Ever discover hippos in your front yard? I have. It happened not once, but twice while staying in St. Lucia, South Africa. While sitting around a fire pit enjoying some South African Braai at Umlilo Lodge, another guest walked in and said, “there are hippos outside!” To which I immediately shouted my favorite phrase when genuinely surprised, “Shut the front door!” Only, that statement was all too appropriate for the scenario. We walked outside the safety of Umlilo’s walls and observed them from a comfortable distance, watching while they twirled their little Shrek-like ears and grazed on grass. Matt, with ExpertVagabond.com, zoomed in and snapped the pic below. Apparently, in St. Lucia it’s pretty common to find hippos meandering around town at night looking for dinner. Lucky for us, they’re vegetarian (herbivores if you want to get scientific). Thankfully, our hippo encounter looked like this …
And not like this …
While they may be portrayed as harmless on television, wearing tutu’s in cartoons and sounding adorable when requested by Shirley Temple for Christmas, they’re actually quite dangerous. Not mean-spirited hunters, but instead huge gigantic scaredy cats that can run up to 30 miles per hour when motivated. You don’t want to accidentally startle one!
St. Lucia actually has an abundance of wildlife in addition to their famous hippos. This tiny little tourist-friendly town is located in the iSimangaliso wetlands, one of South Africa’s first World Heritage sites. iSimangaliso is Zulu for “miracle and wonder,” and we certainly had quite a few wondrous moments while visiting here.
It was my very first safari in South Africa as well as my first time seeing zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and a variety of other exotic animals in their natural environment instead of zoo. I was delighted at every single moment, smiling and spontaneously applauding while saying “oooh look! A zebra!” more times than I can count. Scroll down and see!
I even enjoyed getting punched in the face by a dung beetle. What’s a ‘dung beetle?’ you ask? Well, they’re just like they sound. They’re little bugs that like to roll animal crap into perfectly symmetrical balls so that they can attract a mate. Sexy, eh?
They hover around the roads and unintentionally fly into the back of a safari vehicle every now and then. Thus, I got smacked in the cheek by one. The story actually made a great tweet. =)
iSimangaliso hugs the eastern shoreline of South Africa, surprising us even more with stunning views of the Indian Ocean, pristine undeveloped beaches and some the oldest and tallest sand dunes in the World.
Nelson Mandela was quoted saying, ‘iSimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale)’
Our morning safari ended with a bbq lunch by the beach where my new friend Jessica (writer for Italylogue.com) and I went for a refreshing walk and dipped our toes in the water.
The animal safari and beach fun wasn’t limited to daylight hours. After an afternoon nap and snack back at Umlilo Lodge, we headed back out for an evening turtle tour along the beach where we spotted the tractor-like tracks in the sand that lead us to this HUMONGOUS leatherback turtle. It was a magical night watching this giant creature cover her eggs and scoot back to the ocean.
As you can see, we packed a lot into our three days in St. Lucia and iSimangaliso. If you’re interested in adding this beautiful area to your vacation plans, here’s some information that will help you plan your itinerary:
St. Lucia and iSimangaliso are approximately a three hour drive from Durban, located along South Africa’s east coast. I recommend flying into Durban International Airport (DUR) and then contracting a hired car or tour operator such as Julnic Tours for a relaxed drive from the airport to the wetlands.
Where To Stay:
There are plenty of accommodations available in St. Lucia including bed & breakfasts, hotels, lodges, vacation rentals and camping. I highly recommend where we stayed at Umlilo Lodge as a homecooked breakfast is included with your stay and it’s easily walking distance to town. The rooms are rustic and comfortable, and innkeepers Laurens and Es will make you feel at home.
Things To Do:
There is plenty to see and do in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. You can choose a half or full day safari including lunch with Heritage Tours. There’s also hippo-viewing boat cruises and kayaking available on Lake St. Lucia as well as evening beach and turtle tours. In the quaint downtown area you’ll find a variety of restaurants as well as local artisan shopping. And no trip to South Africa would be complete without a big game drive and visiting a local township.
For more inspiring photos of South Africa and an inside look at the town of St. Lucia, be sure to check out the photo album I created on Facebook.
**This trip was sponsored by the South African Tourism Board.