KwaZulu Natal DestinationsSt Lucia, Elephant Coast
The little town of St Lucia lies at the southern most entrance to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (formerly known as the St Lucia Estuary and Wetlands Park), a World Heritage site that stretches all the way from Kozi Bay in the north, to Cape St Lucia in the south on the Elephant Coast.
Portions of this area have been a game reserve since as early as 1895, and it is no surprise to find this part of the world high on the ‘must visit’ list of any traveller worth his salt. The little town of St Lucia serves as something of a tourist hub for the park and has grown substantially from the sleepy little hollow, perched below a canopy of trees, to the feeder town that is geared for domestic eco tourism today. There are myriad accommodation options, restaurants, supermarkets and other tourist facilities within the town that make a stay here pretty effortless.
As the doorway to a world of fresh water pans, lakes, mangrove and reed swamps, marshy grasslands, coastal dunes and an abundance of wild life, the town too lies in the heart of unspoilt beauty. Life here is rather laid back and peaceful, if the monkeys and little duikers that roam the streets freely are anything to go by, and it serves as an ideal stopover before heading on towards the more remote areas of the Elephant Coast. St Lucia’s popularity with anglers is self-evident – seafood restaurants are numerous, and bait and tackle shops are anything but thin on the ground.
When one speaks of St Lucia, really one is referring to the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, South Africa’s third largest park. On the north-eastern coast of KwaZulu Natal, this wilderness reserve covers some 280 km of coastline, stretching from Kozi Bay in the north to Cape St Lucia in the south and was the first park in South Africa to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
The park includes Lake St Lucia and its estuary, a surround of wildlife reserve, a number of islands and a section of the Marine Reserve along the coast. It is home to five recognisable ecosystems and includes swamps, lake systems, coral reefs, beaches, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests.
The Great St Lucia Wetland Park supports the country’s largest population of hippos and crocodiles. It is also home to leatherback turtles, black rhino, leopards, over 530 species of birds, including greater and lesser flamingos, and some 36 species of amphibians.
The park supports more species of animal than the larger and more well-known Kruger National Park. The unique combination of subtropical coastline and African game park is what draws visitors as well as the sheer viewing pleasure - this is one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
During November sea turtles come to the beaches to lay their eggs, whales frequent the waves from June through September, making their way southwards and the park is a very popular fishing destination, providing surf fishing, kite fishing, fly fishing, spear fishing and deep sea fishing. There are also a number of hiking trails through the park, some of them a few days worth of walking.
There is no limit to activities in the area. There are hippo cruises, kayak safaris, game safaris and the beautiful beaches with their high sand dunes are perfect for walks, volley ball and sunbathing. The town of St Lucia proper is at the most southern entrance to the park, about 300 km from Durban.