If you thought I was a little quiet over the past week-and-a-bit, you’d be right, as I disappeared into the wonderful iSimangaliso Wetland Park again, this time along with my younger brother. We were based in the holiday town of St. Lucia from where we made excursions into the surrounding sections of the park, and had a wonderful time, collecting lots of pictures to share with you in the weeks to come – this is just a little teaser.
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…
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!
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…
Well, when it’s Lake Saint Lucia you’re talking about then it is never safe to go into the water, thanks to the hippos, crocodiles and sharks that populate this aquatic environment. Better to be safe ON the water then? Only if you don’t encounter this playful young hippo, seemingly intent on making a meal of the tourist launch!
Luckily for the tourists on the boat, mom intercedes and calls him to order, dispensing quick discipline hippo-style with a bite and a roll on top of the little delinquent.
This delightful scene played out while we were enjoying a guided launch-tour of Lake Saint Lucia aboard the Santa Lucia, during our recent visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. We’ll share more photos and memories from the cruise in an upcoming edition of de Wets Wild.
Today we joined a tour of Lake Saint Lucia aboard the Santa Lucia cruiser, and this low level flypast by an African Fish Eagle was just one of the highlights!
After uMkhuze, Lake Saint Lucia was the next destination on the itinerary of our December bush holidays. We had only two days available to explore the area, and wanted to pack in as much as we could in that time.
Unfortunately rainy weather brought an early end to our plans of exploring the collection of walking trails around Saint Lucia town. The town is entirely surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and it is not unusual to find hippos, antelope, warthog and even leopard roaming the streets from time to time. We had to be content driving on the outskirts of town to the beach and estuary, enjoying a meal at one of the restaurants and buying fresh fruit from the street vendors.
The 23rd of December we set aside to explore the newly opened Western Shores section of the Park, an area we have not visited before. It is accessible from either the Nhlozi Gate in the north, near the town of Hluhluwe and which provided access to the now closed camps at Fani’s Island and Charters Creek, or from the Dukuduku Gate in the south, close to St. Lucia town.
We had hoped to spend the midday hours at Charters Creek, enjoying a picnic lunch and perhaps doing some birdwatching on the lake shore and in the surrounding woodland. Unfortunately the accommodation at Charters Creek had to be closed some years ago due to a terrible drought in the area, and we found the few remaining facilities at the disposal of day visitors in a sad state of disrepair. Not very inviting for picnics, although the wildlife and natural scenery did not disappoint. We certainly hope the Park authorities will consider reopening the camp and revamping the day visitor facilities so that Charters Creek can again become a worthwile destination and base from which to explore the Western Shores section of the Park.
Despite the let down of Charter’s Creek, we found the rest of the newly built facilities on the Western Shores to be in excellent condition, well planned and entirely worth the trip.
The road network provides access to a wide variety of scenery and habitats, as well as the wildlife that lives there; the most commonly encountered animals being reedbuck, waterbuck, kudu, giraffe, blue wildebeest and plains zebra, and we also had good sightings of rare birds like the southern banded snake eagle and osprey.
The uBhejane picnic spot has some shady trees, very welcome in the heat of summer. Just south of the picnic site, the road skirts the Kwelamadoda Pan, which was absolutely alive with a variety of waterbirds and wildlife along the shores.
Although there was little wildlife activity at the pans overlooked by the kuMgadankawu hide at the time we visited, it seems to be a place well worth stopping at during the dry season when water is less widely available elsewhere.
From the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk there’s a great view over the marshes along the lake shore, not to mention the opportunity to explore the forest habitat through which the pathway and boardwalk winds.
We had a lovely day on the Western Shores of Lake Saint Lucia. The area has much to offer, and we’ll certainly be back for more.
While exploring the area around Lake Saint Lucia during our December 2014 bush holidays, we based ourselves for three comfortable nights at Chane Cheese Farm, a working dairy entirely surrounded by exotic bluegum plantations just a few kilometres outside the town of Mtubatuba. From there, Saint Lucia town and the Dukuduku Gate into the Western Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is an easy 20km drive away.
An osprey takes flight over the Western Shores of Lake St. Lucia
Inclement weather put an early end to our plans to walk the Ligwalagwala Trail in St. Lucia this morning. We were as disappointed as this vervet monkey mother and her baby seemed to be.