Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park
The Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park was the first park in South Africa to be declared a World Heritage Site - this was in 1999. Located in KwaZulu Natal, the park is the third largest in South Africa, spanning 280 kilometres of coastline, from the Mozambique border in the north of Mapelane south of the St Lucia estuary, and made up of around 328 000 hectares of pristine natural ecosystems - including swamps, lake systems, beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, woodlands and costal forests.
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park has both one of the largest estuary systems in Africa and the continent's southernmost coral reefs. Its remarkable biodiversity is a result of the park's location between subtropical Africa, as well as its coastal setting.
Shaped by the actions of river, sea and wind, St Lucia's landscape offers habitats to a wide range of Africa's marine, wetland and savannah species. Its varied landform include wide submarine canyons, sandy beaches, forested dune cordon and a mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, forests, lakes and savannah. St Lucia supports more species of animal than the better-known and much larger Kruger National Park and Okavango Delta - from the country's largest population of hippos and crocodiles to the Giant Leatherback turtles, black rhino, leopards, and a vast array of bird and marine life.
Its uniqueness lies in its remarkable diversity, particularly its combination of a subtropical coastline and a classic African game park.
The park incorporates the whole of Lake St Lucia, the St Lucia and Maputaland Marine Reserves, the Coastal Forest Reserve and the Kosi Bay Reserve. The 40 000 hectare Mkuzi Game Reserve is also in the process of being incorporated into the park.
Ducks and flamingos included, more than 530 species of birds use the wetland and other areas of the Lake St Lucia region. The area also has the highest diversity of amphibians in South Africa, with 36 species.
In 1989, a mining company seeking titanium and other metals sought to bulldoze the dunes along the eastern shore of Lake St Lucia. In 1996 the government followed the recommendations of an environmental assessment in barring the mining proposals and began work on an integrated development and land-use planning strategy for the entire region.
The variety of natural settings, the abundance of wildlife, and the sheer beauty of the place draw tourists to the area in increasing numbers. If you would like to see hippos, crocodiles and sharks sharing the same waters, this would be the place to visit. Turtle breading starts October until April the following year while whale watching season is from June until December. For the sport fishermen, St Lucia is one of South Africa's most popular fishing destinations, offering game fishing, rock and surf fishing, fly fishing and spear fishing. St Lucia also offers hippo cruises, walking trails, kayak safaris, night safaris, game safaris and a crocodile farm. The wide open beaches and the high sand dunes make a perfect setting for sun tanning, volley ball, picnics and relaxing walks. There are also plenty of hiking trails through the park which range from a few hours to a few days.
Accommodation options are extensive, ranging from camping to private game lodges, and including hotels, flats and chalets in the nearby town of St Lucia.