No trip to St Lucia is complete without taking a cruise on Lake St Lucia. You are virtually guaranteed to get up close to some of the 1,000 hippos and 2,000 crocodiles that call the lake home.
On a previous visit to the area I had been whale watching with Advantage Tours. Having encountered hump back whales on that voyage my first choice for this trip would be them. At their office in town co owner Riette booked us onto a full boat for the two hour ‘hippo & croc’ cruise.
Within minutes of casting off from the launch jetty we encountered a pod of ten hippos visible only at first by there eyes and heavily whiskered snouts. Natasha, our captain, shared her knowledge of the mammals with all on board. Whilst keeping us at a safe distance so as not to get too close to one of Africa’s most dangerous animals. When a hippo’s tooth was passed amongst the passengers it gave all an idea of the power of Africa’s third largest herbivore.
Natasha proved to be a great spotter too. Easing the boat to a stop she pointed out a pied kingfisher. The bird sat perched with a still wriggling fish trying to escape its long black beak.
Heavy rains meant the lake was full and debris had been washed in from adjoining rivers. Small green islands comprising of grasses, reeds, sugar cane and palm leaves were floating on the waters surface. Within one such island two young crocodiles were heavily camouflaged, their heads covered in lush green grass, their eyes looking back at us.
Birdlife is prolific around the lake. We passed several small colonies of bright yellow weaver birds constructing nests amongst the reed beds. The male is responsible for building the nest and once finished his female partner will inspect it. If she is not satisfied she simply takes it to pieces for him to start again.
Fishing from the lakes banks amongst the reeds we passed goliath herons, purple herons and great white egrets. Lesser striped swallows and little swifts skimmed the lakes surface catching insects. On muddy flats surrounded by mangroves Egyptian geese sat in dappled sunshine.
Perched in a dead tree overhanging the lake a yellow billed kite looked down on us as we passed below. Set against the blue sky Natasha pointed out both an adult and a juvenile fish eagle. The younger of the birds was identifiable by the lack of its distinctive white head and chest colouration.
Several more pods of hippos were passed as we made our way back towards the jetty. Most of the groups contained young and one calf pointed out to us was only two months old. Nearby a loan female stood in shallow water. Natasha explained she had moved away from the pod in readiness to give birth.
On reaching the jetty the next expectant queue of passengers stood waiting to board. In a tree to their right sat a large crowned hornbill. I wondered if he was tempted to join the next cruise or if he was simply checking on numbers.