Bevan and I have just been fortunate enough to have spent some time in the Coastal Forest section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This area of the park includes the stretch of northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline between Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay near the Mozambique border. This is a remote section of coastline, accessible for the most part only by 4×4. This is its great allure, because for this reason the beaches along this stretch of coastline are almost deserted and near pristine and offer some incredible snorkeling opportunities.
The Coastal Forest area can be accessed via two different routes. The first is a coastal road from Sodwana Bay that is little more than a soft sand track that winds through coastal forest and skirts around the shores of Lake Sibaya. The alternative road involves a lot more tar. There’s little guessing which route we chose!
This coastline is characterised by rocky headlands and wide sweeping bays. As the name suggests, the dunes that line the coastline are covered in coastal forest vegetation and alive with bird and insect life. There are local villages scattered along the coast and the people who live here practice subsistence crop farming, fishing or keep cattle. The community who live at Mabibi have also gotten involved in tourism, and during our time in this section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park we based ourselves at the community-run campsite.
Getting to know Mabibi
Mabibi is the southern-most beach that you will encounter along the Coastal Forest section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. A series of 130-something stairs leads down from the campsite parking to the beach, but it is worth the climb! The snorkeling at this beach is lovely. Although we didn’t have perfect sea conditions, we still jumped into the water and explored a reef that was very structural, with plenty of gullies and overhangs for fish to hide. We came across possibly the biggest crayfish I have ever seen! Like most of the coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Mabibi is part of a marine reserve and the sea life in this area is safe from harvesting. The way that this crayfish came out of his hole to look at us, I think he knew it too!
The community-run Mabibi campsite is worth a mention too. We were very impressed by the big camping stands and clean ablutions. The campsite has direct access to the beach. It has no electricity and very limited cell phone reception, but somehow in a beautiful natural setting like that, those things were not missed.
Exploring the beaches of the Coastal Forest Reserve
A sand road runs parallel to the coast through the length of the Coastal Forest section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. There are plenty of gorgeous beaches to explore along this stretch and as I’ve mentioned before, for most of the year you can have any one of these beaches to yourself.
We dedicated a full day to exploring this section but as always, it didn’t feel anywhere near long enough. From Mabibi, one can stop in at Manzengwenya or Island Rock before reaching Lala Nek. We had heard that the snorkeling at Lala Nek is unbelievable and so this is where we planned our low tide stop. We were not disappointed – an empty, pristine beach, blue water and an inshore section of the point that was protected from the waves greeted us on our arrival.
From Lala Nek we headed up next to Black Rock, passing Rocktail Bay on the way. The tide was now too high for snorkeling but we had a lovely walk along the white sand beach towards the rocky headland of black sandstone that gives this beach its name. From the vantage point of the headland we could see far out to sea, and during turtle season (roughly November to February every year) this would be a great place to spot turtles bobbing around behind backline.
A lovely place to visit
The drive back to Mabibi campsite, through forested dunes and rolling grasslands lit up by the late afternoon light was amazing. Red duiker criss-crossed the road ahead of us and birds flitted between the umdoni trees as we passed. Just spending time out in such a beautiful, unspoiled setting is absolute medicine for the soul.
We absolutely loved our time here and were already planning our return trip, even before we had left the park. If you are dreaming of unspoiled beaches, snorkeling in crystal clear water and being immersed in nature then this section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park may be exactly what you are looking for!