On the Eastern Shores of Lake St. Lucia, the amazing diversity of life forms comes in all sizes. The star of this collection of photos showcasing some of the smaller creatures that crossed our path on our recent visit must be the tiny frog that somehow got into my mug while we were enjoying coffee and rusks one morning at Mziki viewpoint near Mission Rocks. Exactly when it got into my coffee is unclear – I had put my mug down a few times to take pictures – and I have no idea how much of my coffee I had shared with the little guy. Joubert only noticed it sitting in the cup when I took my last swig as we started packing up to leave. Lucky for it, I drink a lot of milk in my coffee so it wouldn’t have been scalded.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a bird-watcher’s paradise – 526 bird species have been recorded within its borders!
During the few days we recently spent on the Eastern Shores of Lake St. Lucia, we managed to tick 109 kinds of birds, and had we been better at identifying the “Little Brown Jobs” our list would undoubtedly have been quite a bit longer still.
This incredible diversity is surely due to the Park’s rich variety of habitats, and our “success” in connecting with so many kinds of birds can only be ascribed to the terrific collection of roads, hides, picnic sites and other localities so easily accessible to visitors.
We hope you enjoy this sample of iSimangaliso’s birdlife!
We’re fresh back from a terrific holiday in two very special wild places in northern Kwazulu-Natal. Our first destination was the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and specifically the Eastern Shores of Lake St. Lucia, where we spent one night at Manzini Chalets in the holiday town of St. Lucia, and four nights in a log cabin at Cape Vidal.
I can’t think of a better way to start off the report back on our trip than with a few landscape photos that illustrates why iSimangaliso is a land of “miracles and wonders”, and one of our favourite destinations!
While we get busy responding to the comments you left on the scheduled posts that published in our absence, here’s a small gallery of what you can expect when we report back on our trip in the coming days…
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, is named after the isiZulu word meaning “Miracle” and “Wonder”. Our recent visit to the Park just reminded us again what an appropriate name that is.
Having visited the Western Shores in December last year, we focused our attention during our June visit on the Eastern Shores section of the Park, a diverse area lying between the Indian Ocean in the east, Lake Saint Lucia in the west, St. Lucia town and the lake’s estuary to the south and incorporating the popular destinations of Mission Rocks and Cape Vidal, where we stayed for three nights. The sunrises and sunsets alone made the trip worthwhile!
As always, the game and bird-viewing on the Eastern Shores could only be described as splendid, but the Park is clearly not escaping the ravages of the drought that has Kwazulu-Natal Province in a firm choke hold, and none of the pans close to the roads held any water. Indeed a stark contrast to the lush oases of reeds and waterlilies these waterholes normally are, complete with hippos, crocodiles and wading birds in residence. Even the Mfazana Pans, where there’s a brilliant photographic hide, was little more than an almost-dry puddle of mud.
We seem to have extraordinary luck with finding leopards here and this trip was no exception, with no less than four sightings of these beautiful cats. A late afternoon sighting of a serval, a much smaller but also spotted cat, being chased by a group of lapwings as it crossed a burnt field, was a very pleasant surprise. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything more than a footprint of iSimangaliso’s spotted hyenas during this visit. On the other side of the scale, a tiny snake, the variegated slug eater, was a first-ever encounter for us and one we’ll remember just as long as any of the leopard sightings.
We can never spend enough time at this wonderful place, and you’ll understand that we were not at all pleased that our long weekend flew past in the blink of an eye. Time to start making plans for the next visit then…
To us, there is no more beautiful a beach in this country than Cape Vidal. Miles of sand stretching as far as the eye can see, lined between densely forested dunes and the warm blue water of the Indian Ocean (in the waves of which dolphins and whales can often be seen), with rock pools harbouring fascinating marine life exposed at low tide.
Cape Vidal is named after Alexander Thomas Emeric Vidal, captain of the British surveying ship HMS Leven, that mapped this coastline in 1822. Today, this pristine area falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is one of the most popular destinations in the reserve and an excellent base from which to explore the Eastern Shores of Lake Saint Lucia. The accommodation and campsite is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and often booked out months in advance. There’s a fuel station and a small shop selling only basic essentials, so it is best to stock-up on your groceries at St. Lucia town before entering through Bhangazi Gate 35km to the south of Cape Vidal. Apart from all the activities that the beach caters for, Cape Vidal is also one of the best spots in the country to easily see a wide variety of otherwise very shy forest birds and animals (like Samango Monkeys and Red Duiker).
Today a very popular picnic and fishing spot north of St. Lucia Town in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Mission Rocks is named for a Catholic mission station established in the area in 1888. The path leading from the parking area to the beach opens onto a scene of rugged, rocky beauty, revealing rock pools teeming with life at low tide and impressing with the thundering of crashing waves at high tide. There’s a sandy, open beach 500m northwards of the rocks, with a sea-cave where thousands of bats roost.
On the way to Mission Rocks, the uMziki viewpoints and picnic site, set right in the coastal forest, is a worthwhile stop. From atop the dune there’s views over Lake Saint Lucia to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east, and down below in the forested picnic site there’s an astounding variety of birds that would normally be very shy but here seems quite habituated to having humans around. There’s also usually a couple of red duiker to be seen.
Lake Saint Lucia is the core of a vast ecosystem, rightfully included in South Africa’s first designated World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The Crocodile Centre, managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife at the Bhangazi Gate into the Park, and the self-guided trails in the adjacent game park, offers an excellent introduction to this Park of “miracles and wonders” (the English meaning of the isiZulu word iSimangaliso). It also has the best stocked curio shop in town and a lovely tea garden.
Of course the crocodiles, an integral part of the lake’s ecological functioning, are the star attractions. On display are not only specimens of our indigenous Nile Crocodiles ranging in size from newly hatched babies to “monsters” over 4m in length, but the centre also houses Dwarf and Slender-Snouted Crocodiles from tropical Africa and a couple of American Alligators. You can also try your hand at spotting another of iSimangaliso’s very secretive inhabitants, the extremely venomous and expertly camouflaged Gaboon Adder.
The centre’s beautiful gardens are a magnet for other wildlife, and we always get a kick from the humorous signs (to us, anyway).
Saint Lucia is a unique town, located on a wedge of land at the mouth of Lake St. Lucia, between the lake and the Indian Ocean, and entirely surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. All kinds of wildlife roam the town, including hippopotamus and leopard. Right in town, a magnificent piece of coastal forest can be explored along the Gwalagwala Trail. A number of private operators offer guided tours of the area, and several launch-tours operate on the estuary. Two camping areas and a host of privately run establishments offers overnight accommodation, and the town has most of the facilities you’d expect (shops, restaurants, doctor, fuel station, boat club, picnic sites), making St. Lucia an excellent base for a bush-and-beach holiday.
Participating in a guided launch tour of Lake St. Lucia is one of the most memorable experiences to be had in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Several operators offer tours lasting about two hours and departing at different times of the day. In this time the cruisers move about 8km up into the lake from the jetties in St. Lucia town, bringing visitors close to a variety of aquatic life and giving an interesting glimpse into the ecology of the lake system.
During our recent visit to iSimangaliso, we enjoyed a tour on the 80-seater Santa Lucia, a joint operation between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Thompsons Tours. A cashbar on board sells drinks and snacks while a guide gives detailed explanations of the surroundings and wildlife encountered along the way. We passed several pods of hippos (witnessing one naughty youngster chewing on another tourboat), a few crocodiles, numerous birds, wildlife on the shore, got a chance to view the mangrove marshes and even saw a shark’s dorsal fin briefly break the water’s surface.
This gallery should give you some idea of what you can look forward to on a guided launch tour of Lake Saint Lucia!