Charters Creek is a hidden gem located on the Western Shores of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu Natal’s Elephant Coast. This section was recently opened to the public in December 2013, but prior to that, it was only accessible to a select few on heritage tours and safaris with specific tour operators.
Over the past eight years, the park has been actively rehabilitating this easily accessed portion of iSimangaliso, removing alien trees to restore 25 000 hectares to its former natural landscape, and reintroducing historically occurring game such as elephant, serval, giraffe, white and black rhino, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest.
The Western Shores of Charters Creek now boast a diverse collection of waterfowl and other wildlife, including herds of waterbuck, reedbuck and kudu, hippos, crocodiles, and more than 300 bird species. The reserve is also a favorite spot for fishermen and birders, as it has two walking trails (Isikhova and Umkumbe) that are great for spotting birds and the lake shore.
The Western Shores also include new game drives, such as the uMphathe Loop, which includes a stop at the Kweyezalukazi lookout, and the uMdoni Loop, which takes you to the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk through the forest and offers stunning views of Lake St Lucia’s narrows, from as far north as Cape Vidal to as far south as Maphelane.
Additionally, the Western Shores feature the Kwelamadoda pan, which is a great spot for bird watching, and the Amazibu water lily, as well as the Kwelezintombi pan, which is a great spot to spot hippos.
Unlike the Eastern Shores, the Western Shores of Charters Creek receive fewer visitors, and the daily number of cars is limited to 120. This means that visitors seldom have to queue and have the option of two gates to enter and leave by, the Nhlozi gate close to Hluhluwe and the Emdodeni Wildcat Centre and the Dukuduku gate closer to the town of St Lucia.
Horseback Riding at the Beach
Charters Creek is not only a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, but it also offers a variety of outdoor activities for adventure seekers. One of the most popular activities is horseback riding on the beach.
Horseback riding excursions take place on Iphiva Beach at the northern end of St Lucia, where there are many kilometers of clean white sand with the Indian Ocean rolling in alongside. During the whale season (May to November), visitors may be lucky enough to see humpback whales breaching out in the deeper water on their way to the breeding grounds in Mozambique. From November to March, the guides search for the tracks of turtles who dug their nests above the high tide mark in the warm sand the night before. The rest of the year, visitors can enjoy the amazing views along the beach to the highest forested dunes in Africa and often see dolphins playing in the surf.
Beach rides are low tide dependent, so you can ride on the hard sand, and neither damage anything living in the soft sand nor possibly harm the horses. This is a unique and thrilling way to experience the natural beauty of the Western Shores and the Indian Ocean.
St Lucia Market
Charters Creek offers a variety of activities and attractions for visitors to explore, one of which is the St Lucia Market. Tucked away in St Lucia at the end of McKenzie Street, visitors can find the most wonderful market where they can find a vast selection of curios and fresh produce.
The market is known for its fresh produce from local farms. Visitors can find a variety of fruits and vegetables such as paw-paws, bananas, avocado pears, macadamia nuts and so much more. It’s a great place for those who love to bargain, as visitors can haggle with the friendly vendors to agree on a price suitable for both parties.
The St Lucia Market has a great atmosphere, is busy and is filled with an array of interesting people with fascinating things or services to sell. It’s a great place to experience the local culture, taste fresh produce and purchase unique souvenirs. Visitors can also take a break and sample some of the delicious street food available in the market.
Enseleni Nature Reserve
Charters Creek offers a variety of activities and attractions for visitors to explore, one of which is the Enseleni Nature Reserve. The Enseleni Nature Reserve is a small reserve of 293 hectares lying just inland from the town of Richards Bay, almost midway between Empangeni and Richards Bay. It’s a popular day outing for visitors to the area, and the coastal grasslands and forest that dominate the reserve are particularly pretty and home to a thriving bird life.
The Nseleni River, from which the reserve gets its name, runs through the reserve and creates a beautiful haven for wildlife. The river languidly winds its way through the reserve, draining into the Insesi or Nsesi Lake, just beyond Richards Bay harbor.
Bird watching is a popular activity at Enseleni, and visitors may spot rare bird species such as the African finfoot, Pels fishing owl, purple crested lourie, white-eared barbet, and nightjars (Mozambique, fiery necked and European). The reserve is also home to larger mammals such as giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala, waterbuck, bushpig, duikers, and even hippos and crocodiles.
Although camping is not allowed in the reserve, there are lovely picnic spots available, and the activities center, geared for education groups, is said to be excellent. Although not a hiking mecca, there are two trails within Enseleni, the Nkonkoni trail and the Mvubu trail, which wind through the swamp forest. The scenery alone on these walks is worth the visit, and visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the reserve.
A minimal entrance fee per person is payable at the gates now and it’s worth to mention that, Enseleni Reserve is a perfect destination for those who love to explore the nature, wildlife, and birds.
Maputaland Marine Reserve
Charters Creek offers a variety of activities and attractions for visitors to explore, one of which is the Maputaland Marine Reserve. The Maputaland Marine Reserve lies within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and extends from roughly 11 kilometers north of Jesser Point all the way to the Mozambique border. It’s part of the UNESCO declared World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, known as one of the ‘jewels’ of South Africa’s coastline, an incredible assimilation of beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, swamps, lakes, woodlands, coastal forests, and grasslands.
The main reason for the existence of the Maputaland Marine Reserve is the preservation of a large number of leatherback turtles nesting in the area, which were dwindling in number because of exploitation. Within the reserve, only rural people living in the Kosi Bay area may harvest intertidal invertebrates, no one else may make use of the resources in the area.
Within the Maputaland Marine Reserve lies Sodwana Bay, the only scuba-diving area along this strip of coastline and regarded as one of the top dive sites in the world with a 50-kilometer reef complex and visited by some 35,000 scuba divers a year. However, it’s worth mentioning that malaria is endemic on the Maputaland coast, so if you are traveling to the far north of South Africa, please consult a healthcare professional.
Maputaland Marine Reserve is a unique place where visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the coastline and marine life, scuba diving and snorkeling, and also to be a part of conservation efforts of endangered species such as leatherback turtles.
Charters Creek reserve is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. With its beautiful coastal sand forest, diverse wildlife, and ample opportunities for bird watching and fishing, it offers a unique and unforgettable experience. The eMgadankawu Hide allows for bird spotting in comfort and the uBhejane picnic site is perfect for lunch stops. So pack a picnic and plan to spend a day exploring the Western Shores of Charters Creek.