With Australians being banned from travelling to Mozambique on account of a spate of kidnappings, I have had to look further afield for my ocean fix. Last weekend my eyes settled on St Lucia, a little town on SA’s eastern coast. St Lucia is the gateway to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO world heritage site that protects five distinct ecosystems (everything from offshore reefs to lakes, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests) across 200 kilometres and 328,000 hectares. What St Lucia is probably best known for, however, is the occasional jaunt by local hippos down its main street.
Despite the forecast of non-stop rain and freak hippo attacks, I found two friends to join me for the weekend getaway. Helene and Liz proved wonderful companions, full of insightful conversation, French instruction, and bound by our barren spinsterhood (That’s BS for short). The first night was spent in typical beachside fashion: indulging in seafood and wine.
We awoke to cloud cover and drizzle the following morning, but it was not enough to dampen our desire to explore iSimilangiso, so off we headed. What we found was that the cloud cover and drizzle actually accentuated the colours of the flora and fauna, making it even more extraordinary than I anticipated. As we drove through the different ecosystems, up to lookouts, and to the coastal Mission Rocks, I started noticing majestic birds, hair-thin flowers, bright red millipedes and camouflaged marine life that I had never paid attention to before. They far outshone the more giant spectacles of rhinos, warthogs and antelopes.
Our turnaround point was Cape Vidal, the most popular beach in the park, where we stopped to relax for the afternoon and enjoy a picnic lunch. It was a lovely idea, until the monkeys decided to snatch some of our delicious olive ciabatta. The story of what happened next differs depending on who you ask: either Isabel immediately leapt up to gallantly fight the monkeys off with her bare hands, or she was too busy sipping wine to even notice that the monkeys had charged through. I’ll let you decide which is correct.
After leaving the wetlands, we spent the final hour of sunlight making our way to the beach along a boardwalk built over a muddy swamp. It was here that the curiosity of St Lucia really hit me. Thanks to the town’s most informative signage, there appears to be not a path nor picnic site where one should not fear for their life. If it isn’t buffalos, elephants, rhinos or big cats that threaten you, it’s crocodiles, hippos and sharks. I found the sign telling us not to feed the crocodiles particularly helpful, until I realised that its placement there was probably necessitated by someone trying to feed the crocodiles. Natural selection fascinates me.
The next day, we had a few hours to spare before having to the hit the road back to Swaziland, so Liz and I decided to take a boat cruise along the lake for some hippo spotting. The boat got us very close to two big breeding pods just chilling out. Seeing them bobbing there, nestled into one another, with the littl’uns playfully attacking each other in the background, it is exceedingly difficult to picture how these 1.5 tonne rotund beasts could possibly have the inclination or dexterity to charge you at 40km/hr. Alas, I decided not to test it out (thanks to that signage!), so we finished our cruise and did some chilling of our own at a quaint coffee shop / gym before returning to the safe surrounds of Swaziland.