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WHAT TO DO & LOCAL INFO

St Lucia coastal village

The coastal village of St Lucia is nestled between the Indian oceanOcean and the St Lucia estuary. St Lucia is unique in that it is the only private village in the world that is surrounded by a natural wilderness world heritage site. The greater St Lucia system can be described in 5 recognizable ecosystems namely:
  1. The marine system characterised by a warm sea, the southernmost extension of coral reefs in Africa, submarine canyons, and long sandy beaches - East of the park and 280 kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline and adjacent marine eco system. The endangered leatherback turtles swim thousand of sea miles, to return to the place of their birth, to lay eggs in the metal enriched beech sands.
  2. Eastern shores (Dune & Forests) - inland and east of Lake St Lucia consisting of grassy plains, wetlands and ancient coastal dune forests that grows on the world famous sand dunes, dunes that extend the full length of the reserve. The dunes form a natural barrier between the lake, rivers and the Indian Ocean and are covered by climax forests.
  3. Lake St Lucia - Largest estuary system in the world. The lake systems include two estuary-linked lakes, St Lucia and Kosi, and four large freshwater lakes, Sibaya (the largest in southern Africa), Ngobezeleni, Bhangazi north and Bhangazi south. This extensive 85 km lake is an average depth of 1 meter and home to more than a thousand hippos, several thousand crocodiles, 526 bird species, and 114 fish species. Migrating birds, some flying more than 18 000 miles, and fish use this lake as a nursery.
  4. Mkuze and Mfolozi swamps - Northern end of lake St Lucia wetland with swamp forests, extensive reed and papyrus swamps
  5. Western shores - savannah and thornveld - the driest area. An inland system that includes ancient shoreline terraces and dry savannah
The ongoing fluvial, marine and saeolian processes in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park World Heritage Site have produced a variety of landforms including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands. The interplay of the park's environmental diversity with major floods and coastal storms and a transitional geographic location between sub-tropical and tropical Africa has resulted in exceptional species diversity and on-going speciation. The mosaic of landforms and habitat types creates superlative scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitat types creates superlative scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitat for a range of species from Africa's marine, wetland and savannah environments.


Greater St Lucia Wetland Park (GSLWP) - Introduction

The beauty and biological wealth of the greater St Lucia area led to it being the first place in South Africa to be recognized as a World Heritage Site. The United Nations Environment Scientific and the Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) accorded this status in December 1999.

The cultural and ecological treasures of the GSLWP - which, broadly, covers northern Maputal and east of the N2 highway between St Lucia town in the south and Kosi Bay in the north:
  • 280 kilometres of coastline and beaches;
  • 100 species of coral;
  • the major swamp forests left in South Africa;
  • 3 major lake systems including Lake St Lucia, Lake Sibayi and Kosi Bay;
  • no other place in the world where the world's largest terrestrial mammals (elephants) range within kilometres of where the world's largest marine mammals (whales) swim;
  • 8 major game reserves in the broader Maputaland;
  • 105 years of conservation (St Lucia Park is Africa's oldest protected area);
  • the Big Five with the highest number and density of black rhino in any place on the globe;
  • 5 species of turtles;
  • the highest number of frog species in southern Africa (35 of which 2 are endemic);
  • 36 species of snakes;
  • 526 bird species (the greatest avifauna diversity in Africa with 50% of South Africa's bird species);
  • 80 species of dragon flies;
  • 110 species of butterflies on the Eastern Shores of St Lucia alone;
  • more than 2000 species of flowering plants;
  • all 5 of South Africa's surviving mangrove tree species;
  • 25 000 year-old coastal dunes, among the highest in the world;
  • 700-year-old fish traps;
  • 5 cultural groups: Zulu, Swazi, Shangaan, Tonga and relict group of Gonda speakers.
This fragile combination of natural beauty and social diversity underlies the South African government's commitment to manage the GSLWP in line with global standards and best practice for World Heritage Sites.


On offer for the visitor

A host of outdoor and leisure activities are available to visitors to the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. The pristine nature of the Park has encouraged the development of eco-tourism zones, ranging from those with extremely well developed facilities to those with access only on foot, for the more adventurous.

There is a wide choice of ways to move around the Park. Guided walks, wilderness trails, and vehicle and boat tours allow for game viewing, bird watching and the sighting of turtles and whales.

For the sun-worshipper beach leisure activities are widely available. For the more energetic; controlled-access diving on the coral reefs as well as a range of day walks and overnight hikes can be arranged.


Weather




Activities List

On the land

  • 4x4 Trails
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Beech Driving
  • Bird watching
  • Bowls at St Lucia
  • Chameleon Night drive
  • Crocodile Watching on estuary
  • Cultural Tour
  • Dolphin watching
  • Eastern Shores Night drives
  • Estuary fishing
  • Explore the biggest estuarine in the world
  • Fly fishing
  • Game drives and watching
  • Golf at Monzi
  • Hippo watching on estuary
  • Horse riding
  • Picnic spots
  • Shore Fishing - Rock and Surf
    All species of bony and cartilaginous fish (excluding great whites and ragged tooth sharks) may be caught - excluding shad and galjoen in closed seasons. Shore fishing is permitted throughout the marine reserves excluding the Sanctuary areas.
  • Stargazing
  • Sugar Cane Tours at Monzi
  • Tennis at Monzi
  • Traditional Zulu music making and dancing
  • Traditional Zulu Story telling
  • Organized Train tour trips
  • Turtle Hatching Tour
  • Turtle Nesting Tours
  • View highest vegetated dunes in Africa
  • Visit Bats Cave at Mission rocks
  • Visit Crocodile/Snake/Cycad Centre
  • Visit Jolly Robino (stranded ship)
  • Walking Trails
  • Whale watching

On the Estuary

  • Bird Watching
  • Crocodile and hippo tours
  • Estuary Fishing
  • Explore the biggest estuary in the world
  • Kayaking
  • Star gazing
  • View the highest vegetated dunes in Africa

In/On the Indian Ocean

  • 40 mile deep sea tour
  • Bat cave sight
  • Bird watching
  • Boat based whale watching tour
  • Body Boarding
  • Bottom Fishing
  • Cray Fish diving
  • Deep sea fishing
    St Lucia has a ski-boat club, which controls all sea launches. Deep-sea fishing charters can also be arranged through the St Lucia Ski-boat Club.
  • Diving
  • Dolphin sights
  • Reef Fishing
  • Snorkelling
  • Spear fishing
  • Star gazing
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
    Swimming and paddling in rivers, lagoons and lakes is not safe unless the area is free of bilharzia, hippos and crocodiles. Sea bathing is best undertaken on demarcated beaches. Beaches in the area are not protected by shark nets, and do not have lifeguards on duty. Please be sensible and exercise caution when bathing in the surf, as it is an exposed coastline that has dangerous currents.
  • Trawl Fishing
  • Turtle sights
  • View the highest vegetated sand dunes in Africa
  • Visit Jolly Rubino
  • Whale sharks sights

Fossils

The western shores of Lake St Lucia are rich in ancient marine fossils. Reports indicate that this area started forming during the Cretaceous (Chalk period, approximately 140,000,000 years ago. There were two phases - the most recent formations were caused by dropping sea levels starting a mere 2,000,000 years ago to create the largest estuarine lake in the world. The present eco-system has been sculptured through a series of wet and dry periods, rising and falling of sea levels, river erosion and wind. The most recent of this was cyclone Demoina.

Sand dunes were formed over the last 25,000 years. Fossil deposits (huge ammonites (extinct animal related to the octopus), sharks teeth as big as a man's hand and in situ fossilized coral reef shows that most of the Park was once covered by the sea.

These fossils can be seen at the western shores of the lake.


Cultural treasures

Exciting new archaeological excavations on the eastern shore of Lake St Lucia highlight the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park's significance in providing vital scientific clues to theories of early human settlement off the coastline of southern Africa. It is thought that the eastern shores of the lake were one of the passages for the southward migration of Iron Age people from central Africa more than 2000 years ago.


Name History

St Lucia was first known as the River of the sand of Gold (the Tugela mouth) - a name given by the survivors of the Portuguese ship Saint Benedict in 1554. In 1575 the Tugela River was properly named and St Lucia received its current name. The name is very apt because St Lucia is acclaimed for its golden beeches, sun and sea. The 19th century saw extensive hunting for ivory, rhino horn and hippo. Fortunately the ecological significance were recognized and protected by declaring this area a nature reserve on the 27 April 1897. This reserved include the lake and some of the surrounding land.


Lakes in the Park

Lake Sibaya

The largest fresh water lake in Southern Africa, Lake Sibaya has a surface area of 77 square kilometres and an average depth of 13 meters. The lake was previously connected to the sea and with the closure of the estuary; numerous marine invertebrates and vertebrates are found here. Because of this phenomenon, the lake is also host to several endemic fish species, fund nowhere else in the world.

Lake St Lucia

This Lake acts as a nursery and is a rich feeding ground for countless fish, prawns, crabs and other marine species, which generally spawn at sea. The lake is the centre feature of the GSLWP and is home to a diversity of life. Although it is one of the largest estuaries in Africa, the average dept is only one and a half meter. Massive vegetated dunes on the Eastern Shores surround it.


Coelacanth discovered in Greater St Lucia Wetland Park

The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park (GSLWP) can now add a living fossil to its record of marine species with the recent discovery of three living coelacanths in a submarine canyon of the coast near Sodwana Bay.

A group of divers, led by Pieter Venter discovered and photographed the coelacanths, during a mixed-gas deep dive to 104 meters off the coast. Dr Phil Heemstra of the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology in Grahamstown positively identified them.

The coelacanth is a fish thought to be extinct until a live specimen was caught in a trawler net in 1938 off the Chalumna River Mouth of the Eastern Cape. This specimen was identified by Miss Margery Courtenay-Latimer, Curator of the East London Museum and named Latimeria chalumnae by the late Professor JLB Smith of Rhodes University. The specimens found off the GSLWP appear to be of the Latimeria species.

This exciting discovery off Sodwana Bay is all the more important because it confirms, for the first time, a South African presence of this extremely rare fish in a formally protected area that was declared a World Heritage Site in December 1999.


Nesting Turtles

Leatherback and loggerhead breeding females spend up to 15 years at sea before coming to land to lay eggs (December to January). Males wait in the sea and mate with the females as soon as they return. A female may lay several batches of eggs in one season, digging a hole with its hind flippers and laying 100 to 120 eggs at a time.

Guided by instinct they return to the beach where they hatched a few decades before. The effort of heaving its huge shell on its chest causes it to gasp for breath - it looks pitiful as "tears" of protective mucous stream from its eye. After laying the eggs, it covers the hole, thrashes around so that the exact position of the nest can no longer be seen and heads back into the sea. Some 60 days later the young turtles struggle out of their shells, dig 40 cm to the surface (done co-operatively by synchronized hatchlings) and crawl +/- 60 meters down the beach to the sea. Survival rates are low - 1 in 500 will survive.


World Heritage Site

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty, which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 157 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1708 wetland sites, totalling 1,530,000 square kilometres, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Ramsar and world heritage site status

Lake St Lucia (37 000ha) and the Eastern Shores (30 000ha) together comprise the largest estuarine system on the African continent. Lake St Lucia was declared a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO protocol - South Africa's first - on 1 December 1999. It is a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. This means that its value as a conservation area extends beyond the borders of the country. It is a habitat for birds such as the small waders that breed in northern Eurasia, and migrate to the southern hemisphere to avoid the northern winter. It is also of regional importance for duck and other water bird populations that are able to survive at St Lucia when there are severe droughts elsewhere in southern Africa. Once the drought is over, these birds migrate northwards to restock the wetlands in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

South Africa has an obligation to look after its Ramsar site and to ensure that it is adequately conserved. The Convention secretariat maintains a list of threatened Ramsar wetlands, and assists member countries by sending monitoring teams to advise on how to conserve these threatened wetlands. A monitoring team sent to St Lucia a few years ago advised the South African Government that mining of the Eastern Shores would be detrimental to the St Lucia wetland.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) protect what it considers "important" parts of the Earth by inscribing them as World Heritage Sites. Once proclaimed, these sites are considered sacred and conservation treaties shield them from the threats of social and economic conditions and natural decay. They are saved to ensure that families in the future also have an opportunity to see untouched, natural beauty and important historical landmarks.

In recognition of the wondrous, natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of our planet, more than 700 sites around the world have been inscribed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO to date.

World-renowned World Heritage Sites; inscribed for their natural significance; include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the Grand Canyon in the USA. Cultural sites include the Great Wall of China, the Tower of London and Egypt's Pyramids of Giza.

Measured against strict international criteria, World Heritage Sites are chosen for their outstanding universal qualities of natural or cultural significance and; in rare cases; a combination of natural and cultural factors. Due to these stringent criteria, there are few places on Earth with more than two sites in close proximity of each other. South Africa boasts four World Heritage Sites with the Kingdom of the Zulu being one of the only provinces with the unique attribute of 2 sites: the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. South Africa's other two World Heritage Sites are the Cradle of Mankind at the Sterkfontein Caves complex in Gauteng, and the island prison of Robben Island in the Western Cape.


Birds of St Lucia

A great variety of water birds are attracted to the lake all year round that team with fish, crustaceans and microorganisms.

View full list here


 
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