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KwaZulu-Natal Accommodation
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Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park St. Lucia and Mtubatuba Accommodation

St. Lucia - South Africa's Jurassic paradise   by Barbara Ulmi

Land of ripe bananas, soft avocado pears, and sweet coconuts. Land of roaming elephant herds, sun basking hippos and snapping crocodiles - the Elephant Coast in KwaZulu Natal, embraced by the warm Indian Ocean, the Umfolozi River in the south and Mozambique in the north, is one of South Africa's most beautiful and unspoilt areas. It is a perfect destination for everyone - be it for the sensitive ecologist, the great outdoors fan or the happy camper sitting on the boulders at Mission Rock sporting his hook, line and sinker. The beating heart of this paradise-on-earth even has a saintlike name - St. Lucia, the only private village surrounded by a Natural World Heritage Site.

Greater St. Lucia Wetlands ParkThe Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park obtained South Africa's first Natural World Heritage status in 1999 by UNESCO, and comprises an impressive 280 km of coastline - starting south of the St Lucia Estuary and stretching past Kosi Bay all the way to Mozambique. St. Lucia is an eco-tourism mecca, and centre point to an incredible 21 different eco-systems. Dense evergreen forests of towering fig trees stand in a lush undergrowth of ferns and wild orchids hanging from the trees. Palm savannahs with thousands of wild date and lala palms dot the white sand of the undulating landscape. Swamp forests with large raffias and tangled masses of greenery are home to myriads of exquisite birds.

Few areas in Africa have the incredible diversity of the fresh water eco-systems found here. There are major rivers, broad flood plains, large coastal lagoons, deep clear coastal lakes, extensive papyrus swamps and small semi-permanent pans. The perfect playground for observant nature lovers, be it under water, above sea, on land or in the air!

The ecological significance of the wildlife and fish resources were only recognized and protected late in the 19th century, after extensive hunting for ivory, rhino horn and hippo. After more than 100 years of peaceful existence, the sleeping beauty of the Estuary has become a trademark to the area - but beware, the hippo's seemingly reassuring yawn hides a force not to be messed with! A safe way of getting up close and personal with it's nostrils or a croc's 66 teeth is a trip down the Estuary on one of the professionally captained river touring boats, such as the Advantage, the most luxurious passenger ferry custom built to venture into shallow waters.

We boarded the ferry for the sundowner tour on a beautiful April evening, one of the best months to visit the Greater Wetlands, when mosquitoes are few (but Gin and Tonics still flow). In general, St Lucia's winter is often compared to a European summer, and the tropical summer heat is moderated by the Indian Ocean. The first 12 km up the Estuary passed with great anticipation with not much else to do than getting the camera lenses ready and the drinks filled up. Soon enough the captain spotted the first herd of river horses and the crowd on board shifted dangerously to the very lee of the boat - everybody wanting to get that first awesome holiday shot! The imbalance was easily taken care of by the captain's next heart-beating announcement: crocodiles on the shores under the mangrove trees, at three o'clock! And a few meters away from the ancient reptile, stood a Kudu eyeing us out, while a Giant Kingfisher was perched watchfully in the tree above it - picture perfect.

Encounters with crocodiles can also be safely undertaken at the Crocodile Park a few minutes outside St. Lucia - as long as one keeps from climbing the fences, and approaches the enclosures at a steady pace (anything on wheels better first gets an overhaul on its braking system). An ideal family getaway, the centre is representative of the whole St Lucia Region and not only features local crocodile, but has a breeding programme for two endangered African crocodile species - the Dwarf and the Long Snout. (And in their thatched shop, they serve some of the best coffee we have had on our trip!)

Tourists Swimming, Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, South AfricaSt Lucia however offers much more than the expected hippos, crocs and fishermen trying their luck on the coast and deep sea fishing grounds. Many guided tours into restricted areas give visitors a greater knowledge and insight into the varied ecosystems and habitats of the region. Most of the tours operate throughout the year - with the exception of whale and turtle watching, as these species migrate seasonally. Explore the Eastern Shores on night drives to investigate the nocturnal activities of chameleons, aardvark, antelope, owls, nightjars, porcupine, elephant, the occasional leopard and yes, the hippo again! Wetland Tours on the other hand offer game-watching, bird-watching, snorkeling, and hikes, during day time. Ecologically sensitive activities like guided hiking trails as well as kayaking, canoeing and horse riding tours enable visitors to glean environmental information in a fun-filled and informative way. Anglers flock to this paradise to catch shad, grunter, rock cod, marlin, sailfish and a variety of sharks and registered guides even offer guided fishing safaris, deep sea charters, boat-based spear fishing, shore angling, estuary fishing as well as kite fishing in July and August. From May to October, there are daily trips to view some of the thousands of Humpback whales migrating to the tropics. Another spectacular tour of the area are the turtle tours, available form November to March, when sightings are made of Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles nesting in the titanium-rich sands.

In the days of Shaka, the black sands of Zululand were known to contain useful minerals. A small clan of Zulus fashioned weapons with iron by smelting minerals found in the area's sand dunes - the highest vegetated sand dunes in Africa. Zulu traditions are being revived at the community-run cultural village at Veyane. The tour of Veyane takes visitors into the heart of an authentic working Zulu community, where age-old tradition meets contemporary Zulu society. The land of he Khula Dukuduku settlement, where the Veyane Cultural Village is situated, was originally awarded to a brave Zulu warrior, Veyane Mkhwanazi, by King Cetshwayo in recognition of his heroism at the battle of Isandlwana in 1879. Today, the cultural centre invites visitors to call on traditional healers, watch Zulu beadworkers and weavers at work; become spellbound by magical storytelling and be entertained by talented traditional musicians. Visitors are invited to sleep over in authentic Zulu huts, furnished with double beds, and electricity!

While staying over at the Veyane Cultural Centre is highly recommendable, nothing compares to the magical views of St. Lucia and surrounds, where an entire range of accommodation options are available: from humble backpackers and ultra-luxury hotels, to self-catering options located close to all amenities - ideal for a longer stay in the area. Most of these establishments are situated in the main road where restaurants such as St Pizza Seafood Grill and Pub, Fuer Elize and Alfredo's Italian delights, await hungry adventurers with an array of mouthwatering dishes.


Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park St. Lucia and Mtubatuba Accommodation

KwaZulu-Natal Accommodation
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Latest update: July 18, 2016