07.10.2013 - 07.10.2013 17 °C
Today was scheduled to be water day. Morning in the iSimangaliso preserve and wetland park and then a boat ride through the St. Lucia estuary. The ISimangaliso is a Unesco world heritage site, not on the basis of having most if not all of the big 5 / big 7, but more so due do the 5 unique ecosystems the park encompasses. When we woke up it was raining, but the forecast suggested things would get better as the day progressed.
After breakfast we met with the guide and we were given many choices as to what we wanted to do. The end choice was to wait 1 hour until 9:00 am to see if the rain stopped and it did. We took a game Safari through the wet lands and saw many different types of antelope. Our guide Stacey was very good, although most of us remain suspicious of the hard claims and serious focus on seeing the elusive leopard. We also saw a black rhino and white rhino along with many monkey's. The Safari ran through 40 kilometers of the ISimangaliso park which runs in to Cape Vidal Camp.
Cape Vidal Camo was our stop for swimming, snorkeling and lunch. It is also home to the reported rare, Samango monkey, and more rare still, the golden Samango. We did encounter these rare creatures. Mater of fact, we did not find them all that rare as these monkey's, along with the more common Vervet monkey, were trying to steal our food all throughout lunch. The air temperature was still too cold to swim but we did take off our shoes and roll up our pans for a stroll on the beach and a fairly large coral reef exposed while the tide was out. The Indian Ocean was warm (21-24 C) and we did some tide pool searching. Nothing much there. We also remain unconvinced of whale watching practicality from this location.
After the game park we had a 2 hour boat ride in the estuary. The estuary extends 61-85 kilometers starting in St. Lucia on the coast extending throughout the ISimangaliso. The distance in length is reported differently depending in whether you count the impact of a 17 year drought that has shortened the length of the waterway by approximatley 24 kilometers. Technically this is no longer an estuary as it has been closed off from the Indian Ocean for nine years and much of the water here is converting from saltwater to freshwater. This is also the reason the estuary is shrinking as the only remaining source for replenishing the waterway is storm runoff.
That aside the estuary remains a beautiful preserve. The Mangrove forest was quite impressive and our guide suggested it is the second largest in the world, the largest being in Australia. We saw many hippo and snapped a lot of decent pictures. We also saw a Nile Crockodile, but they are becoming more and more elusive as the newly formed grassy area that thrives off the new fresh water ecosystem provides them plenty of cover to hide. The estuary is also home to the bull shark. We did not see any of these and wondered about the future existence of these predators what with the estuary now being cut off from the ocean. The bull sharks would also go off to the ocean to breed then return to the estuary to birth their pups. The guide did say the sharks still present were trapped here now that access to the ocean is no longer possible. We failed to ask why the estuary was cut off from the ocean. Perhaps significant relief from the sustained drought will return open access to the ocean.
As we returned from our trip it started to drizzle, but not enough to ruin anything. In the way back to the dock you can get a glimpse of the second largest sand dune in the world. This dune lies south of St. Lucia and you would swear it was a mountain. Earlier in our game Safari we saw many large dunes that ones would also mistake for large hillsides. The largest sand dune in the world is on the coast of Australia. After our ride we had to return to our lodge promptly as dinner was already in preparation at the place we were staying. We had some really nice ox tail with potatoes and veggies. We also said goodbye to our last Rust en Verde wine. It was nice to finish dinner around 8:00 rather than first sitting down to dinner at that time.