Following our time in Kosi Bay, we spent two days in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO world heritage site) just outside of the town St. Lucia:
…and two days in the Hluhluhwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve:
Surprisingly, these diverse locations are just 45 minutes away from one another.
St. Lucia and iSimangaliso
St. Lucia’s residents claim it is the only town in the world surrounded on all sides by a world heritage site. It is surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve, which includes the ocean and beach, a large estuary, and wetlands filled with game. St. Lucia was also the first actual town we stayed in on our trip – we were happy to have dinner in a restaurant for the first time, enjoying what we have determined to be the world’s biggest oysters and steph beer.
We had been forewarned that hippos roam the streets at night. (Hippos stay in the water all day to protect their sensitive skin and only come out at night to eat.)
We thought this might be an exaggeration, but as we had sundowners our first night in town, we watched several hippos exit the estuary. We were glad that we had driven to the restaurant rather than walked, since it’s very dangerous to encounter a hippo on foot – as a local pointed out, “they just hate the smell of humans.”
On horseback, we galloped along the beach for an up-close view of yet more hippos and one exceedingly large crocodile. In the game reserve immediately adjacent to the beach, our horses came close to joining a herd of wildebeest.
One of the women in our group, who insisted on riding in shorts and flip-flops, was quickly left behind. Throughout our ride, Giorgio also looked pretty fancy in this special helmet he picked out.
At Hluhluhwe, we quickly determined that Kruger is for beginners. First of all, we needed a pronunciation lesson (unnecessary for Kruger). Apparently, Hluhluhwe is pronounced something like shloo-shloo-wee (“hl” is a “sh” sound in Zulu). Once we had ascertained the correct pronunciation, further challenges included the official map we had purchased and the road conditions. The map was over five years old and did not match up with all the park’s signs, making getting from point A to point B an adventure! In addition, the tarred roads were littered with potholes and some of the dirt roads were so steep that they required a 4x4 vehicle (although this was certainly not signed).
The Kruger restcamps are also for beginners. Our camp, Mpila, had no electricity (and therefore no water) from 10 pm to 7 am and, more importantly, was unfenced. In Kruger, the only animals in the camps are the monkeys which come over the fence – they are an annoyance, but not dangerous. Without a fence, there are exciting visitors at night that will take the meat right off your outdoor grill!
We were also slightly concerned that these hyenas were going to make off with one of the small French children in the bungalow next to ours.
Game-viewing opportunities were also spectacular. Within minutes of entering the park, we had already encountered two groups of rhino within meters of our Nissan, followed by several nyala (seemingly less rare in Hluhluhwe than in Kruger).
Unfortunately, we were unable to conduct a detailed comparison of the game in the two parks due to a bout of peri-peri chicken or oyster induced food poisoning, which kept us confined to our bungalow for most of the day. (No worries, we think we are now fully recovered.)