Hluhluwe National Park and St. Lucia Estuary
It wasn't that we were unaware of the Hluhluwe National Park, but we did not know how to get there without driving ourselves. We found the solution at the Tekweni Travel Desk at Tekweni Backpackers Hostel, where we were staying. Ben offered a two day tour to both Hluhluwe and the St. Lucia Estuary. We signed up, and on the afternoon of the first day, our driver and guide, Sagren, arrived to collect us.
The afternoon drive from Durban north to the village of St. Lucia took us through cane fields and tree plantations. We arrived in St. Lucia after dark, Sagren checked us into a nice lodge, and then we all ate an excellent meal together. We enjoyed our dinner conversation with him. After dinner, we returned to sleep and be ready for the an early start the next morning!
Hluhluwe National Park
Just inside, moments later, David stopped the truck. In the tall grass, a male lion was resting, not 15 meters away and other lions were resting nearby. Soon, the increasing light revealed that a pride of perhaps 12 lions, including 4-5 cubs, were hanging out in the immediate area. We sat quietly, just watching. Magical! Soon, the lionesses and cubs crossed the draw and headed across the road and disappeared into the bush. Last to leave was the young male lion. He looked directly at our vehicle before disappearing into the bush.
David drove slowly along the road and before long, we spotted a family of white rhino. We had not met up with rhinos in Addo Elephant Park so we were anxious to see them here. We knew that they are endangered by poaching so we were thankful to have the privilege of a meeting
We continued on to a picnic ground. As David set out food for our breakfast, a group of warthogs wandered through, munching on tender vegetation, while we munched rolls and yogurt.
Now the sun was warming us as we continued on. We drove through high rolling hills covered with tall reddish gold grass. and dotted with small trees. This is Zululand, David explained, his homeland.
During our drive we encountered:
St. Lucia Estuary
For the next two hours, we cruised on the St. Lucia Estuary that traverses the iSamangaliso Wetland Park. The Estuary, lined with mangroves, provides habitat for crocodiles, hippos and plenty of water birds.
Cruising slowly, the boat passed the first hippo, standing in water with just his head visible. As we passed, he dipped underwater. Continuing on, the boat passed close to a large group of hippos who were hanging out, blowing and snorting, Their great dark heads with contrasting pink around their eyes, ears and nostrils reminded us that these guys were not as cute as often portrayed. In fact, hippos kill plenty of people in South Africa.
During the cruise, we saw lots and lots of hippos, some by themselves and others in groups,
A couple of crocodiles,
Several fish eagles,
Plus a giant kingfisher, and lots of herons.
By the time we returned to the dock, we were completely in sensory overload. These encounters with wild animals in their own homes opened new dimensions of the natural world to us. We have long known the intrinsic value of just being "out there" but this was deeper, more intense, food for the soul.
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