Isimangaliso & Coastal Maputaland

Swimming, diving & turtle-tracking on the glorious beaches of northern KwaZulu Natal.

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The glorious coastline of northern KwaZulu Natal can be divided into two areas: Coastal Maputaland in the far north and the Isimangaliso wetlands around St Lucia. These are quite discrete so that it’s worth visiting both if you have the time.

Why visit Coastal Maputaland?

  • Pristine unspoilt coastline with vast empty beaches
  • Turtle-tracking from November to February
  • Whale watching from July to November
  • Game-viewing in the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park
  • Boat cruises on St Lucia wetlands in search of hippos and crocs
  • Excellent snorkeling & diving in the Maputaland Marine Reserve
  • PADI dive courses on offer at Thonga & Rocktail Bay
  • Sunset cruises on Lake Sibaya

Coastal Maputaland

Coastal Maputaland, north of Sodwana Bay, is a magical area, untouched by large-scale tourism development. It is one of our favourite parts of South Africa. The Maputaland Marine Reserve stretches 200 km north from Lake St Lucia to Kosi Bay near the Mozambique border. Within this marine reserve is the Kosi Forest Coastal Reserve. It is an unspoilt wilderness region of pristine golden beaches backed by forested dunes and captivating freshwater lakes.

Coastal Maputaland is also a mecca for keen divers. Spectacular coral formations and a number of magnificent reefs teeming with tropical fish are on offer. We offer two Maputaland beach lodges; Thonga Beach Lodge and Rocktail Beach Camp. There is also an eco-lodge, Kosi Forest Lodge, which lies slightly inland on the lakes.

These intimate Maputaland beach lodges practice sustainable tourism with significant local community involvement. Their activities mostly revolve around the ocean and the lakeland system. Think snorkelling, diving and canoeing on the lakes.   Furthermore, the awe-inspiring evening excursions in the summer to view the rare giant leatherback turtles as they lay and hatch their eggs (available from November to February). From July to November you may also be lucky to see the magnificent Southern Right whales as they come into the bays to breed.

The unspoiled nature of Maputaland is because it is so remote. This means that access is a little tricky. The easiest way to visit is to add a few days of beach time on to a safari. Private game lodges such as Phinda or Thanda are beautiful options. You can drive a rental car to the lodges’ collection point and then take a 4×4 transfer to the lodge. Road transfers are also available. You can also fly direct from the Kruger to Coastal Maputaland by light charter flight. This is not a cheap option but saves much on travelling time, and it is a very scenic flight.

TIP: Consider the Maputaland beach lodges as an alternative to Mozambique if you want a safari & beach holiday within South Africa.

St Lucia & Isimangaliso Wetlands Park

Just south of the Hluhluwe Game Reserve lies the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. A World Heritage site, it offers excellent game viewing, snorkeling at Cape Vidal and boat cruises on Lake St Lucia. This is one of the few natural places where you can enjoy a beach, safari and lake experience – all in one day!

Centered around Lake St Lucia, the Park offers a mix of lake, lagoon, marshland, papyrus swamp, sand forest and grassland. The wetlands are separated from the ocean by coastal dunes which tower 120 meters above the beaches.  It is home to an estimated 1,500 crocodile and 700 hippos, great flocks of pelicans and flamingos and many other water birds.

You can take a self-guided or guided game drive in the park. Furthermore, spend some hours at the beautiful Cape Vidal beach. The marine habitat is the route used by humpback whales on their northerly migration to Mozambique to calve. In November and December the loggerheads and leatherback turtles come onto the beach to lay eggs.  iSimangaliso also offers surprisingly good general game viewing.

It is also easy to visit Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve as it’s only about 40 minutes drive from St Lucia. St Lucia is an easy 2½ hours drive from Durban airport.