When you only have short time available for your holiday, choosing a domestic destination is a good idea. Fortunately, when you live in South Africa this still means you can experience quite cool things. This year we decided to visit a different province, KwaZulu-Natal. Our trip started with 4 days spent in St Lucia with quite an aggressive wildlife seeing plan.
On the first day of our holiday (yes, that’s when we left Cape Town) we visited the St Lucia Crocodile Centre. Informational displays are badly maintained and mostly faded. Some to the point that it’s difficult to read them. Still, it’s a very interesting place to visit. At 3 o’clock daily there’s an extensive feeding of crocodiles and alligators. The caretakers walk into enclosures and feed the animals. This doesn’t mean that it’s an entirely safe thing to do. We saw crocodiles snapping a few times at people feeding them, fortunately without consequences. The tour guide also told us about his close misses during the feedings.
The attractions weren’t over for the day as we also booked a night safari drive for that evening. We were picked up in a very toursity looking safari jeep at 8 o’clock in the evening. There was almost no natural light so during the drive we relied on spot lights provided by our guide. We were quite fortunate in the beginning and managed to see three elephants having a meal. Then our luck has mostly run out and we saw much less exciting animals. What no one tells you about such drives is that they’re actually not that thrilling most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super cool to see a wild animal in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen all the time. Often you spend three hours driving and all you see is a bunch of antelopes. This is not to say I regret the moneyspent but rather that I would prefer to have known about it to lower my expectations and be prepared for the most of the drive to be uneventful. Night photography is also a completely different thing than day photography. I was surprised how challenging it was.
We arrived back at our accommodation exhausted. Still, our pace was nothing in comparison with the other tourist, who after finishing the night drive at midnight was being picked up for the next safari at 5 o’clock in the morning.
St Lucia offers a lot of paid trips to see wildlife but perhaps even more exciting is the possibility to catch some viewings when just walking around. On day 2 of our stay we went for a run and a hike. We saw lots of monkeys and butterflies during these outings. Because of the lush environment insects and other beings are rather big. Check out the size of the snail we encountered, below.
We also visited the Umfolozi Riverlodge and Bird Park that day. Don’t even bother! You’ll just feel sorry for the birds kept there in small cages. The lack of variety makes the visit a waste of time. Only pop in, if you’re nearby: there is no cover charge.
Another day filled with adventures! Or so we hoped. For Day 3 we had a half-say safari and a boat safari booked. The first part of our itinerary meant getting up at 4:30. On our way to the park in the jeep we learnt an important lesson: always take a lot of warm clothes on a jeep safari. Even if it’s hot outside the wind can be strong and make the perceived temperature in the vehicle much lower. A quick rain shower is also not a reason to stop the drive (or even to cover the jeep) so something rainproof is also a good idea.
Our second safari was a bit more successful than the first one. We managed to see some buffalos, rhinos, zebras and lots of smaller animals. Still, the ratio of driving to seeing is probably like 1 to 100. It didn’t help that the park was an hour away from our accommodation.
The best experience during our time in St Lucia was definitely the boat safari. We managed to see plenty of hippos and some crocs in the wild. The cruise was very picturesque and a knowledgeable guide told us everything we wanted to know about the river animals. Hippos may look cute but they’re actually dangerous. They’re a not uncommon cause of death in African countries. They won’t hunt you but if you enter their territory and they fell threatened, they will charge and bite you in half. The worst part is that they won’t even eat you as they’re herbivores. What a waste!
We spent most of the day actively. First we went to the beach and splashed in the ocean. This is something I never do in Cape Town because of the cold water temperature. Here the ocean is really warm. The current is very strong, though so you can’t go too far in. Afterwards, we did spent some time swimming properly at the pool in our accommodation. I love everything water so I was very happy to take it easy.
In the evening we had a turtle tour booked. The advertised 6-7 hours were a bit intimidating but can you say “no” to the possibility of seeing turtles hatching? We couldn’t! It’s also a seasonal viewing that one can only catch during 4 months every year so we felt lucky to be able to give it a try. Prepared by our previous experiences with safaris, we came equipped with podcasts. Tim Ferris show saved me from dying of boredom. We drove for around 3 hours through the park and on Cape Vidal beach and saw nothing. Then we ate very average snacks provided by the organiser and we drove back for another 3 hours. The only creatures we saw on the beach were crabs, which were frantically escaping the wheels of our car. The most exciting event was when the car got stuck and we had to get off and walk for a bit, while the tour guide was getting the vehicle out of the sand. The trip didn’t turn out to be a complete waste of time, though. We saw two leopards on the road, which just finished mating (“Did you see them do it?” ask the guide one of the fellow tourists.). They’re very rare so it was a treat! Unfortunately, they were also unimpressed by us and ran away too quickly for me to capture them on the camera. We also saw a hippo on the road (same story in terms of photos).
A few tips for visiting St Lucia
The best way to reach St Lucia is to fly to Durban and then rent a car. A lot of tour companies, which organize safaris and other wildlife activities there can also take care of the transfer from the airport but it’s rather pricey. If you don’t drive or are scared to drive in an unknown place, though, you’d be fine without a car in St Lucia. It’s a small tourist village (not to say a shithole) so you can just walk around it. Tour organisers use their own transport to pick you up from your accommodation. All in all, I really enjoyed our stay in St Lucia. If you’re there, try to do as much as you can in terms of seeing wildlife. The tours may be a bit longish but it’s worth trying to see the animals in the wild. If you’re really time efficient, a smaller game reserve with guaranteed viewings (like Aquila in the Western Cape) could be a better idea. St Lucia is nice but get prepared for self-catering. There are plenty of eating-out options around but the food served at the numerous establishments is very unimpressive and paying for it feels like a waste of money.
We’re off to Durban now to explore what it has on offer. I’ll be writing about this experience soon.
Have you done any safaris, Dear Reader? Did you like them or were you a bit underwhelmed?