I had fallen in love with iSimangaliso back in 2007. And like all good love stories, she seemed to reveal more and more of her depth, beauty and complexity at every meeting. While I’ve visited the Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal a couple of times in the years since then (though not often enough), my most recent journey once again left me speechless.
It reminds me of a crumpled, coffee-stained brochure I had kept from a previous trip that reads: ‘The cultural and ecological treasures of the region are so great as to defy the normal rules of sentence construction…’ I have to agree, with 220 kilometres of coastline and beaches, 100 species of coral, eight interlinking ecosystems, the only major swamp forest left in South Africa, and three major lake systems, describing iSimangaliso’s beauty is nigh impossible.
The Wetland Park stretches along the Zululand coast from Maphelane in the south, to Kosi Bay in the north, which is literally a stone’s throw away from the Mozambique border. So it was with a hungry heart that I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg to pick up the Nissan Patrol, then drove in the pouring rain to Park Rynie on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal to pick up a Skipper ‘T’ tent trailer – a towing combination that would enable me to get to some of the areas that were not accessible on my previous trips.
Now that I had my ride and “accommodation”, I set course for St Lucia. For me, the iSimangaliso experience always starts some 14km from the town of St Lucia, right after turning off the N2 at Mtubatuba. The sugar cane and gum plantations next to the road suddenly give way to thick coastal forest, offering a hint of what lay ahead. It always amazes me seeing hippos while crossing the long bridge over the estuary, and then suddenly you’re in St Lucia.
My first stop is always the Georgiou Centre and the St Lucia Coffee Shop for the best coffee and carrot cake muffins in town. Then I stock up at the large Spar in the building next door. I always have to pop in at the Digi Travel camera shop. On this trip I drooled over a Tamron 150 – 600mm lens, because with 526 bird species and loads of game in the area, it’s exactly the lens you would want for a trip like this.