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Part of the world heritage site of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Sodwana Bay is a tiny town in the exquisite nature reserve, a coastal forested strip between St Lucia and Lake Sibhayi.
Sodwana Bay lies in the north eastern corner of KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Province, where the Indian Ocean’s waters are always warm and the beaches and reefs remain unscathed by industry.
Regarded as South Africa’s premier diving site, Sodwana Bay has many fascinating attractions including ancient coastal dunes and forests. Inland are salt and fresh water lakes, small villages and game parks.
In volume, the coral reefs in Sodwana Bay are one-tenth the size of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, however, they are no less important. These pristine reefs are safe breeding grounds for masses of fish and without them fish populations would radically decline. Fortunately, the conservation of this area is at the forefront of local authorities’ agendas. Registered tour companies in the area are aware of the fragility and significance of Sodwana Bay’s reefs and operate in an eco-friendly manner.
Whether you are an enthusiastic diver, a nature lover or just someone who appreciates a quiet, peaceful beach holiday, Sodwana Bay should be your chosen destination.
Things to do
Spend your days exploring miles of untouched coastline. Swimming in the Sodwana Bay seas is a lot of fun as water temperatures rarely drop below 20° Celsius here.
New to scuba diving? Sign up for a PADI-certified (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) course in Sodwana Bay that will get you to a point where a guided open dive is possible.
A suggested dive site is Stringer Reef to see the ray cleaning station. Huge manta rays congregate while the wrasse perform their valuable cleaning service on them. The boat ride out from Jesser Point to the reef is an adventure in itself as the pilot expertly steers through the waves.
Angling is hugely popular in Sodwana Bay where fisherman attempt to land sailfish, gnarly springer and powerful tuna.
The Mkuze Swamps, also in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is a bird watching paradise. Expect to see fish eagle, kingfisher, heron and flamingo to name a few. Otter, serval and reed buck inhabit the area. Ghost Mountain overlooks the area where some believe (incorrectly) is the site where the Zulu King Dingaan was killed.
A short drive north of Sodwana is South Africa’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Sibaya. Here, the crocodile and hippo rule and if lucky, you may see the shy water buck. The lake is separated from the ocean by some of the world’s highest vegetated dunes.
Kosi Bay is known for its four lakes extending 30km along the northern shore and it is a popular snorkeling and skin diving site. Visit a Tembe village to see their fish kraals, built using branches and twine, which guide fish into smaller pools where they are speared.
Spend a day at Tembe Elephant Park for game viewing of the small elephant population,as well as rhino, leopard, hyena and various antelope species. Interestingly, the park experiences butterfly swarms in early spring.
Where to Eat
The Lighthouse Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge in Sodwana is well laid out with a relaxing deck and friendly staff eager to please. The delicious food includes wood-fired pizzas, pastas and a selection of fish dishes.
A warm ambience surrounds the Elephant Waterhole restaurant where the hosts offer delicious seafood and other fare. The Mozambican-style prawns are enjoyed by the regulars.
Leatherbacks Restaurant is in a rather rustic setting and the excellent meals range from an à la carte menu to standard pizzas. A pool bar is below the restaurant for pre-dinner drinks or to spend an evening around the pool.
The Sports Bar at Sodwana Bay Village is a great place to meet the locals and get the inside dope on best dive spots in Sodwana.
Where to Stay
Sodwana Bay has a fantastic selection of accommodation options to suit all tastes, from prestigious and luxurious lodges to fun resorts and rustic beach camps. Whichever one you choose, expect outstanding value at a convenient base in which to enjoy your seaside vacation.
Air The nearest airport is in Richards Bay, 195km from Sodwana Bay. Fly in to Richards Bay via one of the three international airports (Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg).
Car Hire a car from any of the rental agencies at the Richards Bay airport or order a vehicle online.
Taxi There are no formal taxis in the area, however, a number of tour operators in Sodwana Bay offer shuttle services to & from the airport.
Bus Baz Bus, the ‘backpacker’s bus service’ operates a bus to Sodwana Bay from outlying regions.
Did you know?
Although the Sodwana Bay reefs are a lot smaller than the Great Barrier Reef, a total of 1600 marine species have been recorded here versus the 1800 species found in Australia. For diversity of marine life, Sodwana Bay is an unmatched dive site.
The gentle, female leatherback and loggerhead turtles make an epic 25000km annual journey to nest on the beaches of Sodwana Bay by digging a hole and dropping a clutch of roughly 100 eggs before returning to sea. Their female offspring will return to repeat this cycle. The beach breeding grounds are strictly monitored but night tours are offered by the KZN Parks Board.
In 2000 a living fossil, the Coelecanth, was discovered in Jesser Canyon off Sodwana Bay. The authorities immediately initiated an ecosystem programme to protect these ancient fish.
The area is a malaria zone, take the necessary precautions.
The word Sodwana is Zulu for "little one on its own", which is appropriate, considering that Sodwana Bay is a little piece of virgin paradise.