South Africa’s Elephant Coast covers Kwazulu-Natal’s far northern coastline between St. Lucia to the south and the border with Mozambique to the north. It also includes some of the country’s best eco-tourism highlights and remains one of the least developed stretches of coast in South Africa. With so much untouched land, it’s naturally a great place for exploring. From whale watching by the ocean to going on a horseback safari, here are 15 things to do along South Africa’s Elephant Coast.
1. iSimangaliso Wetland Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and a series of lakes. Itt protects five different eco-systems and is also home to Africa’s largest estuary, Lake St Lucia, pictured above.
2. Tembe Elephant Park
South Africa’s last free-range elephants are protected in the dry sandy coastal belt and forests of the Tembe Elephant Park, which is right on the border with Mozambique (the elephants go back and forth). Around 230 elephants live in this park and are the only indigenous elephants remaining in KZN (other elephants have been transported to the parks). These are also the largest elephants in the world.
3. Ndumo Game Reserve
The Ndumo Game Reserve is also on the border with Mozambique, and located just west of Tembe. It is home to the endangered black rhino as well as white rhinos and hippos.
4. Whale Watching
Back in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, one of the highlights of a visit is a whale watching eco-tour. Between June and September, you can head out in a boat in the Indian Ocean with Advantage Tours to look for whales, dolphins and other creatures from the sea. There’s also a good chance of spotting whales during the winter months.
5. Horseback Safari
Another highlight of a trip to iSimangaliso is to do a horseback riding safari with Bhangazi Horse Safaris. You can organize an hour-long ride along the beach or in the reserve, but the real specialty trip is a week-long safari. During the safari, you stay in tents and spend the days on horseback looking for wildlife in the Eastern Shores portion of the park.
6. Kayak Safari
You can also explore the wetlands from a kayak with St Lucia Kayak Safaris, which offers full-day trips that include lunch and a stop for snorkeling at Cape Vidal.
7. Sodwana Bay
Sandwiched between lush green forests on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, Sodwana Bay is a stunningly beautiful site and makes for a great selfie background. But beyond the photo-op, there are opportunities for fun activities including guided walking and birding trails. You’ll also have the opportunity to see sea turtles.
8. Scuba or Snorkel Sodwana Bay
The activity Sodwana Bay is most famous for is scuba diving (although you can also snorkel). The marine life and seascape under the water makes this one of South Africa’s most popular dive spots — Africa’s southernmost coral reefs are found here. You may even see whale sharks like the person above did.
9. Lake Sibaya
South Africa’s largest freshwater lake covers about 60-square-kilometers and is home to more than 280 species of birds, as well as hippos and crocodiles. Canoe trips on the lake make a fun way to explore and are easy to organize.
10. Coastal Forest
It takes some effort to get to the pristine and magical Coastal Forest, which is accessed from a sandy coastal road between Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay to the north. You’ll need 4WD to explore this remote and gorgeous region where the trees meet the sand and sea.
11. Kosi Bay
At the far northern edge of iSimangaliso is Kosi Bay, which boasts some of South Africa’s most beautiful and uncrowded white sand beaches. It’s also the only place in South Africa where five mangrove species are found in one spot.
12. uMkhuze Game Reserve
The uMkhuze Game Reserve is home to more than 400 species of birds as well as most of the other major African animals, except for big cats.
13. Phinda Private Game Reserve
To see lions and the rest of the Big Five, you’ll need to head to the Phinda Private Game Reserve, run by luxury outfitter &Beyond. It’s located just north of St Lucia and is an eco-tourism masterpiece with seven different habitats found here. It’s definitely the place to go if you want to splurge in KwaZulu-Natal.
14. St. Lucia Village
Just outside the park boundaries, St Lucia village is a good place to base yourself when exploring the southern sections of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. You’ll find a lot of restaurants, hostels and guesthouses in town to spend your time — just be warned, hippos sometimes like to wander around town, too.
15. KZN Crocodile Centre
If you’re traveling with kids, they may enjoy a visit to the KZN Crocodile Center, which is less than a mile north of St. Lucia and features crocodiles of all ages and sizes.
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