Surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site, St Lucia is a vibrant small town where hippos patrol the streets at night and summer is a twelve month season.
Those attractions aside, there is so much to do that visitors are spoilt for choice. Here are five, some free of charge, to add to your list next time you’re in the area.
1. Cruise St Lucia Estuary
If you’ve never done this, then put it on your bucket list. St Lucia is the biggest estuary in the country comprising 60% of the national estuary area. It’s also home to huge populations of hippos (around 800) and an estimated 1000 crocs, and is a bird watcher’s nirvana. Several licenced-operators in town offer cruises lasting two hours. Hippo sightings are guaranteed but crocodiles can be more elusive. Sunset cruises are especially memorable, the water resembling liquid gold, flocks of birds flying to their roosts, and hippos limbering up for a night on the town. Our skipper/guide, Dennis Roberts of Heritage Tours and Safaris was a fount of knowledge about those formidable hippos and knows many of them by name. His practiced eyes also found crocs including a baby sunning itself on a low branch. Heritage Tours donates a percentage of proceeds to African Wildlife Vets, an NPO that supports veterinary costs in protected areas so a tour with them has double benefits.
You also might like: Adventures in and around St Lucia
2. Feast Your Eyes on a Grand Sunrise
Set your alarm for an early start and head for Ingwe Beach to the north of Estuary beach where sand dunes provide a grandstand for a colour show like almost no other. Watch out too for dolphins and, from June till the end of October, whales moving up and down the coast. If you scan the sand, you might spot the spoor of animals that were there the night before, like those of waterbuck that we saw.
3. Take a Walk on the Wild Side – it’s free!
St Lucia is immersed in exceptional biodiversity, much of it easily accessible. It won’t cost you a cent to stroll along the 2-kilometre trail through the ancient Gwalagwala forest on the south west edge of town. This is an old growth forest where ancient and enormous gnarled trees create important habitats such as cavities which provide ideal nesting sites for birds like hornbills and barbets. Arm yourself with a tree field guide to help you identify species, some of which, like a particular specimen of Forest Milkberry (Manilkara discolour) are giants. Not far from the trail is a boardwalk that runs along the edge of the estuary to Estuary beach. Look out for crocs, hippos and wading birds in the estuary, and pause to cool off in the welcome shade of the patches of coastal forest the boardwalk passes through. North of town and starting at the Crocodile Centre just before the Bhangazi Gate into the park, a self-guided trail meanders through grassland and coastal bush on both sides of the road that runs to Vidal. Chances are you’ll get to mingle with zebra and other wildlife. Little can beat being in the wild on foot. Choose a cool time of the day, though.
You also might like: 5 of the Best Drakensberg Hikes
4. Buy Local
There is a wide range of shops in town but none so colourful as the fruit sellers’ market on Mckenzie Street. Here you can buy tropical fruit in season like pawpaws, pineapples, bananas and avocados and pick up charming carvings and other curios crafted by talented artists some of whose works would not be out of place in galleries.
5. Get a Wide View of the World
If you enter the Park and want to take in the lesser-known views, go to the impressive Kwasheleni Tower that’s accessed from the Dune Loop north of Catalina Bay on the Eastern Shores. This circular structure rises above the coastal forest to provide an uninterrupted 360° panoramic view of the park. To the west lies Lake St Lucia in all its wide and sparkling glory, to the east the Indian Ocean. A fabulous picnic complements views like that so go prepared and watch the unfolding of the day from on high. On the Western Shores you’ll find a second world-beating view, this from the uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk and Viewing Platform built around a giant Cape Ash (Ekebergia capensis). Platforms at different levels look across to the St Lucia Narrows and as far as Cape Vidal in the north and Maphelane in the south. This too is a place to stop and linger over a picnic beneath the generous shade of that great tree.
You also might like: Top 10 Estuaries in KZN to Explore During Your Next Trip
+27 (0) 35 590 1633/1602; [email protected]
Words and Photography Andrea Abbott