The Elephant Coast is bordered in the northwest by the Ubombo Mountains, in the east by the Indian Ocean, and in the south by the Umfolozi River, which is just below the St. Lucia Estuary. The estuary is part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park), South Africa’s very first World Heritage Site. Although the area is only 200 km (124 miles) long and 70 km (43 miles) wide, its eco-diversity offers some of South Africa’s most varied and gorgeous scenery: pristine coastal bird-rich forests, floodplains and inland lakes, unspoiled miles-long beaches, deep rivers, and unique sand forests. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise, where you can swim (with sharks!), snorkel, surf, watch turtles, go hiking, mountain biking, deep-sea fishing or diving, check out the Big Five, or see dolphins and whales.
KwaZulu-Natal’s best private lodges lie in northern Zululand and Maputaland, a remote region close to Mozambique. With one exception, the lodges reviewed here do not offer the Big Five. However, they are sufficiently close to one another and to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve to allow you to put together a bush experience that delivers the Big Five and a great deal more, including superb bird-watching opportunities and an unrivaled beach paradise. Malaria does pose a problem, however, and antimalarial drugs are essential. Summers are hot, hot, hot. If you can’t take heat and humidity, then autumn, winter, and early summer are probably the best time to visit.