The spine of my magnificent trip to South Africa was the wild Game Safari. All the other destinations had just been planned around this one major element. I woke up in Durban super excited that I was finally going to witness the most important part of my journey. I was picked up by the game reserve company from Durban early in the morning. We had 250kms to cover from Durban to St. Lucia. Since I was going to be the only one in the car, I thought that it was going to be a long and boring road transfer but I was unaware of what was waiting for me. The 250kms long ride had the most stunning sceneries and landscapes on the way. We drove through the coast of the Atlantic Ocean with the ocean on one side and beautiful landscapes on the other. The roads were covered with greenery and the temperature was dropping every mile as we moved towards St. Lucia. It was one of the quickest transitions in the weather and environment I had experienced in a long time. Mother Nature seemed to be welcoming me with open arms.
St. Lucia is a small town located in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. What makes the place magnificent is that the wetland park of St. Lucia is South Africa’s first World Heritage Site and includes nine percent of the country’s coastline. There is just one main street in the town with all the shops and hotels being located there, while the other places are just parts of one big forest. The driver told me not to leave the main street without someone’s company since a lot of wild animals (especially Hippos) can be frequently spotted walking around. I was checked into a B&B near the main street. It was a nice and cosy place owned by an old English lady named Elisabeth. I had my first boat cruise the same evening, where we were hoping to spot some Crocodiles and Hippos. The restaurants were relatively cheap considering their limited resources and the remote location of the place. A full meal with a pint of local beer cost around 150 Rand (7£). One of the most famous local beers throughout South Africa is Castle lite.
There are two reasons why I had chosen St. Lucia for this adventure. The first was a very practical reason. As most of the game reserves in South Africa are private reserves, they are located away from any major cities in the country. To get there, you have to either drive or take the private taxi service (awfully expensive). Since I was travelling alone and I don’t drive, transportation stood as a major hurdle. Luckily, I found the Heritage and Tours who agreed to provide a pickup and drop service for me from Durban at an affordable price. The second reason for choosing St. Lucia was that when I had done my research about the place, I had found out that it’s actually one of the oldest reserves within the country and also has two major World Heritage Sites. No other reserve apart from St. Lucia has a wetland and this happened to be another usp. Wetlands are areas where Hippos and Crocodiles can be spotted. St. Lucia is home to a vast population of the Hippos in South Africa. They don’t have too many Lions or Leopards (which are easier to spot in other game reserves) but St. Lucia inhibits 90% of the Rhino population in the world.
I went on my first boat cruise in Siyabonga Jetty on the same night. We visited a wetland park called the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It was a 2-hour ride and I was placed in a group along with some Germans. There was a small boat waiting for us. As we boarded the boat, we were given the safety instructions by our guide for the tour. We cruised through the wetland and spotted tons of Hippos and Crocodiles. It was very exciting since I had never seen Hippos before and experiencing it from that close was a surreal as well as informative experience. In short, it wasn’t good just for the eyes but also for the mind too. Our guide told us all about Hippos: how they behave, how they live, etc. That was when I learnt the astonishing fact that although they look cute and calm, Hippos are the most dangerous animals in terms of the number of killings per year in South Africa. In fact, Hippos rank even higher than the Lions. We were told how Hippos are territorial creatures and dislike any other species entering their territory and that the main reason why people get killed by them is because they ended up in their territory. Hippos can run faster than Usain Bolt so that makes it clear how one can’t outrun them if it comes to a situation such as that.
It was also a bird watching tour and although I am no expert on birds, looking at the excitement of some people on the boat made it obvious that they had spotted a number of rare species. The best part of the tour came in the end when we were tired of sitting on the boat, waiting for the tour to get over with, when we witnessed the amazing sunset of St. Lucia. There was pin drop silence on the boat. The playful clouds along with the chirping noises of the birds nestling into the trees made the sunset an unforgettable experience. The evening couldn’t have been any better. The weather had gotten colder and we had our jackets on. I smiled at the thought of how 24 hours ago; the unbearable heat in Durban had me wanting to take all my clothes off.
This was the first time that I had been so close to Mother Nature and had learnt so much about the flora and fauna. This is why I keep saying that travel doesn’t just please the eyes but also changes our mind-set the way we think and the way we look at things. On this trip, I realized that we judge animals too soon…without knowing anything about them. Knowing about them and their lifestyles changes the way we think about animals. It did so for me. If you get to know about them and their behaviours, you will realize that an animal is never wrong or at fault. It just does what Mother Nature ingrained them to do and it’s just us who changed their natural surroundings and habits, forcing them to adapt in such a way that makes them look like they are not behaving as they should be or in a moral way. So the reality is that humans are the problem and not those poor animals. I will elaborate on this topic in my next article about the Big 5 Game Safari. Till then, keep exploring and keep wandering.