We had heard tell of a town in Kwazulu Natal where hippos roamed the streets at night! St Lucia is indeed that place and we were immediately warned on arrival not to walk the streets after dark.
Our first day was spent driving 40 kms through the park which is home to the “big four” (no lions), up to Cape Vidal, some 40 kms north. We have been on safari before but are self- drive safari virgins.
It is an incredible experience to drive and spot the animals along the way.
Yvonne, the manager of our guesthouse has given us the lowdown on which routes to take and what to look out for, so we drive a couple of loops off of the road. Very soon we see warthogs, hippos, rhinos, an abundance of different types of deer/ antelope and zebras A truly amazing concentration of game, far more than we were expecting.
Arriving at Cape Vidal in time for lunch we are greeted by one of the best beaches we have seen anywhere in the world! Wide stretches of white sand stretching for mile upon mile. We hit the beach at lunchtime along with everyone else touring the park. Even so, there were perhaps only 50 people there.
We chose to eat our picnic in the car to avoid the monkeys. Those that ate on the beach were bothered not by monkeys but by the eagles dive bombing them for food – quite something to behold!
Next day we saw the rain clouds approaching so we abandoned our plans for a 2 hour bush walk in favour of entering the park through a different gate – DukuDuku. Virtually no other cars here so we pretty much had this section of this vast park to ourselves. Well signposted loops and trails took us to creeks, rivers and of course, the ever present lake. A huge variety of bird life – if only we knew the species!
In this section of the parks, we see lots of giraffes, impala and wildebeest right up close. None seem remotely bothered by our presence. We did see rain that day with some torrential storms that night. Everywhere did seem green (it is the wetlands after all) but there has been a long drought in St Lucia and the town has had to resort to drilling bore holes for water so it was long overdue and very welcome.
We continue our drive around one of the many well signposted loops in this park. Taking our time to spot wildlife and drink in the ever changing scenery. It starts to rain a little so we take some time out and park up on the shores of lake St Lucia for a picnic and just enjoy the peace, the quiet and the view…
On our last day in town we decided to head to the beach. We drove to the St Lucia Ski Boat Club, parked up and had some lunch ( very good pizza and half decent beer!).
After lunch we take a walk along the boardwalk to another stunning beach was, once again, stupendous! So close to the town but the miles of gorgeous white sand were empty but for a few fishermen. Maybe the hippos are scaring people away?
During the fours days we spent in St Lucia, try as we might, we didn’t actually spot any hippos wandering along Main Street. Although did hear many tales from Yvonne of the “gang warfare” where different families of hippos were controlling different parts of the town and which frequently resulted in violence! A bit like West Side Story for hippos. Whether she was winding us up or not, we will never know..
Where we stayed
St Lucia is unashamedly a tourist town awash with guesthouses and self catering accomodation to serve the needs of those visting the nearby parks. We like to mix it up a bit and chose a guesthouse, partly because we felt that, early on in our trip, having people on hand with local knowledge would be helpful. We chose The Sandpiper Guesthouse which is ideally located a few blocks away from the Main Street with its many bars and restaurants. Big comfortable rooms and excellent breakfasts on the terrace overlooking the gardens and pool. Most mornings we were joined by a selection of wildlife in the garden, antelope, monkeys and a few animals we have yet to identify.
The local knowledge was supplied by the manager Yvonne who knows the area inside out – where and when to go, what to see, where to eat and how to make the most of our time. Without her guidance, I doubt we would have seen nearly as much as we did.
Tips and hints
- Take food and plenty of water. There is nowhere to buy stuff on the way to Cape Vidal
- Watch out for hippos when driving (never walk) around St Lucia after dark. The town belongs to the hippos then!
- Stock up on supplies before heading to Hlulhulwe-iMfolozi Park. Some decent supermarkets in town
- Keep your fuel tanks topped up. Filling stations are few and far between even on the major highways.
- Plan your time well. We could have done with a couple more days in this part of the region. There are lots of places we could have visited but didn’t have time.