Bu Lauren McShane.
Bays like Sodwana, Kosi, Rocktail and St. Lucia Town have always beckoned me. I’m not sure if it’s their seclusion, their wild beauty or the burgeoning eco systems of this land that held such appeal for me but when I finally got to visit with Vaughan and my son Caleb, I couldn’t be more excited. Road tripping through the region, staying a different place every night we saw so much. But here are the spaces and parts of the trip I loved the most and the ones I suggest you visit ( and yes they all involve water)
1. Lake Sibaya
Within the 32 000Km which make up the iSimangaliso Wetlands, lies the alluring Lake Sibaya. One of the best parts about this Lake is actually the journey it takes to get there. Our guide Gugu from Rocktail Bay Camp took us through dense forest, golden savannah with grazing Nguni cattle and past sparse Mabibi homesteads. Time of day is everything and judging from the way the sunset glow cast a warm glow on this light blue lake, I would say don’t go at any time other than this. I trudged through swampy ground, felt the moist moss beneath my feet and even dipped my toes into the fresh water with a family of hippos far in the distance.
While this blue lake beckons you to dive in, don’t be tempted as crocodiles, hippos and much more call this lake home. I would advise you not to go near the water without a guide present who knows the area and can spot the wildlife quickly. Go at sunset time and take a camera, you don’t want to miss golden hour here.
2. Lala Nek
Photo source: Darren Glanville
It could be my childhood nickname ‘Lala’ or the fact that it means ‘place of rest’ in Zulu but after a Land Rover drive along a sandy lane through a dense dune forest, I arrived at what appeared to be paradise. Shards of light peaked through the white pear and milkwood trees and we parked in this portion of the Isimangaliso Wetlands which allows a maximum of four vehicles. Beach towels and toddler in arms, we made our way through a tunnel of woody hedges with only a deserted beach in view. Other than one couple, we had the beach all to ourselves for sunning, swimming and snorkeling.
There is no shade on this beach so take an umbrella, sunblock, beach towel, swimming costume. Snorkelling is great here so bring a snorkel and goggles to take advantage of the rich world here. Try not to swim alone as there are no lifeguards on duty and don’t go too far out especially if you don’t know about the currents here. Please take your litter home with you.
3. Hippo Cruising in St. Lucia
I’ve done many incredible things first thing in the morning, but this was the first time I was able to sip coffee, watch hippos playing the water and eat croissants at the same time. It was a splendid way to start the day. Aboard a Shakabarker Tour boat, we chatted about the multiple eco systems around this river, the natural sun protection of hippos and their ability to breathe beneath the water. We saw a crocodile, hippo paths up the hills and babies peeking above the estuary’s surface.
When going on a boat tour in the morning, take a warm top as the wind can pick up and it can get quite chilly early in the morning. Whilst we went with Caleb who was crawling at the time, it may not be the best for toddlers who are walking/running as there are areas of the boat which are not tightly closed. And just means parents will have to keep them on a ‘tight leash’ to avoid any accidents. To book your Hippo cruise, visit Shakabarker Tours.
4. Houseboating on Lake Jozini.
This was my first house boating experience and it was pretty unbeatable. Think cruising between the Lebombo mountains ever closer to the horizon at the end of Lake Jozini, whilst sitting in a jacuzzi or fishing on deck. You have everything you’d ever need on board like couches, a cosy cabin, dining area, bar, jacuzzi and the tutorage of Captain Bransom when it comes to tiger fishing. I was able to bag a tiger fish one morning just after stepping out of our cabin which is often the goal of most people staying on the Shayamanzi. My absolute has to be watching fire flies in the night sky from the bed in my cabin.
It’s hot aboard the boat in the day and gets cooler in the evening so bring something to wear in different conditions including a swimming costume for the jacuzzi. Don’t miss out on the fishing, even if it’s not your thing. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how fun it really is. Also be sure to look outside at night to see the fireflies. To stay and cruise aboard the Shayamanzi I, visit Shayamanzi houseboats.
5. Lake Jozini
Lake Jozini is the third largest lake in South Africa and is the southernmost home of the tiger fish. Also, known as Pongolapoort dam. It is approximately 30km long and 5km wide. The mountains form the Eastern shore. The lake wall is in a 5km gorge in these mountains. The lake is surrounded by reserves on all sides, and is abundant in wild life, such as elephants, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, giraffe, buffalo and various other game. When full, the lake covers approximately 16000 hectares. The department of Water Affairs monitors the lake and keeps the level between 70% and 80% full.
Photo source: Bernard DUPONT
Lake Jozini is a very productive lake, being home to a few other species including: Sharptooth Catfish, Threespot Barb, Bowstripe Barb, Imber, Carp, River Goby, Purple Labeo, Rednose Labeo, Silver Robber, Mozambique Tilapia, Silver Catfish, Redbreast Tilapia and a variety of other smaller species. After the heavy rains brought by Cyclone Demoina, fish (including the Largemouth Bass) from the farm dams upstream swam into the dam. Tiger fishing on Lake Jozini became popular in the mid 1990’s. Marketing of the area has increased the number of anglers visiting the lake. It has proven to become a wonderful alternative to tiger fishing in neighbouring countries, although the average size tiger fish is a little smaller than those caught up north.
Stay at the Pongola Game Reserve on the shores of Lake Jozini and enjoy rhino tracking, guided walks, boat trips, tiger fishing and more.
6. Hluhluwe Game Reserve
Set in the heart of Zululand this is the oldest game reserve in Africa, where Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws. Today, Africa’s ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros) stalk the flourishing savannah. Game viewing is the principal attraction in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Viewing hides overlook pans and waterholes enabling one to observe the wildlife at close range.
The hilly Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is also known for its wilderness trails which originated in Umfolozi in the 1950s and its renowned Game Capture unit upgraded into the Centenary Capture Centre, a bench mark for animal capture and sustainable utilisation throughout Africa.The Park covers some 96 000 hectares and contains an immense diversity of fauna and flora.
Apart from game viewing drives there are self guided auto trails which provide information on both the management and natural history of the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game reserve. Guided walks can be especially rewarding in the early morning and late afternoon.
There is a 40 seater boat on Hluhluwe dam which takes visitors on guided trips twice a day. The trips are conducted by an experienced community guide and visitors can see an excellent range of birds and animals within the park while the Zulu culture is covered in the community areas outside.
Take a day trip into the park or stay within the reserve at one of the lodges and resorts. Self-drive or go on a game drive with a game ranger.