Located on the eastern coast of South Africa, the Elephant Coast in KwaZulu-Natal is among the top tourist destinations in the country. This region stretches from St Lucia in the south to the Maputaland Coast in the north and boasts incredible natural biodiversity that includes pristine beaches, dunes, lush forests, wetlands and awe-inspiring wildlife. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, an adventure-packed holiday, or a family vacation, this amazing region has something for everyone.
Here are some of the reasons why you need to visit and explore the Elephant Coast:
Things to do
A must-do activity while on the Elephant Coast is visiting the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site spanning over 280,000 hectares. Here, visitors can explore the diverse wildlife by taking guided game drives and walks along the coastline, which is home to an impressive variety of aquatic and semi-aquatic animals, such as dolphins, whales, turtles, crocodiles, and hippos, including a large variety of birdlife. As a result, it is an ideal place for birdwatchers and bird enthusiasts. A boat cruise at the St Lucia Estuary will take you closer to the hippos and crocodiles. Watching these giants go about their day and play with their off-springs is a great experience not to be missed.
Immerse in the Zulu Culture by going on Zulu Cultural Tours. The Elephant Coast is home to several cultural villages and communities where visitors can learn about the local traditions, customs, and way of life of the Zulu people. If you are familiar with the history of South Africa, you will know that the Zulu nation is one of the country’s most significant and historical ethnic groups.
Relax and unwind at Bhanga Nek Beach, one of the most secluded beaches along the Elephant Coast. This beach is recommended for those who want to take time off and detach from the everyday hustle and bustle.
Enjoy Kosi Bay Nature Reserve with a boat ride and see the unique traditional fish traps/kraals made by the local community. This estuary system is home to a unique ecosystem that includes five interlinking lakes and a variety of fish, birds, and other animals. Visitors can also take part in guided walks and kayaking to explore the area. On some occasions, you can have the whole beach to yourself.
If you are seeking an adrenaline rush, then the Elephant Coast has much to offer you. Visitors can go on backpacking adventures through the coastal forests or take a helicopter ride over the region. Another thrilling activity to try out is zip-lining. Visitors can fly over the treetops of the coastal forest, taking in the incredible views and the cool breeze from the ocean.
The Elephant Coast is famous for its beautiful and vibrant underwater world of coral reefs and colourful fish species. Therefore, for a wholesome experience, visit Sodwana Bay, a pristine beach with crystal-clear blue waters, colourful coral reefs, and a wide range of marine life. Over the years, Sodwana Bay has become a popular destination for snorkelling, scuba diving, and fishing, where scores of adventure-seekers take advantage of its year-round accessibility and come back to tell a tale of unmatched marine life beauty.
It is important to note that snorkelling can be experienced at any of the many beaches along the coast. Diving with tiger sharks in the Aliwal Shoal is another must-try for the brave.
Hiking trails are also available for those who want to explore the region’s natural beauty on foot. One of the most popular tracks best enjoyed from January to March is the turtle tracking trail. If lucky, you might witness hatchling turtles making their way to the sea under the cover of the dim moonlight. The most rewarding part? Guiding them with your torches into the sea!
Where to stay
The Elephant Coast has various accommodations, including luxurious resorts, safari lodges, and budget-friendly options. One of the most popular accommodations in the area is the Falaza Game Park and Spa, which provides visitors with a touch of both luxury and adventure. This resort is in the game reserve and offers game drives, bush walks, and a spa with various treatments.
Mseni Lodge is another excellent option that offers affordable accommodation while still allowing visitors to experience the beauty of the Elephant Coast. This establishment is a stone’s throw away from the beach.
On the northern border of the Elephant Coast, you will find the beautiful Jozini Tiger Lodge, where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of the Jozini dam and experience the most spectacular sunsets. This establishment also offers a variety of water sports like boat cruises, speed boats, canoeing, and tubing.
Where to eat
The Elephant Coast offers a unique culinary experience through its delicious cuisine influenced by the region’s diverse culture. Visitors can try dishes such as bunny chow (a bread loaf filled with curry) or sample fresh seafood at one of the many beachfront restaurants.
The Fisherman’s Restaurant in St Lucia comes highly recommended by locals for seafood lovers or those needing a quick bite. This restaurant, which overlooks the beautiful estuary, offers a variety of seafood dishes and grills.
Jozini Tiger Lodge also offers a fantastic variety of 5-Star dishes and tapas. It is also known for its excellent combination of vibrant and thirst-quenching cocktails, perfect for sundowners while marvelling at the beauty of the Jozini Dam.
Hluhluwe – Umfolozi Game Reserve is a must-visit to experience superb wildlife safaris and to see Africa’s Big Five (comprising the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) in their natural habitat. This game reserve is one of Africa’s oldest and largest and offers sunrise and sunset drives. I highly recommend the sunrise drive, though – it’s an incredible way to start your day, and you’re bound to see all sorts of unique wildlife.
Tembe Elephant Park is a short drive away to admire these gentle giants in the park that hosts one of the largest elephant populations in South Africa.
Ndumo Game Reserve is known for its birdlife population, with more than 430 species recorded. Visitors can participate in guided walks, game drives, and bird-watching activities to discover the diverse range of birdlife. Another option for bird watchers is Muzi Pan Nature Reserve, part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Make sure you visit in the summer, as a wide variety of species are available then. Choosing the right season will guarantee a great time wandering around this small, serene, peaceful reserve.
St Lucia Estuary is one of the best places to visit on the Elephant Coast. Take a boat tour and watch various bird species, crocodiles, and hippos in their natural habitat.
Overall, the Elephant Coast offers a unique blend of wildlife, culture, and natural beauty that will create unforgettable experiences for visitors. KwaZulu-Natal’s most beautiful region should be on every traveller’s bucket list. The area is by far one of South Africa’s best-hidden gems. When you visit, you can expect a unique experience that offers adventure, luxury, abundant natural beauty, and an unforgettable culinary experience. The Elephant Coast caters to all types of travellers. So why not pack your bags, head on, and try something new? Move away from the city and discover KZN’s best-kept secret – the Elephant Coast!