That’s right, we got to go on game drives. And they were awesome! Although we were excited about the prospect of seeing animals we had only seen in movies, we were a little skeptical about the idea of simply driving around for much of the day. In the end it was excellent.
Hendrik and Caitlyn lent us their car and we made the journey north – on the wrong side of the road – without any complications. When we checked into our hotel in St. Lucia proper we were quickly warned that we needed to be careful wandering around town at night as the hippos come out of the nearby estuary to feed and are extremely dangerous. In the event that there was one in the hotel driveway we were to either go back to our room and wait or relax in the cafe across the road until it left. Apparently they kill about 3,000 people every year and get especially upset if a person gets between them and the water.
With that charming little warning in mind we got settled in and explored the immediate area before being picked up for our first game drive. The guide arrived in a safari vehicle meant for nine people, but we were the only ones who had signed up for that day so we got a private tour. It was a sunset tour up the eastern side of the St. Lucia estuary and turned out to be a fantastic introduction to game drives. We did a bunch of game-spotting and saw a lot of cool animals before the sun really settled down.
We stopped for sunset snacks and drinks before continuing on a night drive. This part of the drive was especially cool. After sundowners, the guide handed Blake a spotlight while he held a second one and headed further into the park. We spotted a few sets of eyes along the way, mostly bushbabies, but then there was a leopard on the road! The best part was that it never did run: just continued slowly along and allowed us to have a great look and get a few mediocre photos in the mix. Having crowned the night off with that sighting, we headed back down the road to look for chameleons, one of which our guide brought back to the truck for us to hold. They are pretty entertaining. Super lethargic and always looking to get to the highest point they can reach. Our final sighting was right back in town when we ran into some hippos wandering through the streets. Heed those warnings!
The following morning we were up and out to meet a different truck for a 5 AM start before driving an hour out to Hluhluwe (pronounced shushlooee) for our all day drive. There were two other people on this drive with us and we had some great sightings. For us, some of the most interesting were the giraffes and elephants, but we also saw wild dogs, which are apparently really rare and quite pretty. This tour included a simple breakfast along with a great lunch braai with sausages and steaks grilled up by our guide.
Our final event was a two hour boat cruise on the estuary looking for hippos and crocs. This took place our last morning in the area before our drive back to Durban and was pretty cool. For those who are interested, hippos are really ugly. We originally assumed that rhinos would be ugly and hippos would be comparatively cute. Quite the opposite. We found several different pods and even got to listen to them making a series of calls. We did see a few crocs as well, but they were a lot smaller than expected. Apparently they get bigger up river.
Once we got off the boat we had just enough time to grab a coffee and then head for Durban. We had decided to stop at one of the various farm stalls on the way out for a late lunch and we would highly recommend it. The food, at least at the one we stopped at, was decent and some of the homemade products are amazing!
A Few Thoughts
St. Lucia is an area that is definitely worth visiting and spending several days in. There are several different parks within striking distance and you can see all of the big five in the area – although we never did spot lions.
Game drives are quite reasonably priced, especially if you are working in a foreign currency. An all day drive was only 800 R. each (about 80 CAD) and included pickup and two meals.
It is possible to go on a self-guided drive staying on the main roads within the parks. However, there are roads/trails that seem to be restricted to vehicles driven by certified guides.
Don’t ever put an arm/camera lens outside of the vehicle if you are close to an animal. That is how people get bitten.