|The St Lucia Wetland Park is nothing short of a magical place of shimmering lakes and rivers, forests, bush and pristine sea shore. It is one of three World Heritage Sites in South Africa and one of the most
un-spoilt wilderness areas left on the African continent. This 9 000 square kilometres (3 475 square miles) wonderland of evergreen woodland, lake, savanna, river and floodplain sustains a remarkable variety of floral and wildlife habitats.
Two major geophysical features determined the character of the region. About 100 million years ago the area lay beneath the ocean, which over the millennia, retreated to leave a broad, sandy plain and a scatter of shallow depressions. These gathered fresh water from the rivers to form lakes that are now such a spectacular feature of the region. It is also the meeting place of tropical and sub-tropical zones which account in part for its many ecosystems and the extraordinary variety of plants animals and birds.
Lake St Lucia is in reality an extended estuarine system that runs parallel to the seashore divided
by some of the earth’s highest vegetated dunes. The lake’s waters are shallow, averaging just a metre in depth and therefore the ideal habitat for hippo, uncountable numbers of fish, crustaceans, insects and other nutritious organisms that attracts great numbers of aquatic birds – among them flamingoes, white pelicans, saddlebills, Caspian terns, spoonbills and twelve species of heron as well as the beautiful African Fish eagle and many colourful kingfishers. Oh!! Too many birds to name!
Something that I will also want to go back to see is the giant leatherback sea turtles that come ashore north of St Lucia to
breed (in the summer months). I read that: “these animals travel enormous distances through the ocean to reach their ancestral breeding grounds, guided to their pre-ordained destination with uncanny precision by an impulse mechanism implanted at birth. Mating takes place a short distance out to sea, and then the female makes her ponderous way through the reefs and intertidal zone to the beach in quest of a scent, a distinctive smell that surrounded her when she herself was a
Mortality amongst the turtles is extremely high. Only one of every 500 that reach the water is thought, will evade death to return as an adult. Sadly, many that do survive fall prey to man’s appetites and vanities: valued for their meat, their eggs, the oil in their bodies, the shells used for ornamentation and as talismans, they were slaughtered in their multitudes and at one stage they were perilously close to regional extinction.” (From: “Presenting South Africa” by Peter Joyce)
Fortunately the Natal Parks Board stepped in to rescue them and the turtles are now returning to the beaches in increasing numbers. Therefore I made another promise to myself that I will go back one day to go on one of those night time tours to observe how hundreds of these little turtles struggle to find their way to the ocean or to see the females coming to pick up the scent to return to their own birthplaces…
Well even though if it
was not the season to see the turtles, St Lucia had much to offer in
scenic beauty and one will have to go far to find an ocean with the
same variety of vividly blue and turquoise hues with waves rolling
out to spill their snow-white foam creating lace patterns on
pristine white beaches - a massage to the soul...And on the way to
the beaches, traveling through the dune forests one is once more
surprised by wild animals peacefully grazing in a natural
parkland habitat. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful safari
through Kwa Zulu Natal...