If you’re looking for something different to do next time you visit the coast, why not head down to some of the province’s 75 estuaries? Estuarine experts Professor Anthony and Nicolette Forbes of EcoInfoAfrica list their 10 favourite estuaries in KZN, along with one ‘quirky’ system.
1. Kosi Bay
The only clear water tropical estuary in the country and, at 32 m, Kosi Bay is the deepest open estuary in the region. Situated within iSimangaliso Wetland Park, it is famous for unique vistas with traditional fish traps and is the only estuary in the country supporting five species of mangrove trees. Fishing and power boating are allowed and there is superb snorkelling in the mouth area. Accommodation options include camping facilities, self-catering cabins, and lodges.
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2. Lake St Lucia Estuary
It’s the biggest estuary in the country and also part of iSimangaliso. Boat trips provide unique perspectives of the lower estuary and close encounters with hippopotamus and crocodiles. St Lucia is a birder’s paradise and you’ll find elephants and leopards on the self-drive trails on the Eastern and Western shores. The town is buzzing with well-developed tourist facilities and a range of accommodation.
3. uMlalazi estuary
Within the coastal village of Mtunzini, this estuary has boating and canoe trails as well as mangrove and coastal forest trails. The village has a number of restaurants and a range of accommodation.
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4. aMatikulu estuary
Thus partially protected estuary is one of KZN’s few intermittently open estuaries in very good condition. Canoeing is permitted but no power boating. The adjacent Amatikulu Nature Reserve is great for birding but at the time of writing, visitors were reporting poor management of the reserve.
5. uMgeni estuary
This important urban estuary contains a healthy mangrove system under protection of KZN Wildlife. It plays a significant role for migratory wading birds in summer and is also a favourite with canoeists. Boardwalks give easy access through the mangroves.
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6. uMsimbazi estuary
It’s one of only two intermittently open estuaries that are biodiversity hotspots in terms of estuary plants and animals in the Durban municipal area. Land under traditional government has maintained the estuary boundaries supporting good estuary function. It’s a great demonstration of the estuary functional zone. The mouth is adjacent to the Karridene Hotel.
7. Nkomba estuary
Small intermittently open estuary on the South Coast. Pennington conservancy has carried out significant restoration work through clearing alien invasive plants and has constructed boardwalks, trails, a bird hide, and a novel pont to cross the estuary on the walking trail.
8. uMzimkulu estuary
This large estuary exits to the sea at Port Shepstone. It offers good potential for boating, canoeing trips, bird watching, and otter spotting. There is a range of accommodation options within the wider area.
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9. iMpenjati estuary
Part of the Mpenjati nature reserve in the south of KZN, this estuary also adjoins a Marine Protected Area. Estuary trails and paddling can be combined with trails through the mosaic of coastal grassland and forest.
10. uMtamvuna estuary
This forms the boundary between KZN and the Eastern Cape. While being a very scenic and large estuary, it also adjoins the uMtamvuna Nature Reserve and is KZN’s only real gorge estuary with steep sides. It’s part of a richly biodiverse region that offers rewarding bird, dragonfly, and butterfly watching, as well as a fabulous diversity of flora. Port Edward is the nearest town and there is a variety of accommodation in the area. Amenities include boating, cycling trails above the gorge, and golfing at the Wild Coast Sun.
Finally, the ‘quirk.’ Says Nicolette, “We have included Lake Sibaya in this list because it is such an interesting endpoint in the life of an estuary.”
Bonus: Lake Sibaya
Located in iSimangaliso World Heritage Site, Lake Sibaya is unique in South Africa. Although not strictly an estuary under present definitions, it’s the largest natural fresh water lake in the country, and contains a relict estuarine fauna which speaks to its earlier geological history as an estuary over 3 000 years ago. It’s a deep system like Kosi at about 40m deep and its water surface is 20m above sea level. “There is much more to tell of this fascinating story,” Nicolette says. A guided boat trip is a must!
For information on estuary adventures contact:
Nicolette [email protected]; +27 82 374 0217
Words Andrea Abbott
Photography Andrea Abbott; Nicolette Forbes; Supplied