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Lake St Lucia and some of the highest vegetated dunes in the world, as seen from the Western Shores section.
We had to be awake and ready to roll by the time the camp birds started to play the first notes of the regular uMkhuze morning symphony concert.
Although worldwide. most parkruns take place in park-like surroundings every Saturday morning at 8am, Pongola was one of the events in particularly hot areas where the starting time was an hour earlier in summer.
One of the reasons we were staying at uMkhuze Game Reserve was to be able to do this rather remote KwaZulu-Natal parkrun as Bill and I are on a mission to complete parkruns at 20 different South African locations, to become official ‘parkrun tourists’, before the end of the year.
We are having great fun doing this. Fortunately the gates to the game reserve opened at 5am in summer, so we had plenty of time to drive the approximately 80km to Pongola before 7am.
As we have come to expect when we take part in ‘away’ parkruns, a warm welcome awaited us.
The parkrunners are an exceptionally friendly tribe. Also, as Pongola parkrun is a relatively new kid on the block, the organisers were interested to find out facts and figures about our more established home parkrun, at Uvongo.
The Pongola event was really enjoyable and relatively easy. It was held at the TSB grounds, a pretty, well-treed, park-like residential area, boasting shady streets and attractive, tropical garden.
The two-lap route, which started and ended at the Ntongo Sports Club, was along tarred residential streets, level paving and some well-maintained gravel paths. Best of all, the parkrun course was almost completely flat.
When we set off at 7am, it wasn’t too hot but by the time I reached the finish (some time after Bill, as usual) the sun was cranking up the heat and I was rather relieved that we hadn’t had to start at 8am as we did at home.
Huge trees offer shade to visitors who stop to enjoy the views from the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk.
We drove back to uMkhuze along the N2, a scenic road that passes Josini Dam, and treated ourselves to a post-parkrun coffee before dismantling our tent and packing up camp.
Fairly recently, iSimangaliso Wetland Park opened up a wonderful new game viewing route along Lake St Lucia’s western shore, from Charter’s Creek in the north to Dukuduku Gate, on the R618 between Mtubatuba and the town of St Lucia.
We’d driven this Western Shores route a few times and had always been impressed so were looking forward to taking time to make the most of this scenic route.
First stop was Charter’s Creek, which offers a panoramic view of the beautiful lake St Lucia, Africa’s largest estuarine system.
Last time we’d visited this popular fishing spot was during the terrible recent drought and we’d been distressed to see how low the level of the lake had fallen. What joy
to see that the level had risen considerably since then. After a short but productive birding session we were on our way to the uBhejane picnic spot for brunch.
Lake St Lucia levels are slowly rising after the recent drought.
It is an attractive little spot with views over the extensive grasslands and game-rich swampy areas that offered us good views of the passing parade of plains animals while we ate
A small detour along an interesting network of side roads took us to the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk, a must if you are doing the Western Shores route.
It is in such a pretty spot, the wooden walkway winding through swamp forest and offering lovely views of the lake and its watery shore. After the good recent rains, everything was green and lush, with sparkling expanses of water wherever you looked.
Near the boardwalk, the rain had filled up Kwelamadoda Pan and the crystal-clear water
was acting like a magnet for an amazing assortment of game and birds. We stopped our vehicle to watch the action for quite a while.
The pan was an excellent illustration of how our wetlands act as filters for the water they store so effectively, keeping it fresh and clean.
Plenty to see at Kwelamadoda Pan.
The Western Shores really has benefited from iSimangaliso’s game restocking programme and now offers premier game viewing.
The many mammal species and birds enthralled us all the way through this lovely section. One of the highlights was a substantial herd of buffalo, but there were plenty of other species to see.
Driving the lovely Western Shores route is always a wonderful wildlife experience and I heartily recommend it to anyone visiting the wetland park or its surrounding areas.
Over the last few years, the park authorities have conducted a huge restoration programme, removing some 14 000 hectares of alien trees and rehabilitating the land. It has
been so wonderful to watch the healing of the once-debilitated Western Shores.
When we reached the Dukaduka Gate, we were sorry to say farewell to iSimangaliso. It is such a unique park with a wonderful sense of place, suburb wilderness, amazing diversity and incredible natural beauty.
Everything the dedicated iSimangaliso team has been able to achieve from an environmental point of view offers hope for the future of all South Africa’s wild places.
iSimangaliso’s many and varied components include the very special uMkhuze Game Reserve, which is recognised worldwide as a premier birding hotspot, plus three major lake systems, rare swamp and sand forests, the biggest vegetated dunes in South Africa, magical dune forest and pristine shoreline.
The uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk is a must-do for anyone visiting isimagaliso’s Western shores section.It truly deserves its World Heritage Site status and I am sure that one day, in the not too distant future, iSimangaliso will rival Kruger National Park as South Africa’s premier eco-tourism destination.
We sped down the N2, reaching Richard’s Bay mid-afternoon and we spent two wonderful two days with our family in that fair city by the sea. Altogether, we were only away from home for four nights but somehow, by packing so much into our short break, it seemed so much longer.
Our parkrun tourist mission was proving a huge adventure and was certainly encouraging us to make the most of even the shortest breaks to see more of our beautiful country. And that is just what the parkrun tourist concept is all about.