Blog WHS Visits
WHS #617: iSimangaliso Wetland
iSimangaliso Wetland Park lies well on the main tourist trail around South Africa. It’s a huge park, stretching for 220km along the Indian Ocean coast until the border with Mozambique. It also has a 5 km wide marine component along the whole coastline. I stayed for 3 nights in the town of St. Lucia, which is the tourist capital and main access point to the park.
Because of its size, there are completely different ecosystems to be enjoyed. For the marine part, I had set my eyes on a whale watching tour. But unfortunately it was cancelled due to strong winds. So what I mainly did was drive around by myself. From St. Lucia there are two gates into the park, one to the Eastern Shores and one to the Western. The park is remarkable for South African standards as it is very green. No shortage of rain here, compared to the severe drought much of the rest of the country suffers from.
On my first morning I entered via Bhangazi Gate, which leads you to the Eastern Shores ending at Cape Vidal. For the best part the drive goes through a savannah. Prominent inhabitants are the Greater Kudu (quite big indeed) and other cloven-hoofed mammals such as the Common Reedbuck. All loop roads from the main road were closed for maintenance, but the various viewpoints were accessible. They will give you views over the coastline, one that is remarkably similar to the all-too-familiar Wadden Sea. This road ends at a wooded area, where two species of monkey play around. The Vervet Monkeys occupied their usual spot at the parking area, looking for any left-over food from human beings visiting the beach here. More special are the Samango Monkeys, who kept their distance. They’re a subspecies of the Blue (or Sykes') Monkey. On the way back I stopped at the Catalina Bay lookout, probably the best viewpoint of this side of the park. It overlooks Lake St. Lucia.
Later that day at 4 pm I took part in the most touristy thing you can do here: a Hippo & Croc Boat Tour. I was already sceptical beforehand, but it’s the only way to see some of the park from the water. The boat travels the estuarine system into Lake St. Lucia. There are many operators offering this tour, and they all visit the same spots at the same time (so you have to wait your turn at each stop). Imagination and variation is not a strong point of the South African travel industry in general – they cater to the mainstream, to the first time visitor to Africa. The boat slowly navigated the estuary, hitting the favourite spots of the hippo’s. Sightings of these are abundant, and as always they are fun to watch. We didn’t see anything else of interest, besides two almost hidden crocodiles and a fish eagle.
The next day I entered the park at the Dukukduku (western) gate. This part seems to have more mammals than the one I visited the day before. The road was blocked by a large male elephant so I had to wait a while until he finished his breakfast. There are also large herds of wildebeest here, as well as zebra, giraffe and various antelopes. Scenery wise it isn’t as attractive as the Eastern Shores. During the evening I took a night drive tour, also into this western part. As it was raining slightly, we got very cold. The only remarkable creature of the night we saw was a Bushbaby.
iSimangaliso nowadays advertises itself as a Big 5-park (or even a Big 7). I find that a pity, as its unique setting for Southern Africa and water-related features should be their main selling point. These features are now difficult to enjoy. I did see few birds for example, I think the site could do with some good bird hides. South African parks are obsessed by the Big 5, and they reintroduce species frequently to reach the 5 (iSimangaliso got lions again in the last few years). This seems to be not only the policy of the main parks managed by the SAN, but also that of the many private game (and hunting!) reserves the country has. In Mapungubwe I was staying in one of those, and the staff told me that they just bought some elephants and were already planning for adding rhinos.
Els - 15 October 2016