The iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site has a variety of accommodation options within the protected area, from luxury catered resorts to self-catering and camping. Even in tighter economic times, one often just wants a short, peaceful break in the wild. For those seeking a simple retreat in a glorious setting, camping can be just the ticket.
Camp sites, mostly managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, are offered at several of the Park’s ‘Jewels’: Kosi Bay at Lake Nhlange, Sodwana Bay, Mabibi, False Bay, uMkhuze, Cape Vidal and St Lucia Estuary (Maphelane also has camp sites but the resort is currently closed). These sites are generally in some of the most scenic areas, offering an affordable way to spend some time in nature.
For seaside bliss, Cape Vidal (above) is regularly voted as one of the country’s top camping areas, with good reason. The sites are clearly demarcated with water and electricity points, plus neat ablutions. Tucked behind the soaring vegetated dunes under huge trees, the sites are protected from wind and even in bad weather, a day at Vidal beats a day in any office. And if that was not reason enough to visit, the resort is also situated within the big game section of the Eastern Shores section, and the beach is a nesting site for endangered sea turtles. Snorkelling and swimming in the small bay area are highly popular at this family-friendly resort.
Above: Kosi Bay’s sites are positioned in a tranquil lee alongside Lake Nhlange (Third Lake) and are grassed, mostly shaded and have neat communal ablution blocks. Although they are far from the beach in terms of road access, if one has a boat you can cross the Lake to park at Bhanga Nek, where a short walk takes you to a lonely, beautiful stretch of beach.
Above: Mabibi camp site is a true hidden gem, behind the crest of a steep vegetated dune close to Lake Sibaya. Here you will find nine sites with a decent communal ablution facility, as well as three permanent tented chalets. The latter are probably the best affordable accommodation deal in the whole Park, offering exactly the right amount of comfort for a great beach holiday – electricity, (non-potable) water, own bathrooms and fully equipped kitchenette as well as a private braai area. The site is run by the local Mabibi community under the management of Isibindi Africa, who own the luxury Thonga Beach Lodge nearby. Access to the beach is by way of 138 steps but the trek is so worth it for an endless stretch of beach and excellent low tide snorkelling.
Above: False Bay, which closed down many years ago due to persistent drought, is open for camping once again but not many seem to have re-discovered this. False Bay is all about birding, walking and cycling in a special pocket of incredibly biodiverse sand forest. Camp sites are located along the shores of the widest point of Lake St Lucia with wide open vistas and a whole lot of peace and quiet.
Above: Sodwana Bay has hundreds of camp sites – in its heyday these were immensely popular but in recent years, the number in use is much smaller. It is still the cheapest way to spend time close to the beach access at this outstanding scuba diving destination, but if a touch more comfort is desired then look at the nearby Coral Divers accommodation chalets that are currently undergoing super attractive upgrades.
For a bush option, you cannot beat the uMkhuze campsite near the eMshophi Gate. There are scant few places where one can camp in a big five reserve (the camping area is fenced though) and recent improvements to the ablutions make these much more user-friendly. The site may still be fairly rustic – electricity is only run part time on a generator and water is often restricted or even non-existent, especially in winter – but there is a pool and its position in the natural lee of a cliff has made it a firm favourite among regular fans. After all, when you can watch elephants from your tent ‘stoep’ and hear roaring lions at night, a little rusticity is really worthwhile!
Currently the southernmost accessible site in iSimangaliso is Sugarloaf near the Lake St Lucia Estuary mouth (above). This large facility has 95 electrified sites, yet it never feels overcrowded even when full (December holidays) thanks to its enormous shady trees and vegetation screening off smaller sites. The big attraction is the large swimming pool, plus a walk of only a few hundred metres to the Estuary beach along the boardwalk. Any overflow bookings are redirected to the Eden Park camp site closer to town (20 sites), but guests staying there may use the facilities at Sugarloaf.
As with all things, preparation is key, so before planning a camping trip check ahead on issues such as water availability and facilities. With the right equipment and attitude, the camp sites of iSimangaliso offer some of the best value in beautiful off-the-grid places.
Visit www.isimangaliso.com for details of iSimangaliso’s camping and other accommodation options.
The iSimangaliso Authority produces 20 news flashes a year on issues of interest or importance to stakeholders and visitors. These can be received by email, or found on the website www.isimangaliso.com, together with other relevant Park information.
Media enquiries should be directed to Debbie Cooper at email@example.com.