REVIEWED BY: Gary Uys
Exploring the zulu kingdoms east coast
Gary heads East in search of blue water and wide open spaces. The world heritage site of St Lucia was his first stop before heading to Cape Vidal and exploring the St Lucia Wetland Park
This week I took a trip up the Kwa Zulu Natal Coast into Zulu land, exploring the St Lucia area. St Lucia is a diverse tourist hub situated in the greater St Lucia wetland park. First stop was the Avalon Guest House tucked away on the edge of a natural forest with beautiful walks in and around the area, a true birders paradise with small game often coming right up to the guest house gate.
I couldn’t believe my luck as I had barely walked out the gate and two red duikers (small antelope) tentatively walked out of the dense coastal forest and, totally oblivious to my presence, started feeding four meters from where I stood. The birding in the area is really good and I ticked off some really good sightings including the Pallid or Pale Flycatcher and the Half-collared Kingfisher.
The Avalon Guest House is a great place to stay. Mandy plays host at this beautiful B & B and ensures that your stay is a memorable one, she has a sharp wit and is never short of conversation. I was pleasantly surprised at how Mandy insisted that for the duration of her guests stay the house is theirs and should be treated as a home away from home. Avalon was an ideal stepping stone to the exciting and diverse activities that the area has to offer. The activities in a nutshell include horse riding, deep sea fishing, sight seeing boat trips in the river, kayaking, game drives, nature walks and much more. All activities can be enjoyed as self-drive or as a guided tour.
My first excursion took me into the Hluhluwe–Umfolozi Game Reserve. This national park is situated 60km inland from St Lucia and the roads are fairly good and tarred all the way. The park itself is 60 000 square kilometers, making it the 2nd biggest reserve in KZN province. It hosts a wide variety of game including the big five as well as a huge number of birds to satisfy all levels of bird enthusiast.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is one of the few big five reserves that allows guests to self drive throughout. This allows you to explore the reserve at your own pace stopping at the numerous view sights to soak up the beautiful scenery. The weather was great the day I arrived at the gate and the guards there where very informative and pointed out the areas where most of the game had been the day before. I hadn’t traveled more than two kilometers into the reserve and true to the rangers words I came across a huge herd of elephant crossing the road.
It was truly awesome to see so many of these beautiful animals in their natural environment. There were over sixty elephant in the herd and they were in no rush as they sauntered across my path, I can’t describe the feeling of being so close to the largest land mammals on earth, one huge female passed so close to my window that had I wanted to, I could have reached out and touched her. I made my way through the reserve stopping occasionally to check out the animals and birds along the way. I saw a wide variety of game including black and white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, hippopotamus, crocodiles and many different antelope.
The birding was also outstanding with notable sightings of white backed and cape vultures, bataleur, martial, crowned and brown snake and African fish eagles, various sunbirds, starlings and rollers, and much, much more. By lunch time I had arrived at the Hluhluwe Hilltop Camp where I would be laying my head for the night. Hilltop Camp is situated in the middle of the reserve and offers fine accommodation to cater for all tastes and budgets. You have the option of self catering or full board accommodation and the lodge is very clean and well looked after. The staff were very efficient and helpful and I was soon settled in to my lodgings and enjoyed a good lunch of impala fillet served in the camp restaurant.
In the afternoon I enjoyed a guided walk in the reserve which was just what I needed after a morning in the car. The guide was brilliant and had a great knowledge of the local fauna and flora, we got very close to a white rhino mother and calf as well as a herd of buffalo. That night as I sat down to my meal of warthog stew I chatted to the head ranger at the camp and his insight into the area seemed endless. In my opinion it’s the little things that make the difference on trips like this and this ranger’s passion for the bush made me feel proud to be an African.
The next morning, shaking the tiredness from my eyes, I set out into the reserve in search of the elusive lions that abound throughout the park. Unfortunately as fate would have it my best efforts turned up naught and I had to content myself with the beauty of the African bush at dawn.
Arriving back at camp for the late breakfast I hurriedly gulped down my food before bidding a hasty goodbye to the staff and setting off on the next leg of my journey. I was off to Cape Vidal to do some fishing and spearfishing in the warm Indian Ocean. The drive took around two and a half hours to St Lucia and the main gates to the Cape Vidal / St Lucia Wetland Park. Another half an hour's drive through the reserve and I found myself at Cape Vidal, a parks board camp situated a stones-throw from the beach. The camp has accommodation in the form of self catering log cabins sleeping five to eight people, or camping.
The resort is well run and all the facilities are clean and well kept. Cape Vidal is in a reserve made up of vast coastal forests and sand dunes, with the St Lucia wetlands and lake surrounding it. There are no fences, few roads and plenty of animals in this massive reserve. It’s a wild place and unique in its beauty, elephants have recently been reintroduced to the area and plans are afoot to bring lion into the reserve. This will complete the big five and make the park a big player in game reserve circles. On a drive around the many lakes that surround Cape Vidal I was amazed at the quality of the game viewing and birding available.
At one stage I counted 19 crocodiles and 15 hippopotamus sunning themselves in the late winter sunlight. With the evening approaching and a cold beer in my hand I settled in to watch the sun set over the lake, taking in the tranquility as the unforgetable cry of the African fish eagle echoed over the bushveld.
That night I camped with a few fellow members of the Beach and Bush spear fishing team. We were all excited for what promised to be a good day for diving in the morning, gear was checked and rechecked, tall stories told, and beers cracked. Sleep came quickly as I settled into my tent where I dreamed of big fish and blue water.
The morning was a cracker, calm seas and not a breath of wind. First light saw us heading through the breakers on a 18ft rubber duck expertly driven by Sean Uys, our skipper for the day, half an hour and 25 kilometers later we dropped into the crystal clean water off Leven Point, one of the best diving locations on the North coast. Leven reef lies on the edge of a marine conservancy 40km long where all fish are protected and no boats are allowed, there are loads of fish species on offer to spearos and we ended the day with a good tally of cuta, kakaap, kingfish, and a good chanos chanos or milk fish.
Back on the beach we unloaded the fish and set off down the beach to collect mussels and crayfish for the pot. Returning in the late afternoon to the campsite we settled down to a meal to beat the best restaurants in the world. Fresh mussel soup cooked in the traditional potjie pot over an open fire, crayfish and fish on the grill drizzled with garlic butter and lemon juice and a huge salad filled to the brim with fresh greens and cheese.
That night as I sat back in my camping chair in front of the fire reminiscing over the last few days and the beautiful places I’d been. Nostalgia crept into me, knowing that in the morning I’d be heading back to Durban and the hustle and bustle of city life, then a smile crept onto my lips as I remembered that in four days time I’d be at the four star game lodge Leopard Mountain Lodge in Northern Zululand to sample what they have to offer for the intrepid traveler.
Stay tuned for details of my next trip into the African wilderness.
Chow for now
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