Natural lakes in KwaZulu-Natal are confined to the north-east coastal plain and all of the water bodies large enough to warrant this description are contained within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The park system extends from the Mozambique border for more than 220 km south to Cape St Lucia. The width of the land portion varies from 1 km to 24 km. A Marine reserve component of 5km wide extends 155km along the length of the coast. The Park comprises the last remaining subtropical area containing its original diverse components of wild plants and animals on the south-eastern coast of Africa, and one of the last remaining in the world. Within the site are exceptional wetland, terrestrial and marine ecosystems with complement of species and migratory species. Landscapes are outstanding and the geomorphological processes by which they are formed are believed to be of universal importance given their evolution subsequent to the fragmentation of the Gondwana super-continent.
The five interlinked ecosystems found in the park are:


1) a marine system, characterised by a warm sea, the southernmost extension of coral reefs in Africa, submarine canyons, and long sandy beaches;


2) a coastal dune system consisting of high linear dunes, sub-tropical forests, grassy plains and wetlands;


3) lake systems including two estuary-linked lakes, St Lucia and Kosi, and four large freshwater lakes, Sibaya, Ngobezeleni, Bhangazi north and Bhangazi south;


4) the Mkhuze and Umfolozi swamps, with swamp forests, extensive reeds and papyrus swamps;


5) an inland system which includes ancient shoreline terraces and dry savannah woodlands.


The many ecological linkages between these ecosystems have created an area of almost unrivalled natural diversity and beauty.

The iSimangaliso area has a long history of conservation, dating back as far as 1895 when the first reserves were created along the shores of St Lucia.