Photo Credit: Edwin
The Elephantcoast is rapidly becoming one of South Africa's top destinations.
No wonder, considering the bigest part of this region is South AfricaÃ¢??s first Natural World Heritage Site, known as The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park.
This was done on the 01 December 1999, by UNESCO protocol and created the most ecologically and historically diverse Parks in Southern Africa. Besides its breathtaking beauty, it is also home to a number of Nguni tribes. Traditionally the park has been zoned into five ecosystems, however they are so intertwined that it takes several days to understand this incredible labyrinth of nature, history and culture.
Situated on the Southern extension of the African Coastline, it is warmed by the Western Indian Ocean Watersand a massive tropical current, seductively baths the sandy shores. These waters are kept unusually warm by the Agullas current, a current seasonally driven by strong Madagascar winds. The water temperature reaches a comfortable 31 degrees Celsius. These waters are home to tropical reefs, graced by hundreds of fish species, turtles, dolphins all year and a large migratory population of whales in winter.
These warm tropical water tidally rise and fall onto mineral rich beaches. These minerals having a greater value than gold, creating a unique Ã¢??sense of placeÃ¢??. And these restless sands have formed massive mineral rich dunes, towering over the ancestral nesting beaches of the Worlds largest reptile, the leatherback turtle. The dunes are capped by a tropical forest which provides homes to a variety of tropical frogs, insects, reptiles, birds, buck and apes. Zulu explorations, secret Zulu burial grounds, slave and trading routes and even European explorations, are hidden in this Coastal Dune Forest.
The ancient east facing trees, watch the sun rising over the Indian Ocean and weather the salty spray. The west facing trees reach skywards and form a massive jungle, paradise filled with calling frogs, insects, birds, small antelope, elusive leopard and apes. Many roads and guided hiking trails lead visitors through this diverse three canopy forest. This west facing forest boarders a massive coastal grassland, that reaches all the way up the east coast of Africa to Ethiopia.
These grasslands are home to a variety of small and large mammals, the grassland once afforested with Pine trees, is being restored to their original pristine condition. However these grasslands are a complex gridwork of water tables, which include the deepest peat swamp in the Southern hemisphere, sacred Zulu burial lakes, networked with tannin rich freshwater streams, and acres of verdant grassland covering ancient marine deposits. These marine deposits of sand where formed as the sea retreated thousands of years ago.
But it is not only the large mammals that attract visitors, these sandy tropical grasslands are home to some unique reptiles and birds. And some interesting nocturnal activity. After dark some 1300 hippo emerge from Lake St. Lucia to eat tonnes of grass from the coastal plains. By day they can be seen wallowing in the warm lake waters and at night lumbering across the darkened landscape in a quest to fill their enormous herbivorous appetites. During the day they share the waters of Lake St. Lucia with over 2000 crocodiles, tens of thousands of fish, birds and invertebrates. But it is the hippo that are the driving force in this saline lake ecosystem. Daily, they release tonnes of droppings into the lake. These dropping fertilize the warm tropical saline lake waters, creating AfricaÃ¢??s most important fish and prawn nursery ground. Hence the thousands of birds, crocodiles and humans attracted to this lake.
This lake is linked to the Indian Ocean by a canal known as the Narrows and is fed by five Rivers. Thus keeping a general salt balance in the lakeÃ¢??s eco-system. The largest northern river, is the Mkuze River. This river filters through a massive delta created at the most northern end of the lake. and comprises of a complex of small and large channels filtering through a variety of reed beds. All the rivers reaching into this park arise in the last of the five ecosystems - Savannah. Here the Western shores are made up of minerally rich soils and are home to a typical Big Five ecosystem.
So from the Southern end of the Park, characterized by the westernised Village of St. Lucia to the northern end, characterized by Kosi Bay home to a totally organic fishing community, is the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. A park filled with a microcosm of culture, ecosystems and people to create this incredible Macrocosm of diversity, bath in the African Sun.
To be continued!
Text: Kian 'Shaka'Barker - Registered South African Tour Guide - www.shakabarker.co.za.
Published in cooperation whith Edwin Spiessens - www.amazululodge.com