Durban to St. Lucia – Day 1
In 2016 we ran an awesome FaceBook competition to win a safari tour to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve. Well the lucky winners Gen and Myles have left for their adventure and we are following them every step of the way.
Stay tuned to the Blog for daily updates of their adventures, activities and wildlife sightings. Along with some interesting information on the places and reserves they visit. You may also want to follow along on social media, Twitter and Instagram.
As with any road trip, the excitement builds, you plan and pack, and then finally the moment arrives. Then begins the long trek, in this instance a 3 hour drive to Zululand KZN. Not all is lost however, although the drive mostly takes place on the national N2 Freeway, it is relaxing and very beautiful. The legendary rolling hills of Kwa Zulu Natal create an undulating journey through vast fields of sugar cane, offering a cacophony of green hues, even in the dead of Winter. The high rainfall and humidity lends to the successful growth of cane. Early settlers to the area realized this and the sugar industry was born. The high population of Indian people in KZN can be attributed to the sugar cane industry, where laborers were shipped out to the area as early as 1860 to cut the cane.
About an hour into the journey we cross the mighty Tugela River, the 3rd largest in South Africa and with that we enter the Kingdom of the Zulus, or more affectionately, Zululand! This is the traditional stomping grounds of the Zulu armies and in particular the ruthless, legendary King Shaka Zulu. It is in this part of Africa that Shaka forged the Zulu nation with his massive army of warriors (Impi’s). The Tugela also marked the boundary between the Zulu’s and the English settlers. It is this river the English crossed in 1879, and in doing so invaded Zululand, bringing the onset of the Anglo-Zulu wars!
Then suddenly the sugar plantations give way, as well as the rolling hills, to a much flatter terrain and huge eucalyptus forests. This last stretch into St. Lucia was once the bottom of the ocean, about 180 000 years ago. For thousands of years it was subjected to high wind action (forming massive sand dunes), a virtual wasteland, until some very unique vegetation adapted to life in the sandy soils and so the area eventually evolved into the evergreen forests we see here today. In fact the vegetated sand dunes are the 2nd highest in the world, the highest Maphelane 180m.
We made it:
On arrival in St. Lucia you will be immediately struck by the quaintness and relaxed atmosphere. The only town in the world to be completely surrounded by a nature reserve, a bridge over the estuary, the only connection in and out! A quick lunch in one of the many restaurants in town and then we check into our lodge. I personally would suggest the Ski Boat club down at the estuary mouth. Here you can have a great meal and drink, while watching hippos, crocs and the prolific bird life right from your lunch table.
We stayed at Amazulu lodge, situated right on the main street in St. Lucia.There are literally hundreds of places to stay in town, but we found the location, spacious rooms and friendly staff to be brilliant. Gen posted this comment on FaceBook:
Amazing lodge!! Rooms are stunning, staff are super friendly and breakfast was delicious ?
After a quick freshen up we head out for an afternoon game drive in the iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve, in particular the Eastern Shores reserve. The entire reserve is the 3rd largest conservation area in SA and is made up of many different sections and components.
The coastline, including the ocean (1.5 nautical miles), beach and vegetated sand dunes are protected for 280km, up to the Mozambique border in the north. The estuary system that flows in around St. Lucia town, stretches north as well, eventually opening up into the protected Lake system, with 2 reserves, the western and eastern shores (the west and east side of the lake) all included into the iSimangaliso. It is for this reason, the multi ecosystems and overall diversity that it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Upon entering the reserve we are greeted with a myriad of wildlife. Zebra and antelope love the extensive grassland and wetland systems. As do the white rhino of which we saw 4 and a baby. The reserve is home to 4 of the big 5, just the lion is missing, but a recent introduction of lion to the uMkhuze section means the iSimangaliso as a whole is now considered Big 5. The reserve has a massive leopard population and is also home to black rhino.
We continue on and are lucky to spot another of the big 5, the Cape Buffalo. We also add kudu, hippo, warthog and the endangered Samango monkey. Another special tick comes our way in the form of the majestic fish eagle. It is a special drive, but this reserve is not only great for game viewing. The vistas too are spectacular, as we climb up the dunes we get to look back out over the untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see, with the lake stretching out beneath us.
Ultimately we are aiming for the stunning beach of Cape Vidal. As you leave the wetland behind you, you wind your way up through the forested sand dunes. Eventually popping out the other side on the shores of the Indian ocean. An unspoiled paradise sits before you, minimal man made structures make up the camp at Vidal, but walk 15 min north or south and you find yourself on a deserted stretch of beach, completely untouched.
After soaking up the sunshine and the tranquility that surrounds us. We dip our toes in the warm Indian ocean, hard to believe it is the middle of Winter, and take aim at our next goal, sunset on the lake. We head back in the direction of St. Lucia and almost as if we planned it (wink wink) arrive at the boardwalk at Catilina Bay just in time to witness a breathtaking sunset!
As we sit in silence, allowing the suns last warm rays to kiss our faces, we partake in a timeless South African ritual, the African Sundowner. For reasons I am not entirely sure of, during my dealing with my international guests over the many years, this term has been met with perplexed expressions and followed by the ‘ah ha’ moment when it is explained. Simply put, as another day in Africa comes to a close, it comes the time to simply sit in awe of the beauty of this land, whilst sipping on your favourite beverage. A symbolic raising of our glasses to an incredible place!