Spanning 280km from the Mozambique border in the north, to Mapelane, south of Lake St Lucia, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is South Africa’s third largest protected area and one of its most important protected natural habitats. ISimangaliso’s rich biodiversity and astounding natural beauty are thanks to a melding together of different ecosystems ranging from golden beaches to dune forests, savannahs, wetlands and even coral reefs. Take a look at a quick history of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The region where iSimangaliso is today, was first recorded by Portuguese sailors in 1554 as Rio dos Medos do Ouro – ‘River of the Gold Dunes’. Records from early Portuguese sailors point out this area as Tembeland or Thongaland, occupied by different branches of the Tsonga people. Until the mid-1890s, the iSimangaliso Bay was the traditional homeland of the Tsonga, who had lived in the region for more than 1000 years.
In 1822, the area was proclaimed by the British as a township and the town of St Lucia was established as a holiday destination for Europeans. By 1895, St Lucia Game Reserve had been created 30km north of the town and the Tsonga people were forcefully removed from the area by British colonisation. The southern part of the park was handed over to the Zulu nation and the northern part was allotted for the Tsonga people. Over 100 years later, in 1999, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site at a ceremony where Nelson Mandela was the guest of honour.
The park was named a World Heritage Site at the end of the 90’s thanks to its rich natural biodiversity and range of unique ecosystems. The diverse fauna and flora range from outcrops of coral reefs, pristine beaches, riverine forest and freshwater lakes. The park is home to all of the Big Five as of 2013, as well as crocodile, hippo, whales, dolphins, whale sharks and turtles. Previously known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, iSimangaliso now incorporates Lake St Lucia, False Bay Park, Kosi Bay, Sodwana Bay, Cape Vidal and Mkuze Game Reserve. The renaming of the park came about in November 2007, and is derived from the story of King Shaka Zulu.
When King Shaka died in 1928, as is custom in Zululand, his right-hand man, Jeqe, was to be buried alive with the king’s body. Escaping death, Jeqe fled north of Zululand where he discovered the land of the Tsonga people. The subtropical paradise of forests, beaches and lakes had him recorded saying, “I saw wonders and miracles in the flat land and lakes of Thonga.” Almost 200 years later the word iSimangaliso, meaning “miracle and wonder” was chosen as the new name for this World Heritage Site.
In the future, the park is set to be integrated into a transfrontier park straddling South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. The extension will create the Ponto do Ouro-Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) to further include Muputoland Marine Protected Area and Maputo Protection Area in Mozambique. It is expected that this TFCA will eventually be included into the Greater Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area as the next step in Peace Parks’ future.
ISimangaliso Wetland Park is 300km north of Durban in KwaZulu Natal and the park entrance about an hour drive from Nibela Lake Lodge in Hluhluwe. It is an ideal option as a day trip from Nibela and can easily be combined with a visit to Hluhluwe Game Park for a well-rounded experience of KwaZulu Natal. Get in touch with us to start planning your trip.