LOIS KUHLE bubbles away in this KZN place of wonder
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was declared South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.
Covering 332,000 hectares, it contains three major lake systems,eight interlinking ecosystems, 700 year old fishing traditions and most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests. It boasts Africa’s largest estuarine system with 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old coastal dunes – among the highest in the world.
With a plethora of B&B’s, campsites and restaurants, St. Lucia town, 275kms north of Durban, is designed to host a wealth visitors to KwaZulu-Natal. A highlight is a riverboat cruise up the estuary. A number of operators depart on a regular schedule.
Thompsons Touring hosts us on a comfortable double decker boat, Santa Lucia, which leaves from the Siyabonga Jetty for two hour cruises starting at 10am. The last tour is at 4pm.
Themba is our host and speaks German, Spanish, French, English and of course Zulu. Just as well as we have a full complement including a Japanese group, and a local farmer happy to tease the staff in Zulu.
We chug down the shallow estuary. The average depth is only 1 – 1 ½ meters, but this 61km stretch is home to over 1,000 hippos and up to 2,000 crocs. (I know for sure that 2 of the hippos were not in residence that night as we spotted them walking down the road towards town, rescuing a couple of startled German backpackers!)
We observe three families of hippo, bubbling away like peas in a pod. Most are submerged and with a hmmmfff hmmmfff hmmmfff come up for breath showing their massive bulk. Themba points out a variety of birds. Kingfishers dive at a rate into the water, a couple of Fish Eagles follow the boat, a cormorant sits precariously on the shivering reeds. On the Eastern and Western Shores one can spot 4 of the Big 5 (lion is missing!) The cruise is wonderfully relaxing and as we are on the 4 o’clock it is soon time for a gin and tonic from the boat bar.
iSimangaliso means ‘place of wonder’ and wonderful it sure is!