Tuesday January 20th ~ Travel day from Cape Town to Hluhluwe via St Lucia Estuary
On the move again today with a flight out of Cape Town to Durban, South Africa. Since this was a domestic (within the same country) flight, the post 9/11 security check-in rules were much more lax. We were not required to take off shoes, computers stayed inside our bags, and we were allowed to take our water bottles through security and on to the flight. Our new bus with our driver, Donald, was waiting for us after we collected our luggage.
We spent a good amount of time on the bus today, but once again Tesse kept us entertained with stories from her life, to the politics and policies of South Africa. We are really encouraging her to write her story, as her life experiences would make a fascination book and I would bet it would become a best seller.
Our bus route will take us from Durban to our overnight in Hluhluwe which is 163 miles (262 km). We have a couple of stops to break up the drive before a late afternoon nature cruise.
The area is green and lush with large farms on both sides of the road. Many crops are grown in this area, but I notice an abundance of sugar cane with some pineapples.
Jabula Beach was a quick stop for us to get our feet wet in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The light sand beach had a quick drop off with a wicked rip tide so we were cautioned to not venture far.
The sharp drop off, makes for a fisherman’s delight, but there were also crocodiles, hippos and the great white sharks in the water, so not an ideal combination for a swim! Sure makes our California beaches tame in comparison.
ST LUCIA ~ The area and scenery were beautiful but the highlight of our day was the late afternoon nature cruise on the St Lucia Estuary. This area has the highest concentration of hippos in South Africa. The hippos are even known to roam the streets of the town in the evening.
The estuary is part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, recently renamed the iSimangaliso Wetland Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We found a seat on the upper deck right in the front which afforded us a great view and a perfect place from which to take pictures.
Right off the bat we spotted a Nile crocodile floating in the water not far from our boat. The are the largest crocodile in Africa and the second largest of the crocodilian family. Only the salt-water croc is larger.
“On average the Nile crocodile is between 4.1 metres (13 ft) to 5 metres (16 ft), weighing around 410 kg (900 lb).” ~ Wikipedia
And then the bright yellow weaver birds with an entire colony of nests along the water’s edge.
The main attraction of course is the hippopotamus and we were not disappointed. First a few small groups came into sight, and then the further we traveled into the estuary, we came across larger families. I counted 16 in the largest family group.
Here are a few fun facts we learned about the hippopotamus:
- Hippopotamus means “river horse”
- They are the 3rd largest land mammal after the elephant and rhino
- They spend up to 16 hours a day in the water which helps keep their temperature down
- They can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes under water
- They give birth in water, and the calf can weigh nearly 100 lbs at birth.
- They are aggressive, dangerous and can outrun a human on land
- Male is a bull, female a cow, and baby is a calf
- A group of hippo is a herd, pod, dale, bloat or crash
- They live around 45 years and eat mainly grass and water plants
- Large canine and incisor teeth
- The “yawning” serves as a warning
- Average male weighs 3300 – 4000 pounds
- They have webbed feet, but are not good swimmers and can not float.
The hippos appear to be docile, looking at us with serene eyes, but we learned that they are ill-tempered and responsible for killing people every year. They can attack without provocation and at any time, however their “yawning” is a warning sign.
One of the biggest surprises for me was just how large their teeth are. The captain on our boat passed around one she classified as on the smaller side. The incisors can reach 40 cm (1.3 ft), while the canines reach up to 50 cm (1.6 ft). They are used primarily for fighting and not for eating.
We also spotted a couple more crocs that were sunning themselves on the bank, as well as a large variety of birds.
As we returned back to the dock just before sunset, the water was smooth and peaceful.
The end to another wonderful day!
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful to have been able to touch the Indian Ocean and to have observed hippos in their natural environment.