Words by Fiona McIntosh
CEO Andrew Zaloumis is a visionary who has worked tirelessly to make iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, the incredible place that it is today. Fiona McIntosh asked him to identify seven things that he regards as special.
“My kids grew up in iSimangaliso,” says Andrew, and the list below is for me, just a few things that make the Park special. They are outdoors, fun for both adults and kids, and with the exception of the estuary boat cruise, free.
iSimangaliso has over 200km of pristine beaches literally crawling with ghost crabs (an important indicator of the health of the ecosystem). Grab a torch at night and join the thousands – particularly when there’s a full moon rising. And while I’m mentioning counts there are 32 frog, 36 bat, AND 20 odd dragonfly species to discover too.
What child does not love these; what adult does not enjoy going back in time? At iSimangaliso’s Mission Rocks or Cape Vidal, Lala Nek, Sodwana Bay and other coastal bays, low tide offers the age-old experience of looking through a window teeming with tiny sea creatures in the intertidal zone. Fingerling fish, hermit crabs, sea anemones, scuttling crabs, sea cucumbers, squidgy sea squirts – the rock pools offer a myriad miniature life forms at which to marvel. Try it, it’s utterly absorbing!
Bush taxis and nature’s cleaners. With over 30 types of dung beetles, iSimangaliso is teeming with game and their by-product, the dung heaps upon which these critters thrive. Piles of hippo and elephant dung boil with a frenzy of dung beetles. Some bury dung beneath the pile, others roll it off, lay an egg inside and bury it. The largest live for up to three years and navigate using stars; the smallest is flightless, and all are quite fascinating.
Big 5, Little 5 and everything in between, footprints are the newspaper of iSimangaliso, telling a vivid story for those who take time to read. In iSimangaliso’s sandy soils one can easily identify leopard, buffalo, hippo or elephant spoor. And then there are ant lions, those fascinating predators of hapless ants. iSimangaliso’s cemented pathways to view points are littered with animal prints – try and identify them all!
While domestic animals are not allowed inside the Park fences or resorts, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park DOES recognise that Fido is often invited along on family trips. In certain sections of the Park, specifically around St Lucia village and beaches (where some establishments offer pet-friendly accommodation), well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome to take their owners for a walk on the 15km of bush trails that meander through the coastal forest, open grassland, beaches and board walks. Of course if you don’t have a dog, you are still welcome – on foot, bike or on horseback with the licensed operator.
Pop your head out the top of the highest forested coastal dune in Africa, at 183m. A short, steep walk through the tangled dune forest leads to a wooden platform with stunning sweeping views of the Indian Ocean beaches, Lake St Lucia estuary and beyond.
In iSimangaliso hippo sighting are guaranteed, and if you are very lucky you may even see an elephant or two swimming in the Lake St Lucia Estuary. A boat cruise is usually top of visitors’ lists and for good reason: crocodiles, sharks, fish eagles, kingfishers and numerous other birds are regularly sighted too. If you don’t take the boat, an evening stroll along the main bridge, Sunset Jetty or Estuary Boardwalk will bring you pretty close as well. And a sundowner or meal at the St Lucia Ski Boat Club offers front row viewing of the lake and its inhabitants.