Camping at False Bay on the Elephant Coast

I need a few days of solitude every year to recharge my batteries and get my head focused on what’s important in my life. In order to achieve this, I need solitude, I need a place that doesn’t have too much happening around me. Lucky for me there are a plethora of spots around KwaZulu-Natal that offers just what I need, and one of my favorites is False Bay on the Elephant Coast.

Now I know that “Durban Day Trips” is all about day trips from Durban and not about overnight stays etc, but you can (and I have) made the 3 hour trip to False Bay just for the day. So, it can be done, but if you’re into camping as I am, you can also turn your visit into an overnight or longer stay.

False Bay is part of the greater iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. Designated a Ramsar Site wetland in 2015, the entire area is also a UNESCO World Heritage site (the first in South Africa). False Bay itself is an ecologically important site; geologically the area is considered to be some of the oldest, and the amount of wildlife found in the area is truly spectacular, especially the birding. The area is well known for its fossil marine animals and corals as well as its diverse ecosystems and is only three kilometres wide but contains habitats of sand forest, thornveld and savannah.

What You Can Expect at False Bay

Not much is the honest answer – but that’s part of the reason I visit as often as I can. On my very first visit some 8 or so years ago, I had a group of tourists along for the ride. We had spent 3 days in the nearby Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve and I think everyone was a little over the game reserve. I suggested a hiking trail nearby (suggested to me by a staff member of Hilltop Camp) and off we all went.

View over the lake from one of the picnic sites

Finding False Bay was as easy as can be. We stopped at the local SPAR in Hluhluwe to get enough snacks to make up a reasonably healthy picnic and within 30 minutes was driving through the main gates at False Bay.

I asked the game ranger at the gate if it was busy and if he recommend the best trail to walk to avoid big groups – he laughed. It soon became apparent why; we had the entire 230 square kilometer park entirely to ourselves, we were the only 9 people in the park apart from the park rangers!

This is not uncommon. I have been back to False Bay for day visits and weekend / mid-week break often, and the busiest I’ve ever seen it is 2 campsites apart from mine occupied. I’m not sure why that is, though it may be because this is not much to do at the site apart from the nature trails, birding and fishing.

The Nature Reserve

False Bay encompasses the western shore of False Bay (Lake St Lucia) and is made of a large nature reserve, home to an amazing variety of bird life as well as smaller antelope such as Nyala, Bushbuck, Diuker and the like.

There are 3 main walking hiking trails that run through the reserve, the shortest being around 5km’s in length and the longest being 10km’s in total.

There are a number of campsites that run alongside the lake itself but no swimming or wading is allowed into the water thanks to the fact both Hippo and Crocodile can be found here – there are plenty of warning signs to remind you.

The Camp Sites

There is a choice of campsites with electricity and without. I’ve only ever stayed at the campsites facing the lake without electricity but I’m told that the campsites nearer the reception area is where you’ll have access to the plug points.

One of the secluded camp sites at False Bay

Most if not all camp sites are shaded which is definitely a blessing in summer. On one memorable occasion the temperature in mid-Feb reaching a blistering 40 degrees celcius and as much as I love the heat, I was ready to exchange my soul for air-conditioning. The nearby lake does usually provide a gentle and cooling breeze which makes things bearable.

There is a braai (barbecue) stand at every campsite (at least as far as I could make out) though like many other places in South Africa, you must purchase charcoal or wood from reception as opposed to merely collecting firewood from the forest. Since I usually camp alone as part of my mental wellness prescription, I normally use a little gas cooker to sort me out in terms of cooking.

Ablutions are nearby and they were looking a little worn when I last visited in November of 2019. They were still perfectly usable but I think if the reserve was busier than it may not have been very pleasant. Experience campers will know to take along the basic s with them so as not to arrive and find no toilet paper, water or sanitizer in place.

The Walking Trails

I’ve walked most of the trails at False Bay and I have to say that they are some of my favorite anywhere in South Africa. They are not particularly difficult, an unfit person could easily manage provided they took their time and enjoyed the surroundings.

Braai area at picnic site overlooking the lake

Every time I visit False Bay I go with the intention of taking lots of photographs, and every time without fail the second I step onto the trail and head into the densely canopied forest I completely forget about photographs. And that’s a good thing.

Once you step onto the trails and listen to the birds calling around you or the rustle of leaves underfoot as insects scurry about, you realise right away that that this life out in nature is the real deal, that it’s our weird existence that involves checking Instagram or Twitter the second our eyes open that is fake and nonsensical and potentially harmful.

It doesn’t take long until our lizard brains start rebooting to what they were designed to do and you start noticing the small herd of Nyala grazing browsing nearby, or the lone Duiker waiting in a frozen posture for you to pass by, or the Bushbuck watching you wearily as they continue to feed.

The bird calls all about replace the sounds of city living, if you stand still and just listen you can even now and again make out the snort of a Hippo out in the estuary somewhere. It’s a magical feeling and one that even now as I write about it urges me to head back to False Bay.

There are 3 main trails (that I know of) with the shortest taking around an hour and the longest probably a full morning. As you walk along the trails which are pretty well marked, don’t just tick off the bird species you see, but keep a list of the different plants and trees you’ll see along the route – reserve has made this part easier by pinning labels to a lot of the different species.

One thing to note is that you must take water with you, there are no stops along the way to purchase or collect water. There is supposed to be maps available at reception that mark out the trails, but every time I have popped into get they haven’t had. But again, the trails are pretty easy to navigate.

Fishing and Boating at False Bay

Apart from exploring the reserves walking trails, you can also fish and you can go boating. Regardless of which you intend doing, just remember there are Crocodiles and Hippos – I have seen both on my visits although Hippo’s are pretty rare that far up the St Lucia lake I’m told.

Remember, no swimming or wading!

I’m a big fly fishing enthusiast, so I’ve taken up my rod to try my hand but to be honest I don’t think this is the right type of fishing to be done at False Bay. I’ve not had much luck here and it seems you would be better off with a bait caster or similar.

There are definitely fish to be caught. Once while setting up camp two chaps where leaving that same day walked by with three fair size fish they had caught (I couldn’t tell you what they used) so clearly a little local knowledge would come in useful – there is plenty of advice to be found online though.

Of course it must be remembered that you will need a fishing permit (easily obtainable at any Post Office) and there are limits on the species you can catch. On arrival it’s best to speak to the staff at reception to get the details.

You are able to boat on the lake but obviously water sports such as water-skiing is pretty much off limits lest you want to end up as the main course for float of crocodile (yup, that’s one of the collective nouns). There are numerous lunching slips for boaters though to my eye they looked in pretty bad shape, not sure I would trust them without a 4×4 vehicle on standby.

What’s it Cost?

The park is managed by Ezemvelo so it’s always best to check their website for up to date rates. As of March 2020 they published the following;

  • Campsite with plug point – 1 x persons R85 out of season (+ R85 for extra people)
  • Campsite with plug point – 2 x persons R200 in season (+ R100 for extra people)
  • Campsite without plug point – 1 x person R75 out of season (+R75 per person thereafter)
  • Campsite without plug point – 2 x persons R180 in season (+R180 per person thereafter)

As with all Ezemvelo sites, there is an entry fee (daily conservation fee) that I think is around R30 per person but that should be confirmed before you go by simply calling Ezemvelo.

There are also self-catering chalets available but I can’t comment on them since I’ve never stayed in them. The details should be found on the Ezemvelo website.

What Else Is There To Do in the Area?

There is so much to do in the area that you probably would need a weeks stay. I will say that some of the things to do are located a distance away so you will be putting some mileage on your vehicle.

  • Visit the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve – about 30 min away.
  • Enjoy a guided tour at Emdoneni – about 30 min away.
  • Experience the Elephant Interaction at Bayete Zulu – 50 min away.
  • Go further north and scuba dive, surf or just enjoy the beach at Sodwana – about an hour away.
  • Head to St Lucia for an estuary cruise or game drive through Western or Eastern shores – about 90 min away.
  • Shop for fresh fruit and veges as well as curios at Zamanpilo – 40 min away.

How To Get There From Durban

False Bay is really easy to get to – the first time I went I used Google maps on my phone and was directed without any drama. If you’re coming from Durban, then the instructions below should also make life easy for you.

The drive one way is roughly 280km’s on tarred road passing through 3 tolls. There are at least 4 service stations to fill up along the way. The trip can easily be done in a sedan.

  • From Durban get onto the N2 north and keep going for the next 260km’s until you reach the turnoff to the town of Hluhluwe.
  • On the way you will have to go through 3 toll gates costing around R80.
  • There is a great place to stretch the legs, fill up if need be and get some snacks to enjoy; it’s the North Coast 1 Stop located just before Richards Bay.
  • When you finally get to the turn off, turn right over the N2 onto the R22 and head into the town of Hluhluwe.
  • A word of caution – they have an active traffic department and often are either stopping vehicles along the road or have set up stop and go’s – so make sure you stick to the speed indicated and buckle up etc.
  • From the turn off you’ll drive 6km’s through the town of Hluhluwe until you come up to a traffic circle.
  • At the traffic circle take the first left and continue on the R22 for 1,4 km looking for a turnoff to the right that the R22 makes.
  • Now follow the R22 for around 6km’s keeping an eye out for the sign indicating the turnoff to False Bay.
  • Take the right turn and then it’s just another 6km’s or so to reception.

About Shelldon

Hi, my name is Shelldon and I'm a tour guide based in the city of Durban, South Africa. For years I've been taking visitors from around the world on trips throughout South Africa. I write about the places I've visited and things I've done.

View all posts by Shelldon →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *