April was a month of long weekends, road trips, catching up with family and lots of fun! After our December experience of scrambling to find accommodation at the last minute, I had planned much in advance for the Easter break. K and I were taking my family that was visiting from India, on a road trip (yes, again!) to St. Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal.
Located 600kms from Joburg, it would take us around 7-8 hours to reach St.Lucia, the only private town in the world. The town is surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (iSimangaliso means ‘miracle’ in Zulu), the main reason for our visit. As a result of the park’s unique ecosystems and rich biodiversity, it was declared South Africa’s first World Heritage site in 1999. Sandy beaches, coastal dunes, coral reefs, hippos, Nile crocodiles and hundreds of species of birds are a few things that make the Wetland Park so special.
We left nice and early on a Friday morning in order to make it to St. Lucia by lunch as we were booked for a late afternoon boat cruise on Lake St. Lucia to get up close to the hippos and crocs. The drive was rather relaxed and uneventful and we made it to our small and cozy B&B in under 7 hours. After a nice and laid back lunch, we were picked up by our pleasant tour guide from Shakabarker Tours and transported to the jetty where a nice little boat was waiting to take us down the estuary. After a brief introduction of the Wetlands and its ecosystems, we were off and in under five minutes we had spotted two mammoth Nile crocs basking at the edges of the marshes! A little further down the lake, several groups of hippos could be seen soaking their bodies. Hippos are known to spend their entire day in water and only come out after sunset as they are prone to dehydration under the sun.
After the interesting cruise, we were dropped back at out lodge. We turned in early as the next day was going to be another early start. Instead of going on a safari with one of the tour companies, we had opted for a full day self drive through the game reserve. Since only a limited number of vehicles are allowed in every day (120), we needed to queue up at the gate by 6:30 am. The manager at the B&B had very generously packed our breakfasts so we wouldn’t have to starve inside!
Compared to Kruger, the St. Lucia game reserve is quite small. However, what is unique and remarkable is that this game park offers not only game viewing but also a chance to relax and spend the day at the beach! Cape Vidal, located within the iSimangaliso Park, is a beautiful bay offering campsites and accommodation or the chance to just enjoy the its pristine beach along the Indian Ocean. It is not everyday that one gets a chance to stop at a beach whilst on a safari!
Although we did not spot much of the Big 5 (includes lions, elephants, rhino, buffalo and leopard), we did see tons of zebras, several different species of antelopes, a wild buffalo and luckily a rhino too.
For the evening, we had booked a night game drive with the same tour company. The idea was to to spot some nocturnal animals, especially the cats. Armed with spot lights, we headed off into the jungle after sunset. Including the animals we had seen in the morning, we also saw some wildebeest, wild boar and a pack of hyena.
As if one full day and night of game viewing was not enough for us, the next morning we drove to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve, about 40 minutes away from St Lucia. It is supposedly the oldest game reserve in Africa and home to the Big 5. However, our bad luck from the day before continued, and despite having hundreds of elephants that roam the park, we were unable to see even one. We did however, see some beautiful giraffes among the usual zebras and antelopes.
With one final day of our holiday remaining, we made our way to Richards Bay, another 40 minutes from the game park, to relax and unwind on the beach.