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Coastal Forest

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11km from Mbazwana

-27.2252, 32.7845


+27 35 590 1633


The Coastal Forest Reserve in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park harks back to an era before the Elephant Coast was so extensively developed. New visitors to this area may scoff at this comment, because by comparison to the KZN North and South Coast regions, the Elephant Coast is still very rural.

But old timers will remember the sand tracks that led to Sodwana Bay and how you either got stuck in deep sand ruts or wrote off your car’s shock absorbers when finally relaxing on what looked like a pretty smooth stretch of dirt road. The road over Jozini, which is now beautifully paved, was a “short cut” for visitors from the north, but was only taken by the brave or the foolhardy - depending on your point of view.

Nobody begrudges local residents the benefits of development. Surely the aforementioned sand tracks are far less romantic if you have to struggle to make your way school, or the shops on a daily basis. But it is also true that a bit of romance was lost in the process. Sodwana will just not be quite the same now that you can race up to its front gate in a low slung family saloon car.

But the Coastal Forest Reserve is a small corner in this neck of the woods that has been preserved in a relatively “wild” state. It runs from Mabibi (just north of Sodwana Bay) in a thin coastal strip through to Black Rock, and takes in Island Rock (Manzengwenya), Lala Neck and Rocktail Bay along the way. 

Please don’t confuse Rocktail Bay with Wilderness Safaris’ Rocktail Beach Camp.  The latter is actually at Island Rock.  After this, although not technically part of the Coastal Forest Reserve, the road continues to hug the shoreline on the inland side of the dunes and continues on to Bhanga Neck, which is located on a thin slice of land between Kosi’s large third lake and the ocean.

You have to have a 4x4 vehicle to enter the park (park regulations), but the driving is not challenging.  

Of course, you can make it so by forgetting to deflate your tires for the sand tracks.  Because the nearest filling station is at least an hour away once you head for home again, it is probably advisable to take along a little pump to reflate your tires when you leave the reserve.

Seclusion in the park is almost guaranteed by the fact that the accommodation options are so limited.  At the luxury end of the spectrum are Rocktail Beach Camp (Island Rock) and Thonga Beach Lodge (Mabibi).  At the other end of the spectrum there are campsites at Mabibi and Bhanga Neck - with no alternatives in between. The closest Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife facilities are at Kosi Bay, a good one and a half hour drive from Black Rock.  Despite this, it is still a viable option, because the drive is as much part of the experience as is getting to the beach.

Snorkelling is good at Mabibi and Lala Neck – aim for low tide in both instances.  Fishing is good at Black Rock and Lala Neck.  Scuba Diving is great, particularly given the limited pressure on the reefs, but must be arranged through one of the two lodges who have exclusive launching rights.

Permits are required to enter the reserve, and can be bought (or received for free if you hold a Rhino card) from the offices at Kosi Bay (+27 35 592 0235) or Manzengwenya (+27 35 574 8998).  Access is controlled at Manzengwenya, where the gate hours are 6am to 6pm.  Access from the north is not controlled, but you still need a permit.  Permits are also required to enter Black Rock, and are limited to about ten vehicles per day.

Elephant Coast

KwaZulu Natal


On the eastern seaboard of South Africa, the wild country of the Elephant Coast presses up against the Indian Ocean in the east, Mozambique in the north and Zululand to the south and west. Here, the bright lights of the city are nowhere to be seen, replaced by night skies as unpolluted as nature created them.

The area was named for the elephants that once roamed here in great numbers, hunted for their tusks until they had all but disappeared. Luckily this has been turned around and elephants can once again be seen in many of the region’s game reserves, along with the rest of the Big 5.

Made up of extensive commercial farms, private game farms and government game reserves, the Elephant Coast is still relatively untouched by modernity. It incorporates vast expanses of wilderness, including an internationally renowned World Heritage Site, the 328000ha Isimangaliso Wetland Park. It is also home to Africa’s oldest game reserve, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, founded in 1895.

The area is a must-visit for ecologically minded tourists; there is far more to see than just the two flagship reserves. Fortunate tourists can see the Big 5, scuba dive with whale sharks or manta rays, watch turtles laying their eggs, fish for tigerfish, and ride horses on the beach or through the bush. It’s a region that is rich in diversity.

Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Reserve are both on the border with Mozambique and offer unique experiences for twitchers and pachyderm fans.

Tembe now boasts herds of elephants that are noted for their impressive tusks, and it’s one of the better places in South Africa to get good sightings and photographs of these animals.

Ndumo is best known for its birding. Species such as the narina trogon, palm-nut vulture and green twinspot can be seen in the forests of figs and other beautiful trees. Healthy populations of hippo and crocodile lurk in the pans and rivers.

KosiBay, a reserve protecting a series of shallow coastal lakes and all that lives in and around them, offers excellent fishing. There are also fascinating cultural and wildlife walks and birding opportunities. In season, one can watch turtles as they lay eggs or hatch from them.

Also on the coast is Sodwana Bay, yet another conservation area run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It’s a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers from all over the world.

Sodwana holds beneath its waters coral reefs that are home to an estimated 1 200 fish species. These include the prehistoric coelacanth, as well as sharks and other fish.

Lake Sibaya is another attraction, although one that has failed to attain the popularity it deserves. The largest fresh-water lake in South Africa, Sibaya is home to thousands of waterbirds. Game is plentiful along its shores and crocodiles stalk its clear water.

The Jozini, or Pongolapoort, Dam offers a wonderful blend of sport fishing with game viewing. The river itself is also home to healthy populations of tigerfish.

Look out for

Isimangaliso Wetland Park – this World Heritage Site is amazingly diverse and deserves at least a few days of your time. Go for a boat cruise on the estuary, a game drive through the bush, and a hike along the shores of Lake St Lucia.

Sodwana Bay – take advantage of one of the world’s top scuba diving spots. Beginners can go on courses or snorkel; while more experienced divers have a number of reefs to choose from.

Birdwatching – the entire Elephant Coast is home to bountiful birdlife, although there are a few hot spots. The pans of Mkhuze Game Reserve play host to pelicans and all sorts of other birdlife. Over 420 bird species have been recorded in the riverine forest, woodland and savannahs of the park. Ndumo Game Reserve has an even better record, with more than 430 species recorded, the most for anywhere in South Africa. Beautiful, fever tree-lined pans are home to specials such as Pel’s fishing owl, broadbill and black egret.

Fishing – the Elephant Coast’s Jozini Dam is one of the few places in South Africa where anglers can try their luck at landing the tigerfish, one of the most ferocious, toothy fish in the world. If salt-water fishing is preferred, Kosi Bay is a popular and exceptional fishery, while deep-sea charters also operate from St Lucia.

Turtle tours – St Lucia is probably the best place in the country to go on an organised turtle watching tour. While sightings can’t be guaranteed, you have a good chance of seeing leatherback and loggerhead turtles laying eggs or hatching. Community guides at Kosi Bay also offer turtle watching tours that are very worthwhile.

Game view – the Elephant Coast is still home to a healthy population of big tuskers, especially in Tembe Elephant Park. A good sighting of these animals will stay with you for the rest of your life. The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is internationally famous for saving the white rhino from extinction, and it remains one of the best places in the world to view this docile behemoth. The rest of the Big 5 can also be seen here, along with many other interesting animals.

Hike – while some areas require a guide (especially the Big 5 parks), there are some exceptional walking trails on the Elephant Coast. Almost all game reserves will offer day trails, while a trail with a difference can be enjoyed at Kosi bay. Here you can wander around the Kosi Mouth estuary, inspecting the primitive fish traps and watching locals at work spearing their catch. 

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