St Lucia Wetlands is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in Zululand in Eastern South Africa.
St Lucia is unique due to the fact that it has 5 different ecosystems in the one place to explore, including seashore, dune forests, wetlands, fresh water swamps, papyrus banks, lakes and dry savannahs.
St Lucia is a place where any traveler could get lost for an indeterminate length of time. I really felt the pain of departure when leaving this small estaury town; a place of relaxed charm, truly wild animal encounters and wilderness adventures.
St Lucia is noted for having the highest population of hippos in the world, yet there has never been a human death by one; it's the crocs that are responsible around here for the death of about 10 humans a year. It is not uncommon for hippos to be spotted walking down the road outside the local pub, or munching on the leaves in the neighbour's garden. Eyes and ears need to be fully alert if walking around at night, as hippos are most dangerous on land.
There is no crime or violence in St Lucia, with locals even leaving their cars unlocked, which is unheard of in Africa. There is no noticeable animosity existing between the differing tribes of the areas, all seeming to co-exist with each other peacefully, creating an inviting and safe ambiance.
The people of St Lucia are very in touch with the natural world around them, and are very eager to give you the opportunity to experience the beauty of the St Lucia wetlands. We stayed at BIBs hostel and the workers there treated us daily with free activities to get to know the local area. Sean, our guide, had a wealth of knowledge of the diverse plant and animal life, which he freely shared with us on our many fascinating wildlife walks.
We explored the dune forests, crawling through the under brush and lantana, past leopard shit and praying not to upset the home of the deadly baboon viper snake, to arrive at the beach for a swim in the waters of the wild coastline. Sean was smart enough to tell us on our arrival back to camp that the dune forest, (that we were crawling through) has the highest density of poisonous snakes in the world.
On yet another guided walk, this time through the wetlands, we came came close to your usual African harmless animals, which seem kind of boring when you are hoping to come face to face with a leopard. It proved to be as elusive as ever, but we did manage to walk right between two sunning crocodiles, only metres away from their snapping jaws.
Sean and Clinton, our other local guide, were determined to keep our adrenaline alive every day of our time in St Lucia. One sunset adventure took us to a remote hippo pool, which could be reached by a back trail into the game reserve only they knew about. The hippos in this pool were bulls, massive and not used to humans. We walked right up close to the bank to watch the giant hippos unnervingly watching us. After a time the one hippo yawned, and our mouths dropped at the size of his gaping jaws which looked intent on munching us cleanly in half. Unseen heads then began popping out of the water and started moving towards us, their uninvited guests. We quickly followed Sean's cue to get the f**k out of there, and backed up to the safety of our car, hearts pounding with exhileration from another St Lucia wild animal encounter.
It wasn't just out of the ordinary wild encounters that was so magical about St Lucia. The evenings were spent enjoying cultural zulu dancing shows put on by the hostel, games of volleyball at dusk by the banks of the rivers, watched by the crowd of hippos and crocs, games of frisbee golf, night time braais, drinks and bonfire parties on the beach. My heart misses it's wild and pleasant pulse.
There is no place on earth like St Lucia, it is a rare, hidden gem of our planet.
Written and contributed by Caz Makepeace