28 Feb 2017
Recognised by the former President Nelson Mandela as one of our most ecologically significant natural areas, iSimangaliso Wetland Park should be high on the to-do list of every visitor to South Africa.
In 1999, when the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was declared South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the immense ecological diversity of the area by saying, “This must be the only place in the world where the oldest land mammal (rhinoceros) and the biggest terrestrial mammal (elephant) share an ecosystem with the oldest fish (coelacanth) and the biggest marine mammal (whale).”
Situated 275 kilometres north of Durban, on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, the 332 000-hectare park comprises three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems and most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests.
And that’s just on terra firma. If the forested dunes, wetlands, woodlands and soft beaches weren’t already enough, neighbouring Maputaland Marine Reserve offers exceptional diving with exotic fish, dolphins and whales.
We couldn’t have found a better place to take in all of this natural splendour than Rocktail Beach Camp. Shaded by the coastal forest covering large sections of the reserve, the eco-camp consists of 17 tented suites connected via pathways which meander through dense forest, where antelope and swarms of butterflies stopped us in our tracks at regular intervals.
Our suite is perched right above the beach and well-spaced from any others for maximum privacy. Its organic design naturally complimented the lush surroundings. The spacious shower comes complete with a dramatic view of the forest. Away from the comfort of our room, the camp has a large communal space with dining area, bar, lounge and wrap-around viewing deck for chilling out or interacting with other guests. There’s even a wine cellar you can visit to pick out your choice of vino for that special occasion and visiting parents will be glad that there’s a playroom for children.
Three massive palm umbrellas offer plenty shade on the private beach, while the rolling waves and calls of indigenous birds provide the ambience. On days that we’re too lazy to make the short walk down to the sea, the camp’s sapphire swimming pool, surrounded by comfy deck chairs and a hammock, is our waterside sanctuary.
All meals at the Camp are enjoyed al fresco, most often with curious vervet monkeys as an audience. Don’t say you haven’t been warned! The lunch menu included, among other treats, pizzas with your choice of toppings, sandwiches and wraps. Dinner was usually a buffet-style affair, with our pick of anything from lamb chops and green chicken curry to vegetable bake and fresh fish.
Some activities available at the Camp include scuba diving, snorkelling, quad biking and outings to Lake Sibaya, Black Rock and Gugulesizwe Cultural Village. But most popular – and our personal favourite – were the guided night drives along the beach, where we scouted for turtles who make their annual pilgrimage to this protected coastline.
Between October and March each year, hundreds of loggerhead and leatherback turtles complete their breeding cycle when they emerge from the Indian Ocean and heave their way up the beach to lay their eggs (unbelievably, on exactly the same piece of coastline where they themselves were born).
Second best to gawking at turtles, is exploring the unspoilt reefs of the marine reserve. Without sharing with you impressive list of sea life you might encounter, let me just say that the Camp’s exclusive access to dive sites means the scuba diving in these clear waters is some of the best in the world. But even while knee-deep snorkelling, you’re just as likely to spot a colourful bouquet of sea life.
Discover Rocktail Bay – one of the most pristine coastal areas in South Africa – and not only will you take home happy memories of carefree seaside living but you will be supporting an operator in Wilderness Safaris which is heavily invested in the conservation of South Africa’s natural areas.