South Africa’s very first World Heritage Site was St Lucia, proclaimed so in 1999. It is situated on the east coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, approximately 275 kilometres north of the city of Durban. The region referred to as iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) begins from the south of St Lucia and spreads to the northern Mozambique border. The word ‘isimangaliso’ means ‘miracle’ in Zulu. It is South Africa’s third biggest protected area, extending over 280 kilometres of shoreline, and is comprised of about 3,280 square kilometres of wonderful natural ecosystems that are managed by the iSimangaliso Authority.
St Lucia is a massive area with a wide array of different ecosystems and biospheres. The region itself has been a wildlife lover’s paradise for years now, with hippos still wandering the streets in the evenings, the calls of Bush Babies still ringing in the night, and sightings of leopards still occurring. St Lucia is relatively small in size, and holds a population of around a mere five hundred. In addition to this, there are also approximately 800 hippos and 1,200 Nile Crocodiles that have made this area their home.
The region was once known as a popular fishing destination, but has swiftly developed into the top tourist destination for both local and international folk alike. St Lucia is encircled by water, with the St Lucia Estuary bordering the town’s western side and the Indian Ocean on the town’s eastern side.
The sparkling Indian Ocean provides incredible sightings of Humpback Whales as they migrate past the coast from June through to November, whilst Loggerhead and leatherback turtles make their way back to the shores to lay eggs from November to March. Around the borders of the town you will find various walking trails on which you might encounter Red Duiker, Mongoose, Vervet Monkeys and many more interesting fauna and flora. With a recorded 450 bird species spotted throughout the year, the area is exquisite for bird viewing.
The bay was once the proud home of the Tsonga folk and their primitive fishkraals. These inhabitants occupied the area for over 800 years, but were forcefully moved out of the park when Britain colonised the region in 1875. In spite of the colonisation and annexation of the land, the Tsonga folk still dwell in the northern portion of the park, the Tembe Elephant Park. Run by chief Israel Tembe, this Park is a living testament to the rich history of the Tsonga people in this wetland area. St Lucia was first named ‘Rio de la Medaos do Oura’, or ‘River of the Dows of Gold’, in 1554 by the survivors of the Portuguese ship St Benedict. At this point, only the Tugela River mouth was known as St Lucia, but in 1575, the Tugela River was given its current name.
A myriad of exciting activities and safaris are available every day in St Lucia, including journeying 54 kilometres away to the oldest proclaimed game reserve in the Africa, the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. Night drive safaris, day trips to Cape Vidal, hippo and crocodile boat cruises, and so much more are conducted daily, giving visitors a real chance to enjoy the natural beauty, animals and stunning landscapes of the area. With untouched bronzed beaches and exquisite views, St Lucia is most certainly a place to visit whilst vacationing in the region.