when the king dies]. He fled after uShaka's death to avoid the customary burial with his master.

"He wandered into Thongaland, present-day Maputaland, and came back, saying: I saw wonders and miracles in the flat land and lakes of Thonga. From that follows an isiZulu saying that if you have seen miracles, you have seen what uJeqe saw: Ubone isimanga esabonwa uJeqe kwelama Thonga.

"Ujeqe might just have been one of the first tourists to visit what is now the iSimangaliso Wetland Park."

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17. Jan, 2013

South Africa’s FIRST World Heritage Site

iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St. Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa | Birding | Nature Reserve | Seal Watching | Wildlife Sanctuary | Conservation | Nature Center | Whale Watching | State Park | Wildlife | Marine Sciences Centre

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St. Lucia along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global values.

Lake St. Lucia is Africa’s largest Estuarine System located in St Lucia along the KwaZulu-Natal Coastline. It is 80 kms long and 23 kms wide at its widest point. Home to over 800 Hippos and 1200 Crocodiles, this dynamic system hosts large flocks of Pelicans, Flamingos, Ducks, Waders and a variety of Fish and other Aquatic Species.

The 332 000 hectare Park contains Three Major Lake Systems, Eight Interlinking Ecosystems, 700 year old Fishing Traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining Swamp Forests, Africa’s largest Estuarine System, 526 Bird Spesies and Coastal Dunes among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means Miracle and Wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.

Come and experience the diverse experiences in St. Lucia where you find the 10 jewels that make up the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Enjoy the endless beaches that stretch 220 kilometers from Maphelane in the south to Kosi Bay on the Mozambique border, view game on self-guided or guided trails and routes on the foothills of the Lubombo Mountains in uMkhuze or in the coastal forests and rolling grasslands of Lake St Lucia’s Eastern Shores. See the spectacular coral reefs and colourful underwater life whilst diving or snorkeling or embark on adventures ranging from kayak trips to horse rides.

Fast Facts on the iSimangaliso Wetland Park:

Lake St Lucia is Africa’s Largest Estuary

The greatest congregation of Hippo and Crocodiles in South Africa

The last significant breeding ground for the Giant Leatherback and Loggerhead Turtles

8 Interlinking Ecosystems

3 Major Lake Systems

350 kms of Water Surface

220 kms of Coastline and Beaches

190 kms of Marine Reserve

100 Species of Coral

25 000 year old Coastal Dunes 

700 years of Traditional Fish Traps

36 Snake Species

80 Dragonfly Species

110 Butterfly Species

526 Bird Species

17. Jan, 2013

St Lucia – KZN’s Hidden Gem

Wanna get up close and personal with a Hippo, or perhaps a Crocodile?

Then head off to one of the Finest Wetlands in Africa - St Lucia: on the KZN North Coast.

In the Estuary you will see Herds of Hippo basking and lazing around without a care in the world! Crocodiles and their hatchling are also found here. More interesting Facts can be seen and heard of at the Crocodile Centre.

St Lucia is a piece of heaven just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Durban, offering its visitors a strong sense of Harmony and Tranquillity.

Pristine Beaches, Walking Trails through the forest, Five Species of Turtles that return each year to lay their eggs, Wondrous Coral Reefs and hundreds of Bird Species are just a few of the Incredible Experiences that St Lucia has to offer.

Lake St Lucia is the largest Estuarine System in South Africa, and a nursery for many of the 1200 species of Fish which occur in the adjacent ocean. 

Do you know a hidden gem, perhaps your favourite holiday getaway that you want to share with other readers? Then send us a high resolution picture of your chosen spot, with details of what makes it a must-see destination, as well as your name and surname for publication in our HIDDEN GEMS spot.

17. Jan, 2013

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) is situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal,South Africa, about 275 kilometres north of Durban.

It is South Africa's third-largest protected area, spanning 280 km of coastline, from the Mozambican Border in the north to Mapelane south of the Lake St. Lucia Estuary, and made up of around 3,280 km² of Natural Ecosystems, managed by the iSimangaliso Authority.


The Park includes:

Lake St. Lucia

St. Lucia Game Reserve

False Bay Park

Kosi Bay

Lake Etrza Nature Reserve

Lake Sibhayi

St. Lucia Marine Reserve

St. Lucia Marine Sanctuary

Sodwana Bay National Park

Mapelane Nature Reserve

Maputaland Marine Reserve

Cape Vidal



Tewate Wilderness Area

Mkuze Game Reserve

The park was previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, but was renamed effective from 1 November 2007. The word iSimangaliso means "miracle" in Zulu.

Transfrontier park

The Park is due to be integrated into a transfrontier park, the Ponta do Ouro-Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Area, straddling South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland. This is in turn planned to become a part of the greater Greater Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

The Satellite image of the park, with the borders of several conservation areas outlined in yellow.


In the northern part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park you will find Kosi Bay

St. Lucia was first named in 1554 as "Rio de la Medaos do Oura" ("River of the Dows of Gold") by the survivors of the Portuguese ship Saint Benedict.  At this stage, only the Tugela River mouth was known as St. Lucia. Later, in 1575, the Tugela River was named Tugela. On 13 December 1575, the day of the feast of Saint Lucy, Manuel Peresterello renamed the mouth area to Santa Lucia.

In 1822, St. Lucia was proclaimed by the British as a township.

In 1895, St. Lucia Game Reserve, 30 km north of the town was proclaimed.

In 1971, St. Lucia Lake and the turtle beaches and coral reefs of Maputaland have been listed by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention).

In December 1999, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site at an unveiling ceremony, where Nelson Mandela was the guest of honour.


The park was proclaimed a world heritage site because of the rich biodiversity, unique ecosystems and natural beauty occurring in a relatively small area. The reason for the huge diversity in fauna and flora is the great variety of different ecosystems on the park, ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forestssavannas, and wetlands. Animals occurring on the park include elephantsleopardblack and white rhinobuffalo, and in the ocean, whalesdolphins, and marine turtles including the leatherback and loggerhead turtle.

The park is also home to 1,200 Nile crocodiles and 800 hippopotami.

There are large outcroppings of underwater reefs which are home to brightly coloured fish and corals. Some of the most spectacular coral diversity in the world is located in Sodwana Bay. The reefs are inhabited by colour-changing octopuses and squid ready to ambush unsuspecting prey. Occasionally gigantic whale sharks can be seen gliding through the water; mouth agape to scoop up tiny plankton.

Twenty-four species of bivalve molluscs are recorded in St. Lucia Lake, which constitutes a considerable portion of the park.


Nel, H. A., Perissinotto, R. & Taylor, R. H. 2012. Diversity of bivalve molluscs in the St. Lucia Estuary, with an annotated and illustrated checklist. African Invertebrates 53 (2): 503-525.

"St. Lucia Estuary, South Africa"NASA Earth Observatory. Retrieved 2006-05-19.

17. Jan, 2013

Historical Moment at St Lucia

The link between the uMfolozi and Lake St Lucia system has been Restored after 60 years!!


In 2011 iSimangaliso publicised its strategy to let the uMfolozi River and Lake St Lucia rejoin in a bid to restore the functioning of South Africa’s largest estuarine system. Since 1952 the uMfolozi River has been deliberately kept separate from the St Lucia system, which has reduced freshwater inflow to the system and interfered with natural mouth dynamics. These factors, combined with below average rainfall conditions during the 2002 – 2010 period, have resulted in the St Lucia estuary mouth remaining closed to the sea for the best part of the last decade. This has meant that St Lucia has not functioned as an estuary and fisheries (such as the inshore line fish and crustacean fisheries) have been heavily impacted. The relinking of the uMfolozi River back to the St Lucia Estuarine Lake System is an important first step towards the Restoration of Estuarine function. Since the beginning of summer the uMfolozi has migrated naturally northwards from Maphelane towards St Lucia. As winter approached and water flows in the uMfolozi dropped this migration slowed and the uMfolozi reached to within 300 m of the St Lucia mouth. This placed the system in a good position for iSimangaliso to facilitate the linking of the two systems (see picture - Click to Enlarge).

The uMfolozi estuary migrated steadily northwards during the summer and slowed to within 300 m of the St Lucia mouth.

To achieve this, iSimangaliso, together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, used a tracked excavator to establish a beach spillway between the two mouths during early March 2012. The spillway was prepared as far west on the beach as possible along a route previously followed by the uMfolozi River where there is a natural slope from the uMfolozi to the St Lucia system (see pic below). This entailed the removal of old dredger spoil and marine sediments. The process of spillway construction was carefully monitored by Park ecologists and iSimangaliso GEF project specialists, including an assessment of the optimal time for rejoining. Due to the beach profile, it was necessary for the uMfolozi mouth to be closed prior to the final linking of the system. Also, a closed uMfolozi River Mouth would lead to water flowing into the St Lucia system through the dry winter period. The final stage of constructing the spillway was left until the uMfolozi mouth closed.

The state of the uMfolozi mouth was closely monitored by Park staff and the first closure was observed on the 25th May 2012. Due to the low level of the sandbar the mouth opened and closed a few times during high tide events. This movement across the sandbar served to deposit sand and slowly raise its height eventually creating a more stable closed mouth condition.

Maintenance and final preparation of the spillway began again in earnest on the 2nd July 2012.  The earlier preparatory work on the spillway meant that only five days work was required to achieve the appropriate depth and length to join the systems.

The removal of the sandplug between the uMfolozi River and St Lucia System occurred on the 6th July 2012. This formally relinked the two systems since their separation in 1952. By early Monday morning water levels within the uMfolozi/uMsunduse system had dropped by 25 cm providing a real indication of the effectiveness of the spillway in carrying water into the St Lucia system.


The conditions in the combined system will continue to be closely monitored during this important time. Surveys of the system conducted by Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) in May 2012 show that the rainfall through late summer and autumn has lowered and maintained salinities around or below that of sea water (35) throughout the system (dark blue line in graph below). Data from the November 2011 survey by CRUZ from the University of Zululand and ORI is shown for comparison (light blue line). The salinity level in North Lake currently varies from slightly above sea water in the north to about 19 in the south (Dead Tree Bay). South lake from north to south has fairly constant lower values of 5. The salinity in the Narrows has increased since November as a result of the influence of marine water entering through the backchannels during each high tide while the uMfolozi river has been open to the sea. The current salinity profile from north to south still represents a reversed salinity gradient not normally found in South African sub-tropical estuaries.

Water levels in the system have remained steady with levels of 0.5 m on average in North and South Lakes and at least 1 m in the Narrows.

The spillway will provide much needed water for the St Lucia system; ultimately lifting lake levels and contributing towards the longer term plan to restore the estuarine functioning of Lake St Lucia which comprises about 60% of South Africa’s estuarine resource. “Our ultimate aim in the restoration of Lake St Lucia is to protect iSimangaliso’s World Heritage Site without setting up a management regime that includes continuous manipulation” says iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis.

This process is part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority’s development of long-term solutions to improve the hydrological functioning of Lake St Lucia through the iSimangaliso/Global Environmental Facility (GEF) Project.