St Lucia and Surrounding Areas

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999.

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 species and 25 000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.

St Lucia and the surrounding areas are a haven for nature and adventure lovers alike. The iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park was declared South Africa’s first Natural World Heritage site by UNESCO protocol, in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global values. This has preserved the land as the most ecologically and historically diverse park in South Africa. 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 species and 25 000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name ‘iSimangaliso’ means miracle and wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.

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The Western Indian Ocean’s waters are warmed with a tropical Agulhas current, so that water temperatures can easily reach 30 degrees Celsius. These temperatures cultivate the tropical reefs that are home to hundreds of fish species, turtle and dolphin. A huge migratory population of whales makes an appearance in the area every winter. The beaches, edged by these warm waters, have mineral-rich sands that form massive dunes that protect the ancestral nesting grounds of the world’s largest reptile, the leatherback turtle. The tropical forests hide the secrets of Zulu exploration, trading routes and European expeditions. This tropical paradise is home to a variety of frogs, insects, reptiles, birds, buck and apes.

The massive coastal grassland is home to large and small mammals. This area is covered with a complex system of water tables that include the deepest peat swamp in the southern hemisphere, sacred Zulu burial lakes, tannin-rich freshwater streams and acres of verdant grassland covering ancient marine deposits formed as the sea retreated thousands of years ago.

After dark, 1200 hippo emerge from Lake St Lucia and lumber across the landscape to eat tonnes of grass from the coastal plains. In the daylight hours, they can be seen wallowing in the warm waters of the lake that they share with over 2000 crocodiles and other fish, birds and invertebrates. The hippos are the driving force behind the area’s ecosystem, releasing tonnes of droppings into the lake which fertilise the warm, tropical water, creating a prolific fish and prawn nursery ground.

Map of iSimanagaliso Wetland Park Map of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Eastern and Western Shores Map of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Lake St Lucia Estuary
     

“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).”
Nelson Mandela