South Africa’s Elephant Coast is a lesser-known holiday destination, probably because of its location right up the east coast from Durban.
Yet it’s home to two of the country’s most prominent wildlife parks – the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park(famous for its rhino conservation projects) and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a World Heritage Site with a huge biodiversity and more animal species even than Kruger), some of the most beautiful and remote beaches, sea turtles and whales…
The Elephant Coast is regarded as an eco-tourism hotspot particularly because of its access to Africa’s largest estuarine system, subtropical forests, swamps, wetland system, magnificent beaches, Cape Vidal, Kosi and Sodwana bays and a number of game reserves. The easiest way to get there is to fly intoRichards Bay and hire a car.
Photograph: Fighting hippos in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Here is what you can expect from the average visit to this part of the country:
KAYAK ALONG THE ST LUCIA ESTUARY
Guided kayak safaris on the St Lucia estuary allow you to explore mangrove-covered islands, sight crocodiles basking on the banks, see any number of water birds, and spot the odd hippo. This is a non-strenuous, flat water paddle for both experienced and novice paddlers, and a wonderful way to explore what the coast has to offer.
TRACK TURTLES IN KOSI BAY
Every night between 15 November and 15 January take an excursion that can last as long as 4 hours along the beach in Kosi Bay tracking giant leatherbacks and loggerhead turtles, who have swum kilometres to return to the beach where they were born to lay eggs – often within metres of where their mothers did the same. An incredible experience.
Photograph: Track turtles in Kosi Bay
LEARN HOW TO SCUBA DIVE AT THONGA
Thonga Beach Lodge has a resident instructor who takes you through your paces before you head out beyond the waves to Mabibi – not only one of the most highly regarded dive sites in the country, but also great for beginners because of its shallow reefs. But more advanced divers have access to deeper reefs. And if deep sea diving is beyond you, there are snorkelling sites as well.
SEE CHEETAHS AT A WILD CAT SANCTUARY
You’ll find Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre on Emdoneni Game Farm in Hluhluwe where you can join a tour to learn about South Africa’s endangered wild cats – the caracal or lynx, the serval, the wild cat and the cheetah. Time your visit for a feeding time late in the afternoon.
Photograph: Learn how to scuba dive at Thonga Beach Lodge
VIEW GAME ON THE BACK OF A HORSE
Ride on the beach in St Lucia where you may see humpback whales breaching out to sea, or turtle tracks, depending on the season. Conversely ride horseback through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and spot black or white rhino, Cape buffalo, and hippos, amongst other wildlife.
KISS A BABY CROCODILE
Just south of Hluhluwe get up close and personal with crocodiles. Not only can you hold a baby croc but you can also swim in amongst them. Discover more about the life cycle of these reptiles, and how they turn into one of the most powerful predators, able to devour anything on the water’s edge.
Photograph: See Cheertah at Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre
SNORKEL AT KOSI BAY
Regarded as one of the top snorkelling spots on the planet, Kosi Bay mouth is where you head to see devil fire fish, honey comb eels, small rays and a number of reef species you would usually expect to find much further out to sea.
VISIT THE ST LUCIA MARKET
Tucked away in the little town of St Lucia, just south of Lake St Lucia, is the local market where you’ll find a combination of farm-fresh produce that includes typical local foods like paw-paws, bananas, avocado pears and macadamia nuts, and a series of curios. Prepare for the vibrant atmopshere and to haggle for bargains.
Photograph: Whale Watching on the Elephant Coast
HAVE A THAI MASSAGE
Traditional Thai massage combines acupressure, reflexology, yogic exercises and stretching. Head for the Flambojant Building in St Lucia.
WHALE WATCH IN ST LUCIA
Boat-based whale watching is an incredible experience. Getting as close as within 50m of them with a crew who are knowledgeable about whales makes it that much more pertinent. From St Lucia one mainly sees humpback whales during the whale season, but the odd Bryde, minke, southern right and sperm whale is fairly common.