Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
June 15, 2023
South Africa is an incredible country with a rich historical tapestry, nature of incomprehensible vastness, mouth-watering cuisine and, of course, wildlife straight from your childhood dreams. Most visitors pinpoint Kruger National Park and Cape Town for their first trip and head up the west coast; a popular route which has plenty to offer.
But what about an alternative journey which offers wildlife, great food and pristine coastline but also gets to the roots of South Africa’s tribal heritage? A trip along the Elephant Coast can provide just that. A haven of ecotourism; the locals are big on promoting local arts and produce, upholding their traditional ways of life, and protecting the the animals that wander among their homeland. Rural, rugged and thrillingly varied, exploring this region provides beautiful insight into a pre-colonial Africa.
St Lucia is a haven for visitors who crave empty coastline, easy access to the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, and close wildlife encounters. Snorkeling in Cape Vidal is some of the best in the country and the area also hosts some of the most prominent nesting grounds for loggerhead and leatherback turtles.
The Elephant Coast runs through the KwaZulu-Natal province, and is the home of multiple Zulu settlements which date back centuries. To truly immerse yourself in this culture, have a local friend or guide take you to one of these ancient communities – a better option than visiting one of the touristy ‘set-up’ alternatives. Chances are the villagers will be more than happy to chat to you about Zulu culture, ask you in for tea or even perform a traditional song and dance ritual.
Jumping in a four-wheel drive and embarking on your own self-drive adventure is the perfect way to explore this wild and rugged area of KwaZulu-Natal. The Midlands Meander is a stunningly picturesque stretch which encompasses vast green meadows, waterfalls and lakes, historic monuments such as the Nelson Mandela wall and various Zulu settlements. On the way, stop at friendly villages to browse an endless array of arts and crafts stores. They offer high quality, locally-made goods such as leather, pottery, artwork, candles, cheese, chocolate and much more.
The fishermen at the seven lakes of Kosi Bay partake in a traditional Zulu fishing technique which dates back over 700 years. Once a dying art, the area has recently been recognised as an area of natural beauty. This recognition has helped to protect the fishing traps as a tribute to Zulu heritage and traditions. It’s fascinating to witness this ancient technique in an area that has gained protected status by UNESCO. As you meander the gorgeous bay, a local guide can tell you more.
Of course the chance to encounter some exotic four-legged beasts is always a draw when travelling in Africa, and this route is of no exception. The iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is the farthest reaching area, covering 3280 km2 of natural ecosystems – including St.Lucia’s forestland and beaches – all the way up to the border of Mozambique. But there are countless other parks dedicated to reversing the effects of poaching – from Tembe Elephant Park, owned by the Thonga people and home to 250 protected elephants; to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park where you’ll find relatively high numbers of both black and white rhino. The locals here care deeply about protecting the future of their animals, and after seeing these stunning creatures up close, you will too.