Cap Sainte Marie Special Reserve and its cliffs
Madagascar's southernmost tip, Cape Sainte Marie (known in Malagasy as Tanjon'ny Vohimena), is a stark and windswept place where you'll feel you've travelled to the end of the earth. To protect 14 species of bird and two rare species of tortoise, its fragile ecosystem and its unique fauna and flora, the surrounding area has been set aside as a special reserve in 1962. It is here that the two oceans meet: the Indian Ocean and the Mozambique Channel. A functional lighthouse predominates this sea swept by a permanent strong wind and which will have no other shore than the Antarctica and South Pole.
Located on the southern boundary of the Mahafaly Karimbola plateau, it is a pretty arid zone with no watercourses and very little rain covered by dry spiny forest. The impressive huge moving dunes and the coast landscapes create a bizarre, beautiful and unique ecosystem. The highlight of Cape Sainte Marie Special Reserve are the turtles, both terrestrial and marines. The two endemic species of terrestrial turtles are specially significant: the radiated and the spider turtle are already very rare and have along this coast its last wild habitat. The Reserve contains in fact the largest populations of these two threatened turtles, and one of the highest densities of turtles in the world. There are no less than 1000 at square km! Unfortunately, it becomes an increasingly rare element of the ecosystem because of poaching.
The spectacle of the migration of humpback whales from June to October is magical. The humpback whales, which pass near the coast with their calves during its migration between August and November, are the other main attraction of Cape Sainte Marie.
There are also some mammals living in this region: a two species of nocturnal lemurs, like the grey mouse lemur or the reddish-grey mouse lemur, and some tenrecs and bats manage to survive in this arid ecosystem. There are a pair of endemic species birds, such as the Verreaux’s Coua and the littoral rock-trush. Reptiles are more abundant. Apart from the turtles, visitors can observe the local endemic three-eyed-lizard, some boas, geckos and chameleons. The Reserve has also a good number of spider and insects. 4 different termite species have been identified so far.
The vegetation consists mainly of dwarf plants which form a unique spiny bush (pay attention to their thorns while walking). Some of this tiny plants only occur around Cape Sainte Marie. Even baobabs are tiny in this area! A significant species is the Madagascar periwinkle. This beautiful plant with pink flowers is used as a natural medicine against leukemia.
There's the chance to walk on beaches with strewn Aepyornis eggshell fragments and its bones. The legendary elephant bird which was 3 meters tall have lived in the South of Madagascar 700 years ago and have been exterminated by man. The female was laying an egg that could hold up to 8 liters of volume. Whole or reconstituted eggs can still be found decorating the salons of wealthy residents throughout the island.
There are two easy trails within the Reserve. You can make both of them in one day without problems. The Cape circuit is a short walk through the dwarf spiny forest where you can spot reptiles and birds amongst this extraordinary scenery. The Cave circuit allows you to discover the eggs of the elephant bird and to observe the big population of turtles. Besides, you will pass through a sacred cave and some moving dunes.
East of Cape Sainte Marie Special Reserve along the coast is Faux Cap (Betanty), which offers good views, but little other. For a long time, and according to the calculations of Portuguese navigators, Betanty was considered as the most southern village of Madagascar. Calculation proved false later, this distinction was attributed to Cape Sainte Marie. In compensation, Betanty was nicknamed "False Cape". It is nonetheless a very beautiful fishing village and a lagoon protected by a rocky barrier.
Watch more photos about Cape Sainte Marie Special Reserve here.