Few areas in Africa have the incredible diversity of the freshwater ecosystems found along the Elephant Coast. Major rivers wash through broad flood plains. Large coastal lagoons spill out into the ocean. Deep, clear coastal lakes sit just behind the massive dunes. When the small, semi-permanent pans fill up, visitors can still sometimes observe a traditional fish drive, which, along with the 700-year-old fish traps in Lake Kosi, are some of the unique features of this area. The lakes are home to hippo, crocodiles and a variety of fish.
The coastal dune system that runs along this 220-kilometre stretch of protected coastline consists of linear vegetated dunes that are among the highest forested dunes in the world. They are estimated to be 25 000 years old and up to 180 meters high. Select coastal establishments, such as Thonga Beach Lodge and Rocktail Bay, take night tours along the stunning beaches to see the old phenomenon of nesting sea turtles.
There is a wide variety of flora, with well over 2 000 plant species, many of which are endemic to the region, and some of the most interesting and unique game reserves are found here in the Elephant Coast region. Incredibly dense, evergreen forests with towering fig trees stand in a lush undergrowth of ferns and wild orchids that hang from the trees. Swamp forests contain huge raffia palms that are home to the rare, indigenous palm nut vulture and a variety of beautiful birds. Against the backdrop of the dunes, palm savannahs are dotted with wild date and ilala palms, from which locals brew the famous, traditional palm wine.
The Elephant Coast borders Mozambique in the north, Swaziland and the Lebombo Mountains in the North West, the Indian Ocean to the east and ends roughly at the mouth of the Imfolozi River near St Lucia village in the south.