St. Lucia Central Reservations


St. Lucia & The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park Area


History of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Area

Centuries ago the Nguni tribes migrated southward along the Mozambique coastal plains to the eastern shores of Lake St. Lucia. During their migration they used food from the sea e.g. oysters and mussels as a protein source. Evidence of this occurs in the form of shell middens which occur periodically along the coastline in the dunes.

The eastern shores wetland area of  St. Lucia were initially inhabited by a primitive iron-age man. Trees from the dune forests were used to make charcoal for iron smelting and the forests were replaced by secondary grasslands. Fire was used to clear agricultural plots and to maintain the grassland for grazing. From this stage on, man has had a profound influence on the ecological function of the area. These grasslands are suitable for many animals which otherwise could not have inhabited the area.

In the 1500s Portuguese navigators, exploring the African coastline discovered the estuary mouth and in 1576 the lake and estuary were named Santa Lucia which was later renamed to St. Lucia.

In 1822 the Royal Navy sent the ships Leven, Barracouta and Cockburn to survey the coastline. The captain of the Barracouta was a Lieutenant A Vidal after whom Cape Vidal was named and Leven Point was named after the sloop H.M.S. Leven.

In the 19th century explorers and hunters came to Zululand. At the time the St. Lucia wetland area was teeming with game, including elephant, buffalo and black rhino. Over the next 70 or so years the game was decimated by white settlers in search of ivory, adventure and land. During the latter half of the 1800's many hippo were shot at Lake St. Lucia. 

The first Nyala known to science was recorded near False Bay Park in 1849 by George Angas and is named after him (Tragelaphus angasi)

After the Zulu wars the Boers of the New Republic, Vryheid wanted to acquire St. Lucia to use as a port. They were, however, thwarted by the British Authorities. The H.M.S. Goshawk was dispatched  north to St. Lucia to annex the area in December 1884. The following year the St. Lucia township was proclaimed. This became popular as a fishing resort and the first hotel was established in the 1920s. It was not until the mid 1950s that a bridge was built, connecting the town to the mainland. Prior to this a pont was used.

On 31 January 1898, the ship Dorothea was wrecked on the reef off Cape Vidal. It is rumored that the ship was carrying a cargo of illicit gold bought on the Witwatersrand and smuggled out of the country via Lourenco Marques (now Maputo). Numerous salvage attempts have been made to recover the gold, but none have been successful.

In 1898, the Reverend L.O. Feyling, a Norwegian missionary, established a mission station at Mount Tabor near Mission Rocks. One can still see the old Dutch oven used at the mission. The mission continued to function until the mid 1950s when the Forestry Department moved the Zulu and Tonga people out of the area. Other mission stations which have operated for shorter periods were at Cape Vidal and Ozabeni near Ochre Hill.

In 1912 G. Challis and D. Brodie were granted an area of 100 acres at Makakatana to start a trading business. In 1923 this land was declared a private township and still is to date. The conventional way through to the eastern shores during that period was wading across the shallow water at Brodie's Crossing from Makakatana to Mission Rocks.

In 1911 the Umfolozi settlement was established and sugar cane was planted on the Umfolozi flats. Much of the area was canalised and the swamps and wetlands were drained to increase agricultural land. As a result sediment from the catchment area silted up the original estuary Umfolozi - St. Lucia mouth in 1951. To alleviate this problem a new mouth for the Umfolozi River was excavated in 1953 south of  St. Lucia Estuary.

In 1943 part of the Royal Air Force 262 Squadron was based on the Eastern shores to carry out anti-submarine patrols along the coastline with their Catalina flying boats. An observation building was erected at Mount Tabor and has in more recent times been converted into an overnight hut for the Mziki Trails.

The SS Timavo, an Italian cargo vessel, beached just north of Leven point in June 1940. It had slipped out of Durban after Italy declared war on the Allies and was forced ashore by the Air Force. The wreck can be clearly seen from the beach at low tide.

In the early 1950s the Government Forestry Department started silvicultural operations on the Western shores and a few years later on the Eastern shores to the detrement of the wetland areas.

Thus we see from this brief history that ever since the arrival of the Nguni tribes, man has had a dominating effect on the environment, and unfortunately as time progresses and man becomes more technologically advanced, so the magnitude of his influence on the environment increases.