Top 16 iSimangaliso Wetland Park Activities for 2024

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Looking for things to do in the iSimangoliso Wetland Park?

This iSimangaliso Wetland Park activities guide highlights many of the special things you can see and do in the area. You’ll find both self-drive and guided tour opportunities in this post, and plenty of our iSimangaliso Wetland Park photos.

Page Contents

Summary of activities to do at Isimangaliso Wetland Park

  1. Explore St Lucia Estuary and Beach: Walk along a wooden pathway to the sand dunes spot seabirds and fish near the estuary mouth​​.
  2. Day Trip Through the Eastern Shores, St Lucia: Experience diverse landscapes and spot wildlife like buffalo and white rhinos​​.
  3. Visit Cape Vidal: Enjoy family-friendly beaches and snorkelling tours offering rich marine life​​.
  4. Explore the Rockpools or go Fishing at Mission Rocks, Popular for fishing and exploring rock pools at low tide​​.
  5. Take a Guided Walking Tour in St. Lucia Eastern Shores: Learn about the region’s birdlife and Zulu culture​​.
  6. Take a Safari Tour to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park: Visit Africa’s oldest game reserve, famous for its rhino conservation efforts​​.
  7. Take a Turtle Spotting Tour: Seasonal tours to observe Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles laying eggs​​.
  8. Visit the Crocodile Centre, St. Lucia: A facility offering insights into the local crocodile population​​.
  9. Visit uMkhuze Game Reserve: Explore diverse birdlife and iconic African wildlife​​.
  10. Stop off at Lake Sibaya: Enjoy the tranquillity of this important wetland home to hippos and crocodiles​​.
  11. Camp at Mabibi Beach or Stroll its Shore: Offers camping spots and is a nesting site for turtles​​.
  12. Explore Kosi Bay: A popular area for fishermen and snorkelers​​.
  13. Go Snorkelling at Kosi Bay River Mouth: Discover diverse marine life in a natural ‘aquarium’​​.
  14. See the Traditional Fish Kraals of Kosi Bay: Learn about local fishing traditions and enjoy a kayak and snorkel tour​​.
  15. Take a Kosi Bay Mouth Kayak and Birdwatching Tour: Explore the estuary’s mangroves and birdlife with a local guide​​.
  16. Visit Tembe Elephant Park: Home to some of Africa’s largest elephants​​.

iSimangaliso Wetlands Park

We’d heard iSimangaliso Wetlands was somewhere not to miss while travelling in South Africa. In fact, many South Africans swoon when you mention St. Lucia or Kosi Bay, the two main hubs in the Wetlands.

Having already lost our hearts to Greater Kruger and its incredible wildlife, it was always going to be a tough call for iSimangaliso to compete.

Although our hearts remain true to our well-loved area of the northeast of South Africa, namely both Kruger and Klaserie Nature Reserves, iSimangaliso Wetland Park activities provide a wealth of experiences.

St lucia 1-x-blue-cheeked-bee-eater-in-dunes
Blue-cheeked bee-eater on the dunes of St.Lucia Estuary, iSimangaliso Wetlands

In and around the iSimangaliso Reserve, you can combine wildlife safari encounters with beach life and can literally dive into the underwater marvels on snorkelling adventures.

Thousands of South Africans flock to the area for their summer holidays – a tell-tale sign that this is one of the country’s precious gems.

💡OUR TIP: If you plan to visit in summer — particularly over the Christmas period and school holiday times — book accommodation early.

If you love beaches, snorkelling and admiring pristine scenery, head to the iSimangaliso Wetlands for a combination of safari and surf experiences and self-drive and iSimangaliso wetland park tours.

Planning a Trip to South Africa?

Where is ISimangaliso Wetland Park?

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is found along the stunning coast of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province.

This remarkable area stretches from the small town of St. Lucia in the south to the Mozambique border in the north. Encompassing around 3,280 square kilometres, it’s a mosaic of ecosystems, including dunes, wetlands, coral reefs, and coastal forests.

The park is easily accessible by road from major cities like Durban, which is approximately 200 kilometres away.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park Map Showing Numbered Activity Locations

Our iSimangaliso Wetland Park Video

Take a peek at some of our video snippets and pics from our stay in St. Lucia and the things we saw on the drive through iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

iSimangaliso wetland park - St Lucia to Kosi Bay, South Africa

16 iSimangaliso Wetland Park Activities to Enjoy

The iSimangaliso Reserve activities listed here are focused around the two main activity hubs of iSimangaliso, St. Lucia in the south and Kosi Bay to the north.

iSimangaliso is the largest estuary and coastal reserve in South Africa and is particularly known for its diverse wildlife, and in particular, two species of turtle that lay their eggs here, loggerhead and leatherback turtles.

Lake St. Lucia, with a mixture of salt and freshwater mingling together, supports a huge variety of wildlife.

Here, you’ll find hippos, crocodiles, many species of antelope, birds, waterbirds, frogs, and coral reefs with a multitude of colourful fish.

In fact, in the town of St Lucia, hippos often wander the streets at night!

Further north, in Kosi Bay, this area of iSimangaliso is a popular fishing and snorkelling spot.

Both areas have wildlife nature reserves nearby that are home to the big five as well as other iconic African wildlife.

So, whether you love the ocean and wildlife or are keen for a safari to spot the big five, the iSimangaliso wetlands have plenty of things to see and do to keep you busy.

photo of a hippo eating grass
Hippos are one of the residents of iSimangaliso and are often found wandering the streets in St Lucia at night

1. Explore St Lucia Estuary and Beach

Just at the end of the town, head towards St Lucia Beach and Estuary.

Here, you can take a walk along a wooden pathway through the trees to the vast sand dunes of St. Lucia’s long sandy beach. Towards the mouth of the estuary, you will likely spot waders and seabirds.

Board signs at the beginning of the trail will remind you to keep an eye out for hippos and crocodiles. We saw neither on our jaunts to the beach.

What we did see, though, were loads of bee-eaters flitting around the sand dunes and yellow-billed storks fishing for breakfast in the shallows near the estuary mouth.

This is also a popular fishing area, but you will need a fishing permit, which can be bought from the St. Lucia Post Office.

iSimangaliso activities - St lucia 5-yellow-billed storks-with-stormy-seas
Yellow-billed storks at St.Lucia Estuary, iSimangaliso Wetlands
St lucia blue cheeked bee-eaters- with green and blue wings
Two blue-cheeked bee-eaters on the sand dunes at St.Lucia Estuary

2. Day Trip Through the Eastern Shores, St Lucia

 The gate to the Eastern Shores of iSimangaliso Wetlands is Bhangazi Gate and can be found beside the Crocodile Centre, just outside of St. Lucia town.

Make sure you haven’t got any alcohol on board because it is illegal to take it into the park. Roadblocks are set up for searches of vehicles just before you get to the car park.

Once in the car park, which is just before Bhangazi Gate, head into the gate reception office, where you can buy a permit to enter the reserve.

Entrance-to-Eastern-Shores of iSimangaliso
Bhangazi Entrance Gate to Eastern Shores, iSimangaliso Wetlands

The drive through the Eastern Shores, is one of our favourite iSimangaliso wetland park attractions. You’ll find a variety of landscapes, with lots of sandy tracks and loops off the main road for exploring more of the park.

two buffalo with heads popping up over the long grass in iSimangaliso wetlands
Buffalo in the Eastern Shores Reserve, iSimangaliso Wetlands

En route through the Eastern Shores, we came across a herd of buffalo resting in the long grasses and were lucky enough to see a white rhino very close to the main road.  

Read More:

dehorned White Rhino in the Eastern Shores of iSimangaliso
Dehorned white rhino, iSimangaliso Wetlands

At one viewing point, we jumped out of the car and were bemused by what seemed like a trio of bugs flying by. On closer inspection, it was a dragonfly with wings that gave the impression that it was three separate bugs when flying.

Also, on the path, we spotted a red-backed spider – a common but dangerous spider we often see in Australia – I’m guessing that this one may be venomous too.

dragonfly with dark patches on transluscent wings
When in flight, this dragonfly looked like it was three bugs flying around.
black spider with a red dot and black in middle on its back
Red-backed spider – we’re guessing it’s venomous

A drive from the gate to the eastern shores’ end takes you to Cape Vidal and past Mission Rocks. Both were worth a stopover, and we saw many families setting up for the day at each.

A few days after we had left St. Lucia, a leopard and her three cubs were spotted on the road to Cape Vidal.

If you would like to experience the Eastern Shores at night, consider taking a Sunset Safari Tour, where you can spot nocturnal animals such as hyenas or even a leopard. You can also capture some iconic African sunset shots as your guide takes you to the perfect spot.

⭐️ If you would like to experience the Eastern Shores at night, consider taking a Sunset Safari Tour. You’ll have more chances of spotting nocturnal animals such as hyenas or even a leopard and an opportunity to capture iconic African sunset shots.

👉 Find out more or book this Sunset Safari in iSimangaliso Wetlands here | 3 Hours

An added bonus of this tour is that you get picked up from and dropped off back at your accommodation in St Lucia.

3. Visit Cape Vidal

Cape Vidal seemed to be the destination many of the iSimangaliso Eastern Shores visitors were heading to.

The beach was full of families making the most of this long sandy beach. It was also one of the few beaches we’ve seen with surf lifesavers on duty and flags designating the safer swimming area.

While at Cape Vidal, you may like to take a snorkelling tour, where you are likely to see about 50 different varieties of fish as you are guided around the best spots.  

Experience the Best of Both Worlds: Game Drive and snorkelling Adventure

  • What’s Included: Enjoy a unique full-day tour combining a thrilling game drive in iSimangaliso Wetland Park and a snorkelling adventure at Cape Vidal. Book the Cape Vidal Full-Day Snorkeling Safari.
  • Wildlife Sightings: The safari drive through iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers chances to spot elephants, hippos, rhinos, and even leopards.
  • Snorkelling at Cape Vidal: After the safari, dive into a 2-hour snorkelling experience. Alternatively, opt for bird-watching in Cape Vidal’s Forest Dunes.
  • Additional Perks: The tour includes a light breakfast and an authentic African braai (BBQ).
  • Tour Details:
    Book this tour or to find out more here | Duration: 8 Hours | ⭐️ 5/5 Star Reviews |

Guest Review:Brilliant day, fantastic guide! Sakhile’s knowledge and passion made it superb. Highly recommend Safari and Surf for a day outing in St Lucia. Thank you!” – A TripAdvisor Reviewer

4. Explore the Rockpools or go Fishing at Mission Rocks

We were surprised by the number of cars in the Mission Rocks car park, but it is apparently a popular fishing spot and great for rock pool safaris at low tide.

It’s not a safe swimming or snorkelling area. You’ll need to go further north to Cape Vidal for that.

It was high tide when we were there, but if you scramble over the rocks after walking down the path to the beach, 500 metres north, there is a sandy stretch of beach with a sea cave full of roosting bats — aptly named Bats Caves.

The name Mission Rocks comes from a Catholic Mission station that was established in the area in 1888.

mission-rocks-isimangaliso-Wetlands - rock shore line with people fishing and carrying picnic bags
Mission Rocks — iSimangaliso Wetlands

5. Take a Guided Walking Tour in St. Lucia Eastern Shores

A drive through the Eastern Shores is all well and good, but take a guided walking tour to appreciate the smaller inhabitants.

⭐️ The tour we took with Safari and Surf Wilderness Adventures was excellent. Not only did we see and learn so much about the macro world of the iSimangaliso and its birdlife, but our guide, Sakhile Duba, taught us much about his Zulu culture and language.  

👉 Find out more here | ⏰ 2.5 hours | ⭐️ 5/5 Star Rated

You can read more about our Guided Walking Safari Tour in St. Lucia here.

If you are particularly interested in birdwatching, you can book a birdwatching tour, venturing out with your guide to look for Livingstone’s turaco, snake eagles, pink-throated twinspots, scaly-throated honeyguides, and much more.

Safari and Surf guide, Sukhile Duba with Lars on guided walking tour iSimangaliso wetlands
Our guided walking safari in iSimangaliso Wetlands, St. Lucia

6. Take a Safari Tour to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

The 960 square kilometres of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, established in 1895, is Africa’s oldest game reserve. It was famous for its Save the Rhino campaign, and over its time, it has relocated more than 4000 rhinos back into the wild.

There are three gates for the park entrance.

  1. Cengeni Gate (on the south side and accessed via Nongoma
  2. Nyalazi Gate (on the south side via Mtubatuba town
  3. Memorial Gate (on the north side via Hluhluwe)

Game Park Opening Times:

  • Winter: Open 6:00 am, Close 5.00 pm
  • Summer: Open 5.00 am Close 6:00 pm
  • I.D. or Drivers Licence Required at Gate

🦏 To book a tour or find out more about it – click here |⭐️ 4.8/5 star review | ⏰ 8.5 hours |

7. Take a Turtle Spotting Tour

Note that you will only be able to do these tours if you are visiting iSimangaliso from mid-November to February.

Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles start coming ashore from about mid-November each year to lay their eggs. Female Turtles will mate every 2 to 3 years and lay their eggs up to 9 times during one season. The eggs then hatch between 55 and 75 days later.

The Leatherback turtles are the largest in the world, growing up to 2.7 metres long, and the only turtle that doesn’t have a hard outer shell.

Female Turtles will mate every 2 to 3 years and lay their eggs up to 9 times during one season. The eggs then hatch between 55 and 75 days later.

⭐️ We recommend contacting Safari & Surf to arrange a Turtle Tour

8. Visit the Crocodile Centre, St. Lucia

The combination of flooding and the ever-changing nature of the estuarine environment in the wetlands has meant that over recent years, the crocodile population in iSimangaliso has declined.

The lakes have become saltier, forcing the freshwater crocodiles to find alternative places to hang out. Therefore, the best chance to see and learn more about crocodiles is at the Crocodile Centre in St. Lucia.

We didn’t visit, as coming from Australia, we already have seen and know quite a bit about crocodiles, and we heard mixed reviews about the centre. Some said it was quite run down, while others enjoyed seeing the crocodiles and learning about them.

Therefore, if you want to see crocodiles up close, this might be worth a visit, but otherwise, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy in the iSimangaliso Wetlands.  

9. Visit uMkhuze Game Reserve

Another of South Africa’s oldest game parks in iSimangaliso is uMkhuze Game Reserve. 420 bird species are found here, as well as lions, buffalo, black and white rhinos, leopards, elephants, wild dogs, hyenas and cheetahs. 

There are picnic and BBQ sites for day visitors, as well as the Rhino Done-O takeaway at Mantuma – which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You can enter as a day visitor or stay over in a chalet or safari tent in the park’s Mantuma Camp.

10. Stop off at Lake Sibaya

On route to Kosi Bay from St. Lucia, we stopped for a picnic at Lake Sibaya, which is nestled behind the forested coastal dunes.

We bumped and bounced over the sand track and parked right beside the lake with only a couple of snake eagles for company.

Lake Sibaya is a RAMSAR wetland of international importance and is home to KwaZulu-Natal’s second-largest population of hippos and crocodiles. Though, while there, we didn’t see evidence of either. 

Lake Sibaya_iSimangaliso wetlands Lars stood on side of hilux 4x4 camper
Lake Sibaya, iSimangaliso Wetlands

11. Camp at Mabibi Beach or Stroll its Beautiful Shore

If you are driving between St. Lucia and Kosi Bay, stop off or even camp at Mabibi Beach.

Mabibi Beach is a remote, long, sandy beach that requires a 4×4 to access. A small entrance permit at the campsite allows you to park.

If you want to camp, there are 8 private sites, all surrounded by the subtropical forest. Each site has water and a braai/fireplace.

Leatherback and loggerhead turtles nest along here, and turtle viewing tours are available.

Nearby is the luxury Thonga Beach Resort, which has its own viewing deck for guests only on the beach.

Mabibi Beach iSimangaliso Wetlands - long sandy beach
Mabibi Beach, iSimangaliso Wetlands

12. Explore Kosi Bay

Kosi Bay, headlined the Home of the Holiday in the latest GO magazine (Dec 2022/Jan 2023), is in the northern part of iSimangaliso Wetlands, near the border of Mozambique. It is popular with fishermen and snorkelers.

Kosi Bay has 4 main lakes:

  1. Makhawulani (First Lake)
  2. Mpungwini (Second Lake)
  3. Kuhlange (Third Lake)
  4. Amanzimnyana (Fourth Lake

Kosi Bay is the northern part of iSimangaliso Wetlands, and visitors pay R72 per person per day plus R65 per car. (Note: the Rhino Card does not include admission into iSimangaliso Park.)

Around the lakes are mangrove swamps and forests of sycamore figs and raffia palms. All support a rich biodiversity of animals and birds.

In addition, humpback whales visit seasonally, and leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in October.  In February, there is a chance of seeing the hundreds of hatchlings making their treacherous journey to the sea — sadly, only a fraction will make it.

Kosi Bay Mouth is sometimes referred to as the aquarium due to the plethora of fish in its waters, and it is one of the best places in South Africa to snorkel.

Shelley walking on the sand of Kosi Bay estuary
Kosi Bay Estuary Mouth

Unless you have visited before, it isn’t the easiest place to work out how to get to the lakes or Kosi Bay Mouth. You will also need a 4×4 to get to many of the campsites — but not all, so check with the various camps or lodges before you book.

The campsites will be able to give you extra information, but note that you will need to buy a permit for the Kosi Bay Lakes.

When we visited the mouth of the Estuary at Kosi Bay, we were able to get a permit from the campsite we were staying at, but you can buy one at KZN Ezemvelo (see map) – situated at Kosi Bay Resort, on the edge of Kuhlange or Third Lake.  

Kosi Bay scenery, low trees and shrubs bordering sandy beach
Kosi Bay Estuary, iSimangaliso Wetlands
Kosi Bay Fish Kraals in the Estuary

If you’d like to explore the very best of Kosi Bay – take a tour that combines:

  • A kayak tour through the mangroves,
  • A snorkel to discover the myriad of colourful fish and
  • After learning all about the traditional fish kraals from a local Thonga fisherman, a traditional fish BBQ.

(We used Safari &Surf Wilderness Adventures and couldn’t be happier with their service)

⭐️ 🛶 Find out more or reserve the BEST OF KOSI BAY TOUR here

| ⏰ 7 hours |🐟 Fish BBQ

13. Go Snorkelling at Kosi Bay River Mouth

Kosi Bay Mouth is sometimes referred to as the aquarium due to the plethora of fish in its waters, and it’s one of the best places in South Africa to snorkel. Discover the diverse marine life like emperor angelfish, blue-barred parrotfish, and honeycomb rays.

What you can see depends on the weather and tide, but the best time to snorkel here is when clean seawater flows into the estuary at high tide.

You can take a small group tour with a local guide who takes you to the best spots to see fish and help you identify them afterwards.

🐟🐠🐟 Find out more or book this Snorkelling Adventure here  | ⏰ 2.5 hours

14. See the Traditional Fish Kraals of Kosi Bay

If you head to the River Mouth of Kosi Bay, you will see all the fish kraals laid out in the estuary.

The perfect tour to take to learn more about the Kraals and the 700-year-old tradition of the Thonga people is the Best of Kosi Bay Tour.

Along with a kayak and snorkel tour, you will learn about the workings of the kraals from a local fisherman, sample some traditional palm wine and enjoy a luscious traditional fish BBQ.  

Kosi Bay fish kraals - sticks sticking up out of the sand
Kosi Bay Fish Kraals

15. Take a Kosi Bay Mouth Kayak and birdwatching Tour

Explore the mangroves, birds and fish life in Kosi Bay Mouth Estuary on a kayak tour with a local Thonga guide.

You may see fish eagles, palm nut vultures, mangrove kingfishers and flamingos. You’ll also learn about the local Thonga culture and paddle through the traditional fish kraals.

🦩 Find out more or book this Kayak and Birding Tour HERE | ⏰ 2 hours |

16. Visit Tembe Elephant Park

Tembe Elephant Park is about an hour’s drive from Kosi Bay and worth a visit to see some of Africa’s largest Elephants in this 300 square kilometre reserve.

Elephants-at-Tembe Park
Elephants visiting one of the hides at Tembe Elephant Park
Fun in the mud

Only 15 cars are allowed into the park per day, so make sure you arrive early.

We arrived at 11.30 am, oblivious to this rule, and, after an hour’s drive to get there, were told we couldn’t enter as we were the 16th car.

It’s also worth noting that you have to have a 4×4 vehicle for entry.

We aren’t ashamed to say we pulled our trump card, saying we had come all the way from Australia to see the Tembe elephants. The guard at the gate seemed reluctant at first, but fortunately, after studying Lars’ Australian driving licence, he let us in.

We gave him a packet of colouring pens for his grandchildren as a thank you. We keep a stack of them as bargaining chips for when police blocks get tricky.

It was a ploy recommended to us by local South Africans. (Sometimes, the police may pull you up over random things and maybe expect a kickback in some form or another. A can of cold Coke is also another recommended sweetener!)

It isn’t too expensive to visit the elephant park as a visitor. It cost us 390 Rand (about $21 USD or $35 AUD).

Elephant feet in the mud at Tembe Elephant Park
Mud bath and manicure, anyone?

Throughout the park, there are one-track sandy roads, which does make it tricky if you meet someone coming in the opposite direction — and it is then that you realise why it is good that cars are limited.

Even so, we still found ourselves reversing several times and struggling to find somewhere not too bushy to haul ourselves off the road to make space for oncoming cars.

 You could spend all day traversing the many tracks in the park, but we recommend including the hides. We saw elephants at both hides we visited.

In the park, we saw lots of nyalas (a type of antelope) and even had the privilege of watching a martial eagle preen itself.  

It wasn’t until we were leaving that we encountered elephant herds on and around the road. In fact, a big tusker started up the road towards us, so we had to keep moving back to keep our distance.

Sniffing us out!

iSimangaliso Wetlands Activities: Know Before You Go

Here are a few points to note that will make visiting the area and your iSimangaliso Wetland reserve activities more enjoyable.

Vervet monkey mum and bub
Keep an eye out for the vervet monkeys – they are in and around campsites and lodgings, waiting for any opportunity to pilfer your goodies;)

Health Information for iSimangaliso Wetland Activities

The iSimangaliso area is a low-risk malaria area, but as it is a wetland, there are plenty of mozzies to keep you busy swatting. Therefore, make sure to have plenty of mosquito spray.

Wear light-coloured clothing with long sleeves and pants in the early morning and evening when the mozzies are most active.

We took a prophylactic against malaria (doxycycline), just in case. You need to start taking this two days before any possible exposure.

The water at the iSimangaliso campsites and lodges is drinkable.

iSimangaliso Park Entrance Fees

If you are wondering about the iSimangaliso wetland park prices, you will want to check out the latest tariffs here. The price varies depending on the gate that you enter and where you are driving.

Most of the lodges and campsites can be accessed without a permit, but once you drive into an area of the park, for example, on the eastern or western shores around St. Lucia Lake and the Kosi Bay Lakes or Estuary mouth, you need to pay daily for an entrance permit. 

The permit office is at KZN Ezemvelo at Third Lake, Lake Kuhlange, and the permit must be bought before you enter the park. It can be bought the day before if you want to enter the gate early. And note that you cannot buy one at the gates.

To get to Kosi Bay Mouth gate entrance from the permit office is about a 30-minute drive north. Then, from the gate to the parking place for Kosi Bay Mouth is about a further two kilometres.

  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park entrance fee 2023: It depends on which gate you enter and will exit.
  • Permit Office Opening times: 8 am – 4 pm
  • Gate Opening Times: 6 am – 6 pm

From 01.04.2024, the Rhino card will still provide free entry to all Ezemvelo Wildlife Parks except Isimangaliso Park.

The Best Time of Year to Visit iSimangaliso Wetlands

The best time of year to visit iSimangaliso Wetlands depends on your preferred ideal conditions.

For us, visiting in December, in the peak season and in the school holidays probably wasn’t the best choice. But we didn’t realise how popular the area was at the time of booking.

If you are looking for hot weather and a vibey atmosphere, this time of year may suit you. If you prefer a quieter visit, however, and the weather to have less intense heat, then May, June and July are the best months to visit.

That time of year also has less wind and fewer mosquitoes, and campsites and accommodations won’t be so booked out.

If you are visiting in the summer, remember to take precautions against mosquito bites.

Getting to iSimangaliso Wetland Park

From Durban, St. Lucia is about a 3-hour drive, and Kosi Bay is a 5-hour drive from King Shaka International Airport just north of Durban.

From Johannesburg to St. Lucia it’s about 8 hours, and to Kosi Bay, about the same.

If you are travelling from Johannesburg, the perfect halfway stop on the way to Kosi Bay or St. Lucia is at The Welveriend B&B at Piet Retief. We stayed there on the way and on the way back – great owners, beautiful gardens, and fantastic breakfast included.

Accessing iSimangaliso Park Gates

The iSimangaliso Park gates are accessible from the N2 and the R22.

  • The southernmost Park entrance is Maphelane, accessible from the Kwambonambi junction.
  • To visit the Eastern Shores and Western Shores sections (and the town of St Lucia), turn off the N2 at Mtubatuba.
  • The R22 branches off the N2 at Hluhluwe, with directions showing the way to the False Bay gate.

Further north along the R22, the D820 on the left leads to uMkhuze’s Ophansi Gate

  • To reach Sodwana Bay, Lake Sibaya and the Coastal Forest sections, the turnoff from the R22 is at Mbazwana.
  • Kosi Bay is accessed via the town of Manguzi/KwaNgwanase.

General Driving Conditions in and near iSimangaliso Wetlands

You will need your own car – and we recommend a 4×4 to make the most of your time there.

🚘 If you need to hire a vehicle, check out the best prices from Discover Cars.

Driving in South Africa requires you to have your wits about you. We found driving in Kwa-Zulu Natal that the road conditions tended to be poor, with lots of potholes.

You also need to watch out for the many speed bumps as you drive through towns. Many aren’t marked on the side of the road and the markings across the top are worn down.

On top of all that, you will likely encounter goats and cows on the road as they wander freely on the roads oblivious to the oncoming traffic.

Added to dodgy road conditions, the driving skills of many on the road aren’t of a high standard. We were regularly stunned at some of the driving antics – with one of the worst being when cars are overtaking as they have no regard for anything coming the other way!

If you are able to ask a local for the best roads to take from certain towns, do so. They will know the up-to-date situation regarding road conditions and any targeted crime areas.

Driving to Kosi Bay

On the way to Kosi Bay, you will pass through the town of Manguzi.  It is a bit of a bottleneck for traffic and is manic, with cars lining up at gas stations and market stalls on the side of the street with people meandering across the street.

It is less hectic if you drive through before 10 a.m. This is the last place to stock up on supplies or gas before you enter Kosi Bay.

Some of the campsites and lodges can be accessed with a two-wheel drive, but do check before you book. You could then walk to the lakes.

The tracks around Kosi Bay can be difficult to navigate through; there is a maze of sandy tracks, and it is easy to find yourself on the wrong track and in deep sand.

Even using both and Google Maps, we still managed to take the wrong track a few times!

St. Lucia: Where to Stay

St. Lucia in the southern part of the wetlands, is a popular tourist destination with various chalets and rental accommodations available.

🏕️ Camping in St.Lucia

St.Lucia’s main campsite, where we stayed, is Sugarloaf Campsite. It has many sites but gets booked out very early for peak season. 

🏡 Guest Houses and Lodges in St.Lucia

If you aren’t camping, then the following guest houses and lodges have excellent reviews.

African Ambience Guest House B&B

  • Rating: 9.7 for a two-person trip
  • Features: Outdoor pool, free wifi, close to the beach, private amenities, bar, BBQ, breakfast included, free parking
  • Guest Reviews:Everything was high quality” – Richard, UK | Peaceful, quiet, lovely breakfast… will definitely be back“- Barry, South Africa

St Lucia Lodge

  • Location Rating: 9.6 for a two-person trip.
  • Features: Overlooks St. Lucia Estuary, nestled within a lush tropical garden, self-catering studio with fully equipped kitchen, private bathroom, free wifi and parking.
  • Guest Reviews:Spotless cottage, well-maintained garden” – Sarah, Germany | “Beautiful piece of paradise, outstanding service” – Stuart, South Africa.

Parker’s Cottages

  • Location Rating: 9.2 for a two-person trip.
  • Features: Outdoor swimming pool, air-conditioning, private bathroom with free toiletries, various breakfast options, tea/coffee maker in all rooms, bar.
  • Guest Reviews:Comfortable room, really good breakfast” – Yurifrey, Italy,

Kosi Bay: Where to Stay

We ended up staying in two very different campsites at Kosi Bay, Casitas and Zlondi.

🏕️ Camping at Kosi Bay

Kosi Bay Casitas

  • Our Experience: Busy during peak season with a festive atmosphere. Avoid over the holiday period if looking for a quiet camp. This camp was very popular. Unfortunately, as we were visiting in one of the busiest times of the year, the camp was full of holidaymakers, and with it also being the Christmas period – everyone was in the party mood.
    Therefore, it wasn’t the quietest camp for us to have chosen! As early risers, we go to bed early, and this camp just didn’t suit us. If you enjoy the holiday/party vibe, however, this would be a great place to camp.
    I would imagine it to be much quieter in the off-peak season.
  • Rating: 8.2 by Couples
  • Features: Swimming pool and restaurant on-site, close to 3rd Lake (Lake Nhlange), 14 camp stands and nine chalets

Zilondi Bush Camp

Zilonde Camp lookout deck
  • Our Experience: Suitable for those who prefer a quieter bush camping experience. This camp was rustic, with campsites spaced well apart and suited to those who prefer bush camping.

    Saying that, though, there were still all the normal ablutions, with water and electricity available, as well as a small swimming pool and viewing deck overlooking Zilondi Lake.  

  • Features: Rustic bush camping, normal ablutions, water, electricity, swimming pool, viewing deck overlooking Zilondi Lake

🏡 Guest Houses and Lodges in Kosi Bay

Kosi Bay Resort

  • Rating: 8.4 by Couples
  • Features: Short walk from Kosi Lake, kitchen amenities, buffet breakfast, swimming pool, BBQ facilities, restaurant, sun terrace, garden
  • Guest Reviews:Super helpful and attentive staff, spacious rooms” – Van, UAE | “Heaven on Earth, friendly staff” – Gaby, South Africa

Chinderera Eco Lodge

  • Rating: 8.9 by Couples
  • Features: Free parking, timber-framed & solar-powered, various breakfast options
  • Guest Reviews:Wonderful accommodation, hosts, and food” – Marie, Germany | “Beautifully built lodge, divine cuisine” – Carin, South Africa | “Hidden place in forest, outstanding hosts” – Arnold, Netherlands

Frequently Asked Questions about iSimangaliso Wetland Park

1. What is the best time of year to visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park?

The park can be visited year-round, but wildlife sightings are often best during the drier months from May to September. Turtle spotting tours are available from mid-November to February.

2. Are there any guided tours available in the park?

Various guided tours are available, including walking safaris, snorkelling adventures, and kayak tours.

3. Is iSimangaliso suitable for family trips?

Absolutely! iSimangaliso offers a range of family-friendly activities, from beach outings to wildlife safaris.

4. Do I need a 4×4 vehicle to explore the park?

While some areas are accessible by regular vehicles, a 4×4 is recommended for certain parts of the park.

5. Are there any accommodation options within the park?

Yes, various accommodation options range from luxury lodges to camping sites within the park.

6. What wildlife can I expect to see in iSimangaliso?

The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including the Big Five, hippos, crocodiles, and a variety of bird species.

7. Do I need to be aware of any safety guidelines while visiting?

It’s important to follow park rules and guidelines while visiting Isimangoliso Wetlands, especially regarding wildlife interactions. It’s advisable to keep a safe distance from animals and not to feed them.

Activities to do at iSimangaliso Wetland Park … That’s a Wrap

There are plenty of things to do at iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and this information will make planning your iSimanagliso activities much easier and hassle-free.

If you have any questions, drop us a line or leave a comment, and we’ll do our best to help or direct you to someone local who can.

We’d love to hear from readers who have visited the area – send us your pics and let us know your favourite part of the wetlands.

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Shelley, a former primary school teacher with a law degree, and her husband Lars co-own Lifejourney4two. Their adventure began in Perth, Australia, and has since taken them through Europe and Africa in motorhomes and bush campers. Shelley's travel guides combine practical advice with engaging stories, mirroring their shift from 'One Day' to 'Day One'. Together, they aim to inspire others to embark on their own travel dreams.

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