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iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the trouble with expectations

5 May 2015 | Natalie White Book Accommodation

Light painting on Cape Vidal beach

Light painting on Cape Vidal beach

When I think about iSimangaliso Wetland Park, images of snorting hippos and snapping crocs everywhere you look float through my mind. So of course by the end of our planned six-day trip to Cape Vidal in the Eastern Shores section of the park, I was fully expecting to be bored by the sight of them.

It just goes to show that expectations are a dangerous thing. The only crocodiles we saw were a spec in the distance, lazing in the shallows of Lake St. Lucia. And as for our one hippo sighting, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. A hippo wandering across the busy main street in St Lucia town, in broad daylight and without a care in the world, other than munching on the grass the other side of the road!  So, in fact not hippos and crocs galore.


The Eastern Shores and Cape Vidal section of the park is probably one of the most popular and is certainly beautiful. It was surprising to know that the area used to be planted with pine forests, which have only been cleared of commercial forests in the last 10 years or so. When the grass is short you can still see the remnants of a few tree stumps as you drive through, otherwise the reserve is pristine.

 Lake St Lucia

Lake St Lucia

Lake St Lucia 

The wetlands of Lake St Lucia

Misty sunrise

Misty sunrise on our morning drive

Lake St Lucia rainbow

Rainbow over Lake St Lucia 

The tar road to Cape Vidal is 33km north (30 minute drive) from the Bhangazi gate entrance and so is easily accessible for a day trip if you are staying in the town of St. Lucia. Note that there are only 120 day-permits issued each day, so in holiday season be advised to get there early.  Almost 90km of game viewing roads offer access to varied habitats throughout the reserve, including beautiful coastal dune forest, grassland, lakes and pans – although we found that many of them were dry. Several strategically placed lookout points provide panoramic views over a breathtaking landscape; we were spoilt for choice of sundowner spots on our evening drives! Especially impressive is how well the infrastructure is maintained. Having come from a slightly tired looking Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, it was really encouraging to see what great condition the bird hides and picnic sites were in.

 Mission Rocks Viewpoint

Mission Rocks Viewpoint in the late afternoon sun

Crabs on Mission Rocks Beach

Chasing crabs on Mission Rocks beach

Mission Rocks beach 

Mission Rocks beach - a great sundowner spot, we had the place to ourselves!

Cape Vidal itself is a real little gem. It is a coastal woodland treasure on the edge of Lake Bhangazi, the perfect beach and safari destination, with sandy beach for as far as you can see in either direction. A range of accommodation is available at Cape Vidal, operated by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. There is a campsite on the edge of the beach as well as a number of self-catering log cabins.  The accommodation is certainly a little rough around the edges, though this does not seem to hamper its popularity. Cabins are currently being renovated a few at a time, so if possible try and bag yourself one that is already done.

Cape Vidal Beach

The magnificent beach at Cape Vidal

Cape Vidal Log Cabin 

Inside the log cabin - they are serviced daily so a nice treat not to have to fight about who is doing the washing up!

The great thing about a holiday here is that there is really something for everyone. A beach-lovers delight with its wide expanses of golden sand and rolling dunes, warm water, shallow reefs perfect for snorkeling and fame for sport fishing. Although, it turned out that again I found myself in trouble with my expectations. Freshly caught shad were delivered bright and early for breakfast on day one with great promises of more to come. Sadly, it was a case of ‘over promising and under delivering’ because they were the only shad eaten all week! Try as they might, there were no more fish forthcoming.

 Fishing on Cape Vidal Beach

Early morning fishing on Cape Vidal Beach

The game viewing is pretty impressive too. Herds of buffalo enjoying the grasslands, scores of reedbuck, kudu, duiker and leopard – yes we were even lucky enough to see one! There are plenty of monkeys too, vervets and Samango’s are rife around camp so you have to keep your wits about you. The birdlife in this part of the reserve is abundant, lots of raptors, water birds and my first Livingstone’s turaco!

iSimangaliso Cape Buffalo

Buffalo enjoying the rich grasslands 

Cape Vidal Bushbuck 

Plenty of photogenic bushbuck to be seen around camp and in the reserve

iSimangaliso Waterbuck

Silhouetted waterbuck

George the famous albino (or possibly ginger) Samango Monkey that lives in the forests surrounding Cape Vidal

 George the albino samango monkey often seen in camp

Zebra hug 

Zebra hugs 

iSimangaliso Leopard

Our leopard skulking through the long grass...they are the apex predator in this part of the reserve and are often seen 

Water thick-knee

A water thick-knee cruising around the dirt roads quite far from any water!

Burchell's Cougal

 This Burchell's cougal was very happy to pose for photos! 

Livingstone's turaco 

My first Livingstone's turaco sighting! The boys stayed behind to fish and were very jealous of our sighting, lucky for them we saw another one later that day!

So after an unforgettable six days I came to realize that iSimangaliso is so much more than just hippos and crocs, though next time we’ll take a ferry boat from St Lucia with the hope of seeing some more. Cape Vidal is a place and a holiday that far surpassed any expectations; we cannot wait to go back.


Gate Times:

01 October -31 March 05h00-19h00

01 April - 31 September 06h00-18h00

Entry Fee: Adults R37, Children under the age of 12 pay R27

Vehicle Entry Charge: R47 1-5 people; R70 for 6-12 people, R93.00 for 13-20 people; R160 for 21+ people

Community Levy: R5 per person

Camp Contact No: +27 35 590 9012