If you have ever ventured North of KwaZulu-Natal you will know that a very special place awaits, where there is magic and mystery, where nature proudly shows off what it has to offer and the people are ever-ready to show off the true beauty of their lands. Previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, it is in Northern KwaZulu-Natal where you will find the now named iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It is South Africa’s third-largest protected area, spanning 280km of pure coastline from the Mozambican border in the north all the way to Mapelane south of the Lake St. Lucia estuary. It is within this world proclaimed wetland park that 3280km2 of natural ecosystems lie.
We recently visited the area and had the opportunity to spend some time with Thandi Shabalala, a tourism information coordinator for the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority. It was during our time spent with her that the idea for this blog article was born in that we found her lesson so interesting; how iSimangaliso got its name. When the area was occupied by the Tsonga people, this area was known as Temebland or Thongaland. The Tugela River mouth was named ‘St Lucia’ by a Portuguese explorer in the 1500’s, but ‘iSimangaliso’? What is in this name?
The renaming of this World Heritage Site took place in November 2007, and the name iSimangaliso was derived from a story of the once powerful King of the Zulu people – Shaka Zulu. When King Shaka was assassinated in 1828, his most trusted and loyal servant, known as ‘Jeqe’ unfortunately feared that he was to experience a similar fate. It was for this reason that he fled Zululand and on his journey, he discovered the magical land of the Tsonga people. Upon arrival he was said to be awestruck, proclaiming ‘I saw wonders and miracles in the flat land and lakes of Thonga’. This is why the word ‘iSimangaliso’, meaning ‘miracle and wonder’ was rightfully chosen as the name of this incredible region in KwaZulu-Natal.
This site as declared South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1999 in recognition of its spectacular natural and unique values and beauty, as well as its rich biological wealth. From game reserves where one can witness the Big 5, to paddling through crystal waters in Kosi Bay, to a once-in-a-lifetime underwater snorkeling experience in Sodwana Bay or Cape Vidal to witnessing hippo’s and crocodiles in their most natural habitat on the St Lucia Estuary. There is no other place like iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the area that has proven its every bit as fascinating and captivating as its name suggests.