St Lucia in the iSimangaliso wetland park.
Great excitement, we were going on a mini holiday. Having been in South Africa for 2 weeks and just spending it working on the boat, it was now time for some fun! Richards bay is only an hours drive from the wonderful game parks of Hluhluwe and iMfolozi and I had planned a safari trip.
Monday 7th November was a poignant date because it would have been my Dad’s 85th birthday but as I feel he’s traveling with me I was taking him to see the hippos at the iSimangaliso wetland park. A UNESCO world heritage site it stretches for 220 kms from the Mozambique border to the white iMfolozi river at the southern end. It’s bordered by the Indian ocean on its eastern side and the park protects five distinct ecosystems. St Lucia is the main settlement. We left Camomile first thing in the morning and were taken by taxi to the Richards bay airport to pick up a hire car. It’s only R100 by taxi and the airport was the cheapest place to hire a car here.
After a short trip to the mall to sort out a few bits we were on the road north. Our first night was to be spent in St Lucia, a pleasant village and a useful base for exploring the southern are of the park. We were too early to check into our accommodation so decided to have lunch at the ski boat club restaurant that had been recommend to us. The restaurant garden overlooked the southern end of the St Lucia estuary and croc island in the middle. After a delicious lunch it was recommended we take a stroll along the boardwalk that leads through the sand dunes to the beach. The Indian ocean looked very wild that day.
As we walked back along the boardwalk we saw this snake on the ground below. It was about a metre and a half long and could possibly have been a black mamba but we kept our distance and just watched it slither along. We also managed to spot a crocodile swimming in the water and it’s in the middle of this photo but difficult to see.
As we made our way back to the car park this little group of striped mongoose were sitting on the side of the road.
We drove back to the main road of McKenzie street to the Monzi Safaris Tented lodge. It’s behind the Monzi Safaris backpackers although they share the same reception and car park. The backpackers is basically the old dormitory area that has been cleared and a series of ‘tents’ erected about a foot apart from each other on a ‘shelf’ with bathroom facilities downstairs. They looked ok but not sure what happens at night when someone starts snoring.
Our ‘tent’ was very nice and had a proper bed that was very comfotable with a two seater settee in the main section. There was a shower room with toilet and handbasin built on the back in a log cabin section which also housed a full sized fridge and a sink and the wardrobe. They were well designed.
The ‘tents’ were arranged around a lovely pool but by the time we checked in it had started raining and I didn’t feel like standing in a cold pool in the rain! There were also 2 lovely kitchen areas, one for our section and one for the backpacker tents, so it was possible to cook your own meals if you wanted to.
I would recommend either of these accommodations. Our main problem was we were staying in hut 1 which had the path to the other huts right next to us and we backed onto this nice bar area which also had tented sides and was about 6ft away from our hut. It had music playing until 10pm which I don’t usually mind but we had to get up at 4am to join the safari and had planned to go to bed early but after 10pm it did become very quiet.
Although Monzi do safaris we had booked our safari with Eurozulu who had their offices next door. Earlier we had visited them to pick up our safari tickets plus our tickets for the 2 hour hippo and croc that was booked for 4pm. This would normally be a good time because as the sun goes down it shows the colours of the hippos nicely – the problem was there wasn’t any sunshine and it was still raining. It would have been a nice walk from Monzi to the sunset jetty but it wouldn’t have been very nice sitting soaking wet so we drove the short distance to the jetty. Once there we were shown to one of four boats waiting for its passengers. Our friends Antony and Davina were already aboard. We set off north along the St Lucia estuary. At first I didn’t think we were going to see anything but then the hippos started bobbing up and appearing all around us.
This group were tucked under the greenery. One of them gave an enormous yawn. It had very big teeth.
Apparently they can’t really swim but push themselves off from the edge and glide along. Most of them were along the edge of the estuary.
These two didn’t seem very happy with each other. Although the hippos looked quite friendly they are vicious and shouldn’t be approached.
Further up the river the land flattened out and a couple of the hippos had got out of the water to stretch their legs. It was fairly swampy but there was a bit of grass for them to graze on. The rain had been drizzling on and off but it didn’t seem to matter to the hippos they were enjoying the mud. After an hour or so our boat turned round and motored back to the jetty. We didn’t see any crocs on the tour because it was mating season and they were all in the swamps further north. Once along side we returned to our hut to get ready for our safari the next day.