By Fiona Wakelin


With the travel ban at the end of 2021, many end of year holiday plans changed to staycations –  which gave us a chance to experience the stunning natural beauty which is South Africa. Here are 4 of our wetland wonderlands…



KwaZulu -Natal

 On 1 December 1999 the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park – now known as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – was declared South Africa’s first Natural World Heritage Site.  “iSimangaliso” means “miracles’ and this, South Africa’s third largest park, stretches from Mapelane (Cape St. Lucia) in the South, to Kosi Bay Nature Reserve in the North.

A Ramsar site is a wetland which is considered to be of international importance; South Africa currently has 27 Ramsar sites and iSimangaliso contains four of them: 

Turtle Beaches/Coral Reefs of Tongaland (Ramsar Site # 344)

St. Lucia Lake System (Ramsar Site # 345) 

Kosi Bay Lake System (Ramsar Site #527)

Lake Sibaya (Ramsar Site # 528)

The Park comprises 8 interlinking ecosystems with a 220 km coastline and ancient, 25 000-year-old coastal forests. The interlinking ecosystems of grasslands, swamps, lakes, beaches, coral reefs, woodlands, wetlands, and coastal forests, results in a myriad of flora and fauna which people travel from all over the world to enjoy. These include hippopotami, elephant, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, hyena and water buck on land – and Nile crocodiles, whales, dolphins, turtles and a plethora of fish species in the water. It is also a bird watchers’ haven with over 520 bird species to tweet home about. Lake St Lucia is one of the most important breeding areas for water birds in South Africa 

The six settlements in the Park are in the Kosi Bay Coastal Forest Reserve and management at the provincial level is by KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation, working with the provincial administration in accordance with national and provincial legislation. The Park is also protected by the World Heritage Convention Act, 1999.



Western Cape

De Mond is 954-hectare coastal nature reserve which lies at the mouth of the Heuningnes River on the south-western Cape coast, between the seaside villages of Arniston and Struisbaai. It is a sanctuary for marine life and seabirds, and its coastal vegetation ranges from dune milkwood forests to salt marshes teeming with life.

The reserve’s 954 hectares include former sections of Zoetendals Vallei and Bushy Park farms. De Mond was established as a nature reserve in 1986 and supports several species of small mammals such as grysbok, steenbok and grey duiker. It has a rich and varied birdlife, making it popular among bird enthusiasts. De Mond plays a particularly important role in the protection of breeding colonies of the threatened Damara and Caspian terns. 

You can enjoy a peaceful picnic under shady trees along the banks of the river, or explore the reserve on one of the beautiful hiking trails. The 7km Sterna Trail, for example, winds through riverine vegetation, dune forest and stabilised dunes before following the coast to the river mouth and saltmarshes. Fishing enthusiasts can enjoy De Mond’s prime freshwater and marine angling spots.

How to get there:

From Cape Town, take the N2 to Caledon, before turning off onto the R316 to Bredasdorp. From Bredasdorp, the reserve can be approached from either the R319 to Struisbaai, or the R316 to Arniston. De Mond is approximately 200km from Cape Town. – Cape Nature




The Makuleke Contractual Park in the northern region of the Kruger National Park is the result of a ground-breaking land claim agreement between the Makuleke people

and the South African National Parks Board in 1998. The “triangle” is a wedge of land created by the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers at the tri-point Crook’s Corner, which forms a border with South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique along the Limpopo River.

The Makuleke Wetlands received its Ramsar status as Wetlands of International Importance on 22 May 2007. It was the first Ramsar site owned and co-managed by a community – not only in South Africa, but worldwide. The wetlands are an excellent example of a floodplain wetland type. Prominent features include riverine forests, riparian floodplain forests, floodplain grasslands, river channels and flood pans. Flood pans are depressions in the floodplains which are intermittently filled from floods and rains – they are of great importance in this ecosystem as they hold water right into the dry season, acting as a refuge point for wildlife and water birds during both winter and summer months. The floodplains reduce flood damage in downstream areas of Mozambique, are important for groundwater recharge, and maintain riparian and floodplain vegetation.  – Saramsar




The Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve is an internationally recognised wetland reserve with amazing biological diversity. It is part of the Highlands Meander and visitors often stay over at nearby Dullstroom, a charming small town which is en route to Kruger National Park.

This 6 000-hectare grassland reserve is an interlinked series of over 30 wetlands which are home to significant birds, including red data species. It is one of the few places in the country to breed all three of the world’s endangered cranes and is also home to 55 different species of orchids which flower at different times from September to the end of April. Plan ahead of time, however: because it’s a closed reserve, an appointment has to be made to visit the reserve and visitors must be accompanied by a guide.



Cape Nature



Sowetan live