With Durban now done, it was time to go off the BazBus trail for a little while as I caught a shuttle to King Shaka Airport to pick up a hire car. It was nice to get behind the wheel again and it was also nice to know that in South Africa, cars drive on the same side of the road as the UK and NZ.
I got an awesome deal on the car – just £83 for 11 days – less than £8 a day!
You notice a lot more things on the road when you become the driver as opposed to being a passenger – like how South African drivers tailgate you. Slow cars are expected to pull onto the hard shoulder in order to let faster cars pass and to honest, I actually quite like it – it’s courteous. “Slow” is relative though – people drive really fast here and I was regularly being overtaken while doing 120km/h, which is the speed limit on a lot of the roads here and a nice speed limit at that.
The roads north of Durban on the N2 are very nice – the nicest I have seen in South Africa so
Rhinos On The Road
One of the coolest road hazards I’ve ever come across.
far and a gentle introduction to highway driving in SA. You pay for it though – in the form of tolls. I racked up about R60 (just over £3) of tolls which is enough for a small meal at a restaurant.
It was nice to be driving again after a month and nice to have my tunes going in the car, although I would’ve been fine without the tunes as well – doing high speeds in my tiny Chevrolet Spark Lite while trying to avoid the numerous people walking on the side of the highway requires some concentration.
After stopping in the holiday home town of Ballito Bay, I was off to my next destination – the hot, swampy, humid conditions of St Lucia. The attraction here is St Lucia’s proximity to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – home to hundreds of hippos and 90% of South Africa’s crocodile population.
Like a lot places I have been to on this trip, St Lucia was quiet – there wasn’t much happening in this one street town on a Saturday night. Not that I had anyone to hang out with anyway – I had a 9-bed dorm to myself again and
Katerina & The Waves
Katerina walks down a sand dune at Cape Vidal.
everyone else in the place had gone to bed early.
So I had to find a cure for my boredom within the confines of possibly the crustiest hostel I have stayed at. The luxury tent area was proper pimpin’ – which was in stark contrast to the dormitories and its crumbling facilities. The main buildings are in dire need of refurbishment or replacement – the leaky roofs, ancient power sockets and rusty plumbing look like they haven’t been touched in over forty years. Budget Backpackers could also do with more enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff.
The one good thing that did come out of my first night in St Lucia was my solo dinner. Having been impressed by Mozambican cuisine in Plettenberg Bay
, I had to opportunity to try it again at a restaurant two doors down called Braza. This was definitely the best meal I have had in South Africa so far – espetada
is basically roasted Mediterranean vegetables served with milho fritos
with a skewer of grilled steak and chicken hanging over the top of it. The meat was the tastiest part of the meal but the highlight was the milho fritos
which are crispy battered cubes with a jelly-like,
Spotted in iSlimangaliso Wetland Park from the road. It is huge.
slightly fishy filling inside them.
Anyway, the next day I set out to meet St Lucia’s most famous residents – the hippos. I did this in the form of a cruise down the river where loads of them were either semi or fully submerged in the water. The hippos are also known to amble down the town’s streets occasionally – in contrast to their cute, tubby exterior, hippos are in fact pretty fucking dangerous. With a bite more powerful than that of a great white shark, they’ve been known to literally rip humans apart if threatened.
If you manage to avoid a hippo on the street en route to your favourite fishing spot, you then need to be careful not catch a crocodile with your salmon. Disappointingly, I only managed to see a couple of crocodiles which were mostly submerged – but I did manage to see a giant kingfisher and the very rare mangrove kingfisher.
If you survive the hippos and the crocs, you might fancy a swim – until you see the strong currents and huge waves present on St Lucia’s beaches. If you then manage not to drown in the water, you’ll then have to look
I think that is what they are...
out for the sharks. St Lucia really does have it all.
In light of these various dangers, I decided against a kayak through the swamps and instead visited the estuary and beaches which were disappointing.
On my last day in St Lucia, I decided to take a trip down to Cape Vidal, which is apparently a nice beach. In tow was Katerina from Romania, who had arrived at the hostel the previous day and was looking for something to do.
The beach at Cape Vidal was nice and like many South African beaches, it was also vast. It was too windy for my liking but this wind has created some huge sand dunes, one of which is purportedly 120m high. We didn’t find the giant sand dune, but Katerina and I did sprint down a couple of smaller yet not insignificant ones after a long walk on the beach.
One thing I didn’t know was that you needed to go through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to get to Cape Vidal, which is full of wildlife. This unplanned drive through a Unesco World Heritage Site turned out to be the most rewarding thing I have done in South
A Fucking Leopard!
Excuse my language, but my swearing is indicative of just how I excited I was to see this wild creature up close.
Firstly, we drove past a family of rhinos grazing on the side of the road before they decided to cross it – we drove within a couple of metres of the male of the family which had a horn that I swear was metre long. We then saw a huge antelope at the top of a hill.
The park, which has the Indian Ocean on one side and lakes on the other, is a beautiful stretch of land. Although the Mission Rocks were disappointing, the views afforded by the many lookouts we visited were stunning.
After coming back from the last lookout we visited to the car park, we were excited to see some warthogs near the car. Rhinos, antelopes and now warthogs – this was turning out to be an amazing day. The best was yet to come. Just as we pulled out of the carpark a FUCKING LEOPARD walks up beside the car! It was literally on the other side of the passenger door, hunting the warthogs. It was at this point that I realised we might be in for a treat here, if the leopard managed to catch one of the warthogs – it would be
From inside the car, the leopard crouches on the right, ready to pounce upon the warthogs on the left. So cool – the best thing I have seen in South Africa.
the coolest natural event I would ever witness. While Katerina was fearing for the safety of the warthogs, I was willing the leopard to eat them – just as nature intended. For what seems like an eternity, the warthogs aren’t aware of the leopard’s presence – but the leopard takes too long and the warthogs spot him and sprint away (quite fast might I add). The leopard belatedly chases and follows them into the bush – we don’t know if it ever caught them.
Leopards are known to be the hardest of the “big five” to see as they are adept at hiding and often hunt at night – some people go on safari for weeks and never see one. We were so lucky – and not just because we managed to see one. If we had walked back to the car just five minutes later, we still would’ve seen the leopard – but we would have been looking at it face to face. Five minutes later, and we would have been dinner. Ironically, when we arrived at the lookout, I was laughing at the sign that warns people to look out for hippos, sharks, crocs, monkeys and leopards
Sunset Over iSlimangaliso
Katerina enjoys the view over the park.
This was the best thing I have seen in South Africa so far.
Katerina and I watch the sunset to cap off what has been an unexpectedly awesome day.
An awesome day requires an awesome night to really cap things off, and that is what we got.
After going back to Braza for another espetada
– it is rare that I ever go back to the same restaurant for the same dish – Katerina and I play drinking games with a couple of Germans, Mats and Hans. We play the good ol’ finger game (no not that one) where Mats and I keep guessing wrong. The ‘international’ Kiwi drinking game rules ensures things go downhill very quickly and a couple of beers, a bottle of wine, and a couple of rum and cokes later, Mats has his shirt off and is dancing provocatively in front of the security guard. Classic. A fantastic end to a fantastic day.
I wasn’t too impressed by St Lucia when I arrived but by the end of my stay I have ended up loving the place – a must-visit in South Africa.
From wildlife on the coast, I now had a six
Rare bird that we managed to spot on my St Lucia river cruise.
hour drive inland to brush up on South Africa’s war history – completely hungover. See how I got on in my next entry – until then…
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