Wetlands and Wildlife | 355km

St Lucia.

iSIMANGALISO WETLANDS PARK IN ST LUCIA

Guests on South African holidays should visit the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, a declared World Heritage Site. It presents an ever-changing kaleidoscope of lake, marshland, forested coastal dunes and grasslands. The nucleus of the park is Lake St Lucia, which was proclaimed a game reserve in 1897 - making it one of Africa's oldest conservation areas. It is also the third largest in area in South Africa. To the early Zulu and Thonga inhabitants the lake was known as Cwebeni las Entlengeni, or 'the lagoon of the rafts'. About 70 km in length and 18 km at its widest, the lake is home to large populations of hippo and crocodile and is considered a wetland of international importance.

Over 350 bird species have been recorded in the park's rich diversity of habitats and ecosystems, and at times the lake attracts large numbers of Palaearctic waders, pinkbacked and white pelicans, greater flamingo and other waterfowl. The park was created by amalgamating various conservation areas and former state forests to form a total area of 260 000 ha. Stretching from Mapelane northwards, the park incorporates the St Lucia Game Reserve and Marine Reserve, False Bay Park, Sodwana Bay (where loggerhead turtles breed), Mkuzi Game Reserve and the Maputaland Marine Reserve.

ST LUCIA VILLAGE

Nestling along the shores of the St Lucia estuary, the village of St Lucia is a popular destination for South African holidays. It attracts large numbers of anglers and those seeking to relax in its peaceful surroundings. The village takes its name from Cape St Lucia, named by the Portuguese navigator Manuel de Mesquita PerestrÍlo, when he passed the headland on 13 December 1575, the feast day of Saint Lucy. The best way to see the estuary is to take a two-hour trip on board the Santa Lucia, an 80-seater launch equipped with a viewing deck.

At the St Lucia Crocodile Centre, visitors can get close-up views of Nile crocodile, as well as two other African species - dwarf and long-snouted - and American alligator. The centre aims to educate people about the importance of crocodiles in nature and offers interesting displays about various aspects of the biology and way of life of these forbidding reptiles. Visitors can explore the St Lucia Game Park along several short self-guided trails, including one to the mangrove community along the estuary's shore.

MTUBATUBA lies amid vast sugar cane plantations on the floodplains of the Mfolozi River. An important commercial centre for the surrounding farms, it was established in 1903. Its name honours a former chief of the Mtetwa clan and is said to mean 'creator of opportunities'.

HLUHLUWE - UMFOLOZI PARK

...covers 96 000 ha of deep wooded valleys, grassy hillsides and thornveld. Originally proclaimed on 27 April 1897 as two separate reserves, Hluhluwe and Umfolozi - together with the St Lucia Game Reserve - are the oldest conservation areas in Africa. Guests on South African holidays can enjoy amazing Big five safaris. The two reserves were consolidated after the Corridor, a stock-free area created to prevent the spread of nangana (sleeping sickness) to the cattle of tribespeople living in the area, was proclaimed a game reserve in 1989. Umfolozi is famed for its role in saving the white rhinoceros from extinction and today it is a sanctuary to one of southern Africa's largest populations of white and black rhinos. It was at Umfolozi, too, where Africa's first wilderness area was set aside and where, in the 1950s, conservationist Dr Ian Player pioneered the first wilderness trails.

Visitors can explore the park on more than 200 km of game-viewing roads; in addition to white and black rhino, there is always a possibility of chancing upon the other members of the Big Five: elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard. Among the other large mammals to be seen are giraffe, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, impala, blue wildebeest and Burchell's zebra. With a bird checklist of over 400 species, the park is a delight to birding enthusiasts. Noteworthy species include African finfoot, Delegorgue's pigeon, cinnamon dove, white-eared barbet, yellowspotted nicator, Rudd's apalis, yellowbilled and redbilled oxpeckers. Activities for visitors include interpretive auto trails, guided early morning and night drives, guided walks and overnight wilderness trails in Umfolozi. A variety of accommodation options is available.

HLUHLUWE VILLAGE

...owes its name to the Hluhluwe River, itself derived from the Zulu name (umHluhluwe) for the thorny or monkey rope (Dalbergia armata) which grows in profusion along the river bank. The village is the centre of an intensive agricultural area where sugar cane, pineapples and timber are harvested.

DUMAZULU

Dumazulu, a name meaning 'the thundering Zulu', is devoted to the history, culture and customs of the Zulu nation. This traditional village consists of over 50 Zulu people living in a homestead where they perform daily tasks and manufacture crafts much as the Zulu people did a century ago. Visitors can watch the women making clay pots, weaving baskets and doing beadwork, while the men are involved in tasks like making spears and shields - the traditional weapons of Zulu warriors. The highlight for guests on South African holidays at Dumazulu is watching the spectacular dances, while in the evening guests can watch Zulu plays over dinner. Other attractions include a snake park with over 100 species of indigenous snakes, and a crocodile park.

FALSE BAY PARK

...lies on the western shores of Lake St Lucia, where the lake is roughly shaped like an H. It is a popular destination with anglers, but the presence of species such as African broadbill, crested guineafowl, yellowspotted nicator and pinkthroated twinspot make it an excellent spot for birders. For those who wish to explore their surroundings on foot there are two self-guided interpretive walks. The Dugandlovu Hiking Trail meanders for 8 km through bush and along the lake shore to a rustic overnight camp overlooking Hluhluwe River. Also of interest are the marine fossils to be found along the lake shore, among them fossil corals and ammonites. The patches of sand forest are home to the rare suni and several interesting tree species, while reedbuck, waterbuck, nyala, impala, bushbuck and Burchell's zebra are among the animals to be encountered on foot. Facilities are limited to camp sites and a swimming pool.

FANIES ISLAND

Fanies Island, on the western shores of Lake St Lucia, overlooks a maze of reed-covered islands, and was named after an early Zulu headman. Situated among magnificent coastal forest, the tranquil rest camp has a long-standing reputation for superb fishing, but also offers excellent birding possibilities - the Narina trogon and trumpeter hornbill can be seen here. Along two self-guided trails, visitors might chance upon red duiker, bushbuck and reedbuck, while the lake is home to hippo. Facilities include rest huts, a seven-bed cottage and a swimming pool.

CHARTER'S CREEK

Charter's Creek, on the western shores of Lake St Lucia, is a popular base for angling, bird-watching, or simply relaxing in the peaceful atmosphere. It was named after AE Charter, a former provincial secretary who was a keen conservationist. Visitors can explore the rest-camp surroundings by setting off on the two self-guided trails, or experience the tranquillity of the lake on a luxury boat cruise. Tours last between 1,5 and 2 hours; in addition to hippopotamus, crocodile and African fish eagle, there is also a chance of seeing buffalo, waterbuck, reedbuck and kudu along the lakeshore. Accommodation ranges from a seven-bed cottage to rest huts.

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