Magical Maputaland | 440km

Magical Maputaland.

MAPUTALAND

Bounded by the Ubombo and Lebombo mountains in the west, Maputaland covers the vast coastal plain extending eastwards to the shores of the Indian Ocean and from just south of the Mfolozi River northwards to Mozambique. Guests on South African holidays can enjoy the landscape, which is a mosaic of white beaches, lakes, marshlands, sand forest and mangroves. The coastline is the main southern Indian Ocean breeding ground of the leatherback turtle, while the Kosi palms fringing Lake Amanzimyama are home to of one of South Africa's rarest breeding birds, the palmnut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis). Situated at the southern limit of distribution of several bird species and with a rich diversity of ecosystems, Maputaland is a popular destination with birders.

MKUZE VILLAGE

...takes its name from the Mkuze River, a name which possibly might be derived from the Zulu name for the lavender tree (Heteropoxis natalensis). Situated alongside the N2 highway linking Ermelo and Durban, the small community is an important trade and transport centre.

NDUMO GAME RESERVE

Covering 12 420 ha, the landscape of Ndumo alternates from tranquil pans lined by fever trees and magnificent riverine forests to floodplains, patches of sand forest and woodlands. Several of Ndumo's 420 bird species reach the southern limit of their distribution in southern Africa here, making the reserve one of the region's birding hotspots. Visitors on South African holidays can see bird species such as Yellowspotted nicator, Neergaard's sunbird, Rudd's apalis, pinkthroated twinspot and Stierling's barred warbler. Ndumo is home to probably the highest concentration of nyala in South Africa, and also has large hippo and crocodile populations.

Other species of game to be seen include suni, black and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, reedbuck, impala, Burchell's zebra and red duiker. Visitors can explore the park by taking one of several guided walks, or book a guided tour in a 4x4 vehicle to the pans in the eastern section of the reserve. In the western section, there is a 47-km network of game-viewing roads, a viewpoint, game-viewing hide and picnic places. Accommodation is available in Ndumo Camp, or in the upmarket Ndumo Wilderness Camp overlooking the backwaters of Banzi Pan.

TEMBE ELEPHANT PARK

Fears that the last herds of free-ranging elephants in South Africa would be wiped out by poachers during the civil war in Mozambique prompted the proclamation of this park in 1983. These elephants used to migrate seasonally from the much larger Maputo Elephant Reserve in Mozambique along the Futi Channel to the Tembe area, but by 1989 their numbers had declined from an estimated 400 to a mere 120. The population in Tembe Elephant Park now numbers about 150, while the population in the Maputo Elephant Reserve is over 200 strong. Although the elephants are Tembe's major drawcard, the park also provides protection to the country's largest tracts of sand forest.

This is the habitat of several rare bird species (among them yellowspotted nicator, Rudd's apalis and Neergaard's sunbird), and is home to the only viable population of suni in South Africa. Also associated with the sand forest are the red squirrel (also referred to as the Tonga squirrel) and the four-toed elephant shrew.

Visitors on South African holidays can also see the white and black rhino, giraffe, nyala, waterbuck, reedbuck, impala, blue wildebeest and red duiker. The southern part of the park is accessible by a network of sandy tracks negotiable by 4x4 vehicles only. Facilities include a luxury tented camp and two game-viewing hides, one overlooking Mahlasela Pan and the other the Muzi Swamp. Two short self-guided trails have been laid out in a fenced 2-km2 area at Ngobozana at the entrance gate.

KOSI BAY

...is one of the most unique and fascinating areas in southern Africa and very popular for South African holidays. Despite its name, it is not a bay, but consists of four interconnected, roughly circular lakes linked to the sea by an estuary with a narrow mouth. Amanzimnyama, the southernmost lake, is fringed by stands of Kosi palms that provide nesting sites for the rare palmnut vulture. A narrow channel links it to Nhlange (Third Lake), the largest of the four lakes and covering an area of up to 37 km2. The narrow Mtando Channel links Nhlange to Mpungwini (Second Lake) which, in turn, is linked to Makhawulani (First Lake) and the estuary, where Thonga fish traps form intricate criss-cross patterns. The mangrove community near the estuary mouth is unique, as it is the only such community in South Africa to feature five species of mangrove.

Visitors to Kosi Bay Nature Reserve can take guided walks to various places, such as Lake Amanzimnyama, while guided walks to the fishing kraals start from the community campsite at the entrance gate to Kosi Mouth. The rock pools near Kosi Mouth offer superb snorkelling opportunities, and boat angling on the lakes (Amanzimnyama excluded) is another popular pastime. Campsites and three fully furnished thatched lodges are available on the shores of Lake Nhlange.

LAKE SIBAYA

Covering up to 77 km2, Sibaya is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa and an important wetland for waterbirds, attracting up to 20 000 waterfowl at times. Among the nearly 300 bird species recorded to date are yellowspotted nicator, brown robin, Woodward's batis, pinkthroated longclaw, gorgeous bush shrike, purplebanded sunbird and African spoonbill. The lake is home to hippo, crocodile and a variety of fish. But because of low nutrient levels the fish are small in size and angling is not a major attraction.

Sibaya is, however, situated conveniently close to Nine Mile Beach, a popular coastal angling spot. Among the smaller mammals to be seen in the coastal dune forest are red and common duiker, samango and vervet monkeys, thicktailed bushbaby, red squirrel and bushpig, while reedbuck favour the open grassland areas. Visitors can explore the surroundings of Baya Camp, a rustic bush camp on the lake's southern shores, by following a 3,4-km trail, or book a boat trip on the lake. Accommodation is also available in the upmarket Sibaya Lake Lodge.

MKUZI GAME RESERVE

Covering some36 000 ha of bushveld, Mkuzi Game Reserve forms part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, to which it is linked by the Mkuzi Swamps. The reserve offers visitors a superb game-viewing experience, with black and white rhino, leopard, hippo, giraffe, nyala, impala, blue wildebeest and Burchell's zebra among the species to be seen.

There are several hides overlooking water holes and Nsumo Pan and a 41-km self-drive interpretive trail. There are guided birding and game-viewing walks, as well as night drives. Not to be missed is a guided walk along the Mkuze River, with its enormous sycamore fig trees, or the Fig Forest Walk, a 3-km self-guided route through a magnificent forest of sycamore fig and fever trees. Also worth visiting is the Kwajobe cultural village, with several beehive homesteads, reconstructed in the area where the Kwajobe people lived until they were resettled outside the reserve in 1947. Various accommodation options are available to visitors.

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