Where to experience wonderful wetland worlds in South Africa

Posted on 22 January 2018

Wetlands are jewels of biodiversity and incredible destinations for wildlife watching. Station yourself at one of these and fall in love with a bird or three.

Wetlands are biologically diverse ecosystems that provide a habitat for many important species, act as buffers against coastal storms, and naturally filter water by breaking down harmful pollutants. They could not be more important as gatekeepers that help protect the natural world. World Wetlands Day on 2 February aims to raise awareness about them.

Did you know, for instance, that South Africa has 23 designated Ramsar Sites, wetlands of international importance? Here are eight of them:


1. Blesbokspruit

Sitting at Marievale is a way I use weekends to connect with nature. Although these moorhens are common, they make for interesting viewing as they have loads of personality. Photo by John Mullineux.

The only Ramsar Site in Gauteng was formed in 1930 during the construction of road and pipeline embankments for the mining industry. The biggest attraction is the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, where one can see African spoonbills, yellow-billed ducks and goliath herons. It makes for a great day trip from Joburg and entry is free. Tel 0113645900

Also read: the 10 best free things to do in Joburg


2. De Mond Nature Reserve

This World Heritage Site between Arniston and Struisbaai in the Western Cape is home to the Heuningnes Estuary, the smallest Ramsar wetland in South Africa. The estuary is an important nursery for the beautiful seabird, the Damara tern. Tel 0214830190

Also read: 12 of the best stays for a seaside getaway in Arniston


3. Makuleke Wetlands

An elephant in the Fever Tree forests so iconic in the northern Kruger area. Photo by Simon Stobbs.

Most of Makuleke lies within the Kruger National Park and forms the border of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique along the Limpopo River. It was the first Ramsar Site to be owned and co-managed by a community, not only in SA but worldwide. Game is plentiful and buffalo, nyala and bushbuck are common in the area. Tell 0124289111

Also read: the best walking trails in Kruger


4. Ndumo Game Reserve

Ndumo in KZN’s Maputaland forms the largest floodplain system in South Africa, consisting of five wetland types. It’s perhaps best known for its magnificent birdlife, with one of the highest bird counts in South Africa (430 species). Tel 0338451000


5. Nylsvley Nature Reserve

This floodplain in Limpopo occasionally erupts with activity, holding up to 80000 birds in years of high rainfall. The area also serves as a breeding ground for eight red-listed waterbirds and is the only site in South Africa where wild rice naturally occurs. Tel 0147436925


6. Langebaan Lagoon

Incredible views over Langebaan Lagoon from the Uitkyk Picnic Area. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

This large but shallow marine lagoon on the West Coast includes islands, reed beds, sand flats and salt marshes. Last year, orcas were spotted in the lagoon. The five islands of Saldanha Bay to the north of the lagoon provide a home for nearly a quarter of a million seabirds. Tel 0124289111


7. St Lucia System

Beached dinosaurs line the sandbanks near the start of the St Lucia estuary, which is fed by the iMfolozi River. Photo by Tyson Jopson.

The St Lucia system on the KZN North Coast covers 155000 hectares and has one of the largest populations of Nile crocodiles in Southern Africa (it’s estimated there are 1500 crocs over two metres long), and the biggest hippo population in the country. Tel 0355901633

Also read: iSimangaliso: South Africa’s most adventurous park


8. Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve

One of the few places in the country where all three of the world’s endangered cranes breed, the Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve in Mpumalanga is an interlinked series of over 30 wetlands. An ongoing project to save the wattled crane has conservationists dress up in crane suits to feed the wattled crane chicks. Tel 0132540799

Also read: Guide to Wakkerstroom

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