From uMkhuze Game Reserve, I drove south to the town of St Lucia at the southern end of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. I met up with marketing manager Lindy Duffield who took me along the road through the western shores of Lake St Lucia. This lake is the largest estuarine system in South Africa, and provides an important habitat for many species, including one of the largest populations of Nile crocodile in Africa, and the largest South African populations of hippos, white pelicans and pinkbacked pelicans. Then there are at least 82 fish species that thrive in the lake and its mangroves.
As we drove into the Charter’s Creek gate on the western shores, just off the National N2 road, we passed through several kilometres of commercial tree plantations. The sight of vast tracts of mono-type, sterile forestry contrasts sharply with the diversity of open wetlands and veld of the western shores of the lake. This part of the world has long been used by commercial foresters, and several thousand hectares of iSimangaliso’s southern land was reclaimed from commercial plantations. Today, among the grasslands, it’s still possible to see the bases of trees which have been felled to make way for the wildlife and the World Heritage Site. It was a massive effort that has no doubt made a hugely positive impact on the natural ecology, including natural water sources which were heavily drained by millions of thirsty blue gum trees.
Interestingly, the elephants which were reintroduced on the eastern shores of iSimangaliso have moved onto the western shores, and according to locals, the ellies are really enjoying eating the bark which flakes off the blue gum trees in the commercial plantations…
From there, I headed to the town of St Lucia which is located across the lake’s estuary. It’s one of the few urban areas in the world that is entirely surrounded by a World Heritage Site, and it’s not uncommon at all to see hippos and leopards in the streets at night!
I spent the night at Cape Vidal, one of the most popular camping sites, situated about thirty kilometres north of the town of St Lucia, inside the park. The beach is long and beautiful, and the water is always warm…it’s a great place for families and friends to spend a holiday.
Although fishing is controlled, I came across an unlucky sailfish which had been hooked by a fisherman on his kayak. Somehow it didn’t seem right: the sight of this magnificent creature lying dead on the beach in the middle of a beautiful, natural World Heritage Site, and one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. I couldn’t help feel sad as I walked back to my campsite to cook some dinner.
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