The far northern Kwazulu Natal coast of South Africa hosts an annual natural spectacle that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Every summer, hundreds of Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles complete their breeding cycle and emerge from the Indian Ocean to lay their eggs on this stretch of coastline – incredibly most returning to the exact beach on which they themselves hatched!
Witnessing a 250kg to 750kg Leatherback Turtle, averaging 1 ½ to 2 metres in length, heave herself with great effort up the beach to above the high tide mark, to watch her dig a hole in the sand and then lay up to 110 eggs at a time while in a state of trance, is an unforgettable experience!
With similar breeding habits, both Loggerhead and Leatherback female turtles lay their eggs between mid-October and mid-March and from January to the end of March, hundreds of hatchlings emerge from the nests and scurry their way down to the sea. The females’ nest at intervals of 2 to 3 years, though recent research has indicated they can nest every year. They nest between 6 to 9 times per season, with an average of 10 days between nestings. Eggs incubate for about 65 days.
Rocktail Bay Lodge, within the iSimangaliso (formerly Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park – a South African World Heritage Site, is considered the best place in South Africa to observe and experience marine turtles. Five different species have been recorded here: Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, Loggerhead Caretta caretta, Green Chelonia mydas, Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata, and Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea. However it is only the Leatherback and Loggerhead that breed in the area.
Back in 1963, scientists from the then-Natal Parks Board under the direction of Dr George Hughes initiated a project to study and protect the dwindling turtle numbers. Because of Rocktail Bay Lodges’ long-term interest in the conservation of this extraordinary area, they have backed this project financially for the last five seasons. The project is deemed the longest on-going scientific study of turtles in the world! The results from this study show that the turtle population is one of very few in the world that is on the increase. Guests visiting Rocktail Bay Lodge in summer are able to interact with the guides and scientists patrolling the beach at low tide at night in search of nesting turtles, a unique attraction well worth the experience!
Guests at Rocktail Bay Lodge are encouraged to ‘adopt’ a turtle, and they are updated via e-mail whenever ‘their’ turtle is spotted nesting. Rocktail Bay Lodge pays the wages of the seasonal turtle scouts that are employed at this time of year to guard the turtle nests and help patrol the beaches. They are also involved in co-sponsoring satellite ‘transponders,’ which track the migratory paths of Leatherback turtles at the end of their three-month laying spree. These transponders have shown that they are able to dive to the most extraordinary depths on a single breath. They have been recorded as diving to 600m and in excess of 900m! The leatherback is the champion of sea turtles: It grows the largest, dives the deepest, and travels the farthest of all sea turtles.
The secluded Rocktail Bay Lodge offers luxurious comfort from which you can experience this spectacle. A place of tranquil beauty and peaceful surroundings, this diverse region is made up of forested dunes, wetlands, sandy beaches, woodlands and warm seas. Situated offshore is the Maputaland Marine Reserve, which offers sanctuary to prolific marine life including coral reefs, huge shoals of fish, and various dolphin and whale species.
The lodge offers a myriad of outdoor activities, which can be enjoyed with a guide or independently. A fully accredited dive centre, as well as experienced camp guides, ensures that, whether it be scuba diving or snorkelling, cultural excursions or forest walks, outings are informative, educational and fun. The dive operation is unrivalled in South Africa for its exclusive access to pristine reefs hosting a wide array of marine biodiversity. Snorkelling can produce sightings as spectacular as the diving outings. Both snorkelling and diving in the warm ocean are excellent all year round with different seasons bringing a variety of wonders: in summer the whalesharks and pregnant ragged-toothed sharks; in winter the humpback whales.
Guided activities on offer are:
· Scuba diving on 15 exclusive access reefs.
· Snorkelling outings to productive Lala Nek.
· Outings to the geological and scenically spectacular Black Rock.
· Outings to Gugulesizwe Cultural Village for quad-biking, horse riding, stargazing, Zulu dancing and sangoma visits (some at additional cost).
· Forest walks for birding, botanising and small mammal spotting, including guided trails through the forest.
· Catch-and-release saltwater fly-fishing.
· Swimming (there are no lifeguards however) and lazing on the 40km beach.
The unique coastal wildlife experience offered at Rocktail Bay Lodge can be combined with a Big 5 wildlife experience at one of the private game reserves or National Parks within Kwazulu Natal. An open vehicle 4x4 safari guided by a professional, experienced game ranger is a “must” to include on your travel itinerary.
Africa Tamed Tours and Travel
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