South of Swaziland in South Africa

(Last Updated On: March 19, 2020)
This part of South Africa has an abundance of tourist activities, especially along the cost. It is an area with plenty of rain, which makes for a lush landscape. It is also a major sugar cane production area, which is obvious to anyone traveling through the area.We made two significant stops in this area for game viewing:
•    Inland at the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Reserve and
•    Along the coast at the Saint Lucia Estuary.We also spent a brief amount of time on an Indian Ocean beach, which made for a relaxing break.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Reserve

My favorite stop was the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Not only did we see an incredible amount of game (earlier fires had led to an abundance of newly sprouted grass by the time we arrived, bringing together wildlife that usually would have been more dispersed), but the park itself was so beautiful I would have been content just driving around enjoying the scenery. The wildlife was a bonus. But what a bonus! The park is noted for its role in rhino rescue operations and has been particularly successful with the white rhino. This was obvious, as there were white rhinos almost everywhere I looked. It was amazing.

My wish list for this trip included seeing a rhino and I got to see many of them, some so close to our vehicle I could have leaned out of our open vehicle and touched them.

Lodging options are available in and around the park. Add it to your list. This has to be one of the finest game parks in South Africa.

Saint Lucia Wetlands Park
The Saint Lucia [iSimangaliso] Wetlands includes mountain, bushveld, palm grove, several types of forest, grassland, wetland, and ocean habitats. The area is rich in wildlife, especially birds, and is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. We spent our time here on a boat tour of the estuary. Despite the cool, dreary weather, we saw a number of birds and lots of hippos. (Hippos probably aren’t much affected by the weather.)

The Saint Lucia [iSimangaliso] Wetlands , is a quaint tourist village. It is a place still dominated by local merchants and services. Despite the fact that so much of the town’s commerce is focused on tourism, the lack of high end shopping and big retail or hotel chains give it a slightly lost-in-time feeling. I like that in a town, others might find it less appealing.

The coolest thing about St. Lucia, however, is the fact that some nights the nearby hippos walk right through downtown as they move between the water and grazing areas. I so wanted this to happen while we were there, but, alas, it did not.

There are lots of restaurant choices. We chose the Quarter Deck, which was ok and had a nice deck (so I could keep an eye out for passing hippos), but otherwise was not exceptional. I’d give something else a try next time – there are lots of options.

We stayed at the Elephant Lake Hotel, located in a residential area at the edge of “downtown.” The rooms were rather old and creaky, but the hotel was an easy walk from lots of restaurants. Our room was on the main floor, with a sliding door to the patio and pool beyond – perfect for watching for the hippos which have, on rare occasions, wandered through to check out the pool. Breakfast was served in a screen room that over looked the pool and gardens. This gave us a great vantage point from which to watch dozens of neighborhood mongooses as they made their morning rounds.

Maybe the best selling point for the Elephant Lake Hotel is the helpful, friendly staff.  Staying here sort of felt like staying in a hotel run by a well-meaning aunt.

It all made for a memorable stay.

We didn’t get to spend any time in Durban, but I’d try to spend some time here if I came through this part of the country again. This is a major tourist area with broad sandy beaches and warm ocean currents. It is also a cultural hub and sounds like a fascinating place to check out for a day or two.

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