St Lucia is surrounded by iSimangaliso Wetland Park, one of the jewels of South Africa’s coastline. With a unique mosaic of ecosystems – swamps, lakes, beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, woodlands, coastal forests and grasslands – the area supports an astounding diversity of animal, bird and marine life.
The reason for the huge diversity in fauna and flora is the great variety of different ecosystems in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannas, and wetlands.
Wildlife that occur in the park include elephant, leopard, black rhino, white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, waterbuck, kudu, and hyena to name a few.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to about 1,200 Nile crocodiles and 800 hippopotami.
The St Lucia estuarine system comprises of 50% of the total estuarine area of South Africa. Due to freshwater and marine environments that are interconnected, a wide range of habitats for marine species and freshwater species are present. Marine life include whales, dolphins, leatherback turtles, loggerhead turtles and an extensive variety of fish, which makes St Lucia a popular fishing destination.
St Lucia being surrounded by the UNESCO World Heritage Site, many of these wild animals are frequent visitors to the town. Visitors include Hippos, Leopards, Hyenas, Monkeys and Baboons to name a few.
With over 520 bird species recorded in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the area is a perfect bird watching destination. Lake St Lucia is one of the most important breeding areas for waterbirds in South Africa and one of the main features of Lake St Lucia.
Flora in the area is rich and diverse, with 734 genera and 2180 recorded plant species.
Indigenous trees found in the area include Dune Sweet Thorn, White-milkwood, Coast Strelitzia, Buffalo-thorn, Dune Myrtle, Bush Tick-berry, Dune Star-apple, Coast Red-milkwood, Cape-ash and Thorny-rope Flat-bean to name a few.
The area provides the ideal habitat for mangrove trees of which 6 species have been recorded. These are the White mangrove, Black mangrove, Red mangrove, Eastern mangrove, Kosi mangrove and Cannonball mangrove. The White, Black and Red mangroves are commonly found along the St Lucia Estuary.
Delicate flowers such as African-dogrose, Candy-striped crinum, Paintbrush lily, Fireball lily, Flame lily and Lagoon Hibiscus provide colour to the landscape throughout the year.
Named after the historical fable of “Ujeqe”. Ujeqe is the keeper of a Zulu King’s secrets and has to be buried with the King when he dies.
When King Shaka died, his Ujeke fled to Tongaland. Upon his return he said: “I saw wonders and miracles in the flat land and lakes of Thonga”.
From that follows an isiZulu saying that if you have seen miracles, you have seen what uJeqe saw.
Read more about the history of St Lucia