We packed up the tent and made the short trek to St. Lucia to unpack and reset the tent. The area surrounding St. Lucia is part of the iSimangaliso wetlands national park and contains some of the most beautiful coastlines of South Africa. We took it easy for the day and strolled around the empty town. It was the middle of the off-season and many businesses were closed or being renovated for the masses that flock here in their summer. We also took a short 1.5 km hike that bordered a small chunk of the wetlands that are home to huge number of bird species, as well as hippos and crocodiles. The potential of having a hippo or a crocodile in our path kept us on our toes through the whole hike. Hippos here are known to occasionally walk right through town unfazed by people or cars. Unfortunately the trail was devoid of both large animals, but we did manage to stumble upon some tiny gems equally as interesting and far less dangerous. The first and most delicious accident was finding wild passion fruit growing along the trail. After a few minutes of foraging I walked away with sticky hands, a sticky beard and a smile on my face. The fruit was ripe, sweet, delectable, and satisfying. After gorging our bellies on passion fruit Sarah and I came across something we had never seen nor thought we might ever see in our lives. An epic march on the microcosmic level, Processionary Caterpillars forming a line over 6ft. long with each ones head following the rear of the one in front to create a giant snake like line across the ground. We sat and watched in disbelief as the procession slowly worked its way on towards the next feeding grounds.
After our short hike we walked the boardwalk to the dunes on the coast along the Indian Ocean. We were once again spoiled with wildlife and saw a group of about 15-20 hippos in the river from the boardwalk with their eyes and nostrils peeking out above the water. We eventually made it to the beach to take in the sunset with the Sandpipers, Pelicans, and Gulls to put and end to another eventful day.
We were up at 6 a.m. to the always unpleasant sound of pouring rain on a tent, which squashed our plan for a sunrise walk to were we had seen the hippos the previous evening. At the first break in the storm we left, opting for a drive up through the wetlands and dunes in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. Shortly after we began driving the rains once again commenced which greatly decreased our visibility range when it came to looking out the windows for wildlife. The first pan, (a swampy, shallow depression that fills with water) we stopped at did not disappoint and gave us high hopes for the rest of the rainy day. There were two hippos swimming in the middle, with just eyes and nostrils showing, and a small group of Waterbuck on the far side. The rain slowly subsided as we made our way to Mission Rocks, which lies about halfway between St. Lucia and Cape Vidal. Mission rocks contain a large number of very cool tidal pools, with little crabs scurrying all over the rocks. With the weather now turning in our favor we took a snack of Nik Naks, and rusks with us and headed to Mafanaza hide, which is located in the park and is a very creatively designed hide that overlooks a huge wetlands area. The hide is designed to look like a giant bird nest with branches and logs intertwined throughout the whole structure. Sarah spotted the first Crocodile soaking up what little sun was poking through the clouds and I spotted the second about and hour later slowly swimming looking like a drifting log. The hide was a great view over the hotbed of activity in the wetlands; from the Crocodiles, Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Kudu, and Warthogs to a huge number of species of birds.
After a long stint in the hide we decided to stop up in Cape Vidal to hang out at the beach for a bit. On the drive up we spotted a huge animal on the hillside. At first we thought might be a hippo traveling one of the many paths between watering holes, but as we got closer we could slowly make out the shape of a Rhino. I could hardly believe my eyes at first, a Black Rhino. We sat and watched it graze and slowly disappear over the hill. Cape Vidal itself wasn’t anything special, but it did have a really nice beach, which would’ve been great for swimming had the weather been in our favor. The pines along the coast were filled with curious Vervet Monkeys. The area is also home to the much less frequently seen Samango Monkeys who showed there face all to briefly when we saw one up in a tree. Tired but not wanting fritter away our precious time on the coast we opted to take the grasslands road on the way back to St. Lucia instead of the quicker paved main road. This is a decision we would soon be very grateful for. About 3km into the drive we found ourselves in an all to familiar situation face to face with a Rhino. This time though it was two Black Rhinos and their little one. I had unknowingly driven into what could possibly become a very hairy situation. We were on a one-way road, with swampy wetlands on either side, not enough room to turn around even if we needed to. We approached very slowly and held our distance at around 300-400 ft. and just watched and waited for the Rhinos to give us a hint of their intentions. At first they seemed very wary of us, and stared for a good long time while keeping their calf close between them. We sat hearts pounding with trepidation and excitement as they slowly went back to grazing and meandered to the west giving us a view most people can only see on nature shows of two rhinos and their calf.
The herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, and Buffalo on the way back paled in comparison, but only added to capping off another solid day. We arrived back in town and bought a pineapple, a bag of about 20 passion fruits, and 4 avocados for 30R ($4.25) and called it a night while we planned the next days excursion into Swaziland.