Due to Covid-19 our international travel plans are still on the back burner; not forgotten, just simmering gently. This has given us an excellent opportunity to see more of own country, South Africa. Over the years we have travelled it fairly extensively but, as it is such a rich and diverse country, there are still plenty of places to explore and we explored one of these in August 2021.
We decided to stay within the Province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), where we live, and travel to almost the northern most corner of the Province. As KZN is on the East Coast of South Africa travelling due north means that one has the pleasure of sea views all the way. This is the same route that we travelled frequently to visit our grandparents who had a farm in Zululand. Whenever we travelled that way we would see the remains of a shipwreck on the sandy shore near oThongati (Tongaat)* and then a beautiful view of the oThokela (Tugela)* River just before it reaches the sea. It rises in the Northern Drakensberg Mountain Range and flows, uninterrupted, to the sea. It is the longest river in the province and, at its source, it creates what has always been believed to be the 2nd highest waterfall in the world. The Falls are now being further studied as it is thought that they may actually be higher than the Angel Falls in Venezuela.
After that little geography lesson, I return to our visit to the town of St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the first appointed UNESCO Heritage site in SA. iSimangaliso is Zulu for miracle and the area is a miracle for the abundance of ecosystems and animals found there. We are very privileged to have 2 UNESCO Heritage Sites in KZN, the Drakensberg Mountain Range, (Zulu name uKhahlamba which means Barrier of Spears), being the other. Because of its status and beauty this is a popular tourist town with many holiday resorts, Bed and Breakfasts and private holiday homes. We have spent a holiday here previously where our resort was in the centre of the town. This time we stayed at a lovely resort which was on the edge of the town. It was one of the best that we have visited. As I have told some people, having 5 rather than 2 cooking pots, 1 very small and the other very large, were supplied making cooking a better experience.
The front of our unit which faced on to the pool
We arrived on a Friday afternoon and received a friendly welcome from Kerry and her colleague. All of the units were extremely clean and had been thoroughly sanitised prior to our occupation. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and possible infections, our unit was cleaned by a resort cleaner only twice during the week and only if we wished for the service, which we did. Otherwise we had to do our own dishes and bed-making and any other household cleaning we wanted done. We were quite happy with this as it was just the 2 of us. Neighbouring holiday makers with small children probably had a lot more to do than we did.
Over the weekend we walked around the resort with just under 30 semi-detached units each of which also had a garage for the car which turned out to be a wonderful asset as it rained really hard a couple of times and so the car was kept dry, no blotchy water marks. All around the swimming pool and the children’s play area were signs with instructions on the required behaviour and use of the equipment. Again, due to Covid-19, certain activities which included the children’s play area and equipment and the sauna and Jacuzzi were not available for use. The swimming pool was and it was situated right outside our unit. It was well used over the weekend by a number of people but the most active were some young men who ignored the instructions and spent their time jumping in and splashing water everywhere.
This large group of intertwined plants was outside the front door
Our first outing was through the town of St Lucia and down to the boat jetty. We first visited the old jetty, which we did not know was no longer in use, on a previous visit, it had been a lovely place from which to enjoy the beauty of the lagoon and watch hippos in the water. When we had walked down to the jetty we were saddened to find that we could see nothing as the reeds had grown thick and really high. At the top of the stairs which go down to the jetty a young school age boy was carving into monkey orange carcases making small items which could be used as decorations in various ways. I felt so sorry for him as there were so few tourists and not many would be visiting due to the loss of the jetty. We continued up the road to the newly developed boatyard and jetty close to which was a local curios and handmade items market and I wondered why the young man from the earlier stop wasn’t trading there. Maybe because there were already a number of sculptors like himself already there. Besides the Monkey Orange carvings there were wooden animals, birds, trees and household items. It is quite heart-breaking to witness the absolute poverty and desperation.
Monkey Orange Tree with fruit
Sculpted Monkey Orange shells
After parking the car, we walked along the boardwalk which is about a km long and deep in the foliage. The one thing which saddened me was the amount of the invasive alien creeper, Triffid Weed. It grows really fast and basically consumes the plants around which it winds itself. Like the Water Hyacinth which has established itself on many dams and lakes, Triffid Weed is very difficult to eradicate, especially if not cleared immediately. As we walked along the boardwalk we met a lovely family who were visiting from the nearest town, Mtubatuba, for the day. They had a little girl aged about 4 or 5 who just loved to talk to anyone who would listen. Suddenly she stopped dead and then hurried back to her parents for safety. It took a while to realise that she was frightened of the water flowing under the boardwalk as there had been no sign of water before that.
We then experienced a day of heavy rain when we had planned to visit the iSimangaliso Greater Wetlands Park (SGWP) so we stayed in and binged on the crime channel on TV, the only channel, besides sport, that was worth watching. There really are a lot of very evil people in this world.
Our trip to the SGWP was very interesting and rewarding. It is a park which is 35kms in length with 5 distinct ecosystems – Red and White Dunes, Grassland, Swamp, Coral Reefs and 4 of the Big 5 SA animals – Buffalo, Elephant, Hippopotamus and Leopard. The main road from the entrance gate to Cape Vidal in the north is tarred but the Loop roads are dirt and, after the heavy rains of the day before, these were quite a challenge, especially the many potholes but we were rewarded.
Map of iSimangaliso Greater Wetlands Park – Red marks show where we went
Our first Loop was to iMbona Pan which had a Hide from which we could admire the beautiful scenery where we saw just 1 bird walking among the reeds but not close enough to identify. We then followed the Vlei Loop and on our way around we saw 4 Hippos grazing on the far side of the vlei. On the way back to the main road we went up a small side road to a viewing site and received a real fright. Halfway up another Hippo came running out from the bush on the right straight in front of our car and into the bush on the left. A second later and it would have run into our car.
2 Warthogs grazing
2 Hippos grazing in the distance. Note the thick vegetation
Our next foray into the bush was to go to Mission Rocks where the beach is covered in grey rocks as far as the eye could see. On the way there we saw 2 Warthog grazing outside a Park Office. There was one prominent rock set in the sea some 20m from the shore and in my mind’s eye I could see the missionary standing on the rock preaching to the people sitting on the rocks on the beach. It reminded me of our visit to Stavanger, Norway and seeing Pulpit Rock high above the fjord.
Rocks rather than sand cover the beach
“The Preacher’s Rock”
We returned to the main road and drove via the next loop road to the Hide at Catalina Bay. Once again lovely scenery but not a bird or animal to be seen. A few kms before Cape Vidal we did the last loop, Dune Loop. Getting down to the beach to see the dunes was quite a feat as the only path was stony and very uneven but worth the struggle to get there. We followed the road right up to Cape Vidal which was really busy with holiday makers. This is a place for boats and fishing. It was very windy so we did not stay long, just long enough to learn where we wold find the big loop road which we could take to return to the main gate. We entered this loop but after 3kms turned back as the potholes were enormous and our car was not built for these.
A lone Gull flies over Cape Vidal beach
Turning back proved to be a fruitful decision as to both the right and left of the main road we saw Buffalo, Zebra, Kudu, Reed Buck and, of course, monkeys. We stopped once again at the Catalina Bay Loop where we ate our lunch and then continued on our way back to the resort, making a stop at the Crocodile and Educational Centre near the main gate on our way. The SGWP may be only 35kms in length but exploring it from as many angles as possible made a wonderful day out.
A group of female crocodiles
An injured female, note the cut around her middle, was rescued
In keeping with the age of crocodiles, there was a beautiful Cycad garden
We finished our week-long holiday with a simple dinner at John Dory’s Fish Restaurant where the food was excellent.