Visit KwaZulu-Natal’s two World Heritage Sites

8 January 2015

Two of the best reasons to visit South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province are its two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: iSimangaliso Wetland Park and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, which comprise a quarter of the country’s eight sites.

Situated on the north coast of the province, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of the continent’s largest estuarine systems, boasting exceptional biodiversity and more than 520 bird species within its 332 000ha.

road into the dune forest Dune forest road. Photo by Joe Townsend.

iSimangaliso (“miracle and wonder” in Zulu) incorporates eight interdependent ecosystems: the four lakes of Kosi Bay, with its 700-year-old fish traps; coastal forests and Mabibi, Island Rock, Rocktail Bay and Black Rock; Lake Sibaya, with its hippos and crocodiles; Sodwana Bay, diving Mecca and home to the coelacanth; the 38 500ha uMkuze birders’ paradise that is home to 420 bird species, leopard, black rhino, white rhino, elephant, giraffe, wild dog, cheetah and hyena; the sand forest, thornveld and open savannah of False Bay, with its boating, fishing and fossil sites, and elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, giraffe and tsessebe at Charters Creek; Lake St Lucia’s 800 hippos, 1 200 crocodiles, flocks of pelicans and flamingoes; and Cape Vidal, where beach-and-safari tours may be enjoyed.

Young kudu buck. Young kudu buck. Photo by Joe Townsend.
DSC00339 Boat cruise. Photo by Johan Boshoff.

The park has 35 frog species, more than 500 bird species, over 100 species of butterfly, more than 2 000 species of flowering plants and all five of South Africa’s surviving mangrove tree species.
iSimangaliso is also home to a number of cultural heritage sites and evidence of Stone Age human activity.

hippos of Lake St Lucia Hippos of Lake St Lucia. Photo by Joe Townsend.

There are many accommodation options, and tours to destinations and attractions of your choice.

Under three hours away, to the north-west, lies South Africa’s highest mountain range and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a place of exceptional scenic beauty that offers sanctuary to threatened plant and bird species, as well as a wealth of historic rock art.

Rock formation The dramatic Drakensberg. Photo by IUCNweb.

UNESCO describes this site as “having exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts”.

The mountainous spine is 150km long, broken by definitive landmarks such as Cathedral Peak, Giant's Castle and the spectacular Amphitheatre, a wall of rock 5km long and 1 000m high.

Amphitheatre reflection at sunrise - Ukhahlamba Drakensberg National Park South Africa Amphitheatre reflection at sunrise. Photo by Jono Hey.

From its summit at Mont-aux-Sources the thundering Tugela Falls barrel down to the valley below after the summer rains, while the peaks are regularly covered with snow during the winter months.

Hiking, rock climbing and fly-fishing are popular activities, while game parks house eland, and endangered vulture species circle above the escarpment. Typical flora found here includes indigenous protea, rare cycads and ancient tree ferns.

Protea Protea. Photo by IUCNweb.

For 4 000 years the indigenous San people called the Drakensberg home and recorded their lives in paintings on cave walls. Around 30 000 paintings in 600 caves and overhangs have been recorded in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.

When visiting this magnificent and extentive site, be sure to include a hike, river swim, rock art and a couple of nights’ stay to absorb the tranquillity of the beautiful Drakensberg mountain range.

By Christine Marot

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