During a Zululand road trip, we, myself & father-in-law Barry, decided to spend half a day in the seaside town of St Lucia. The small town is situated on the Elephant Coast on the north east corner of the province of KwaZulu Natal. The town is a gateway for the iSimangaliso Park UNESCO World Heritage site. The park has a unique eco system with a plethora of flora & fauna. Fresh water lakes, giant vegetated sand dunes, pristine wild beaches and the warm Indian Ocean. Wildlife, from wild dogs and whales to lions and loggerhead turtles can all be found within the boundaries of the park.

The town is famous for its hippo population, the largest in South Africa. Caution is always advised especially after dark as hippos often wander the towns gardens and streets looking for fresh grass to graze on. We were only recently sent a video by family of them eating at a restaurant in the town’s main street with a hippo strolling past.

After a fish’n’chip lunch we explored the beaches before heading to the estuary for potential hippo sightings. We stood a safe distance from the waters edge on what looked like prime hippo grazing territory. We observed several bird species from yellow billed kites to goliath herons. Hippos occasionally surfaced and grunted but they seemed to be keeping their distance from us. Maybe it was the other towns residents that were deterring them from coming closer?

I had never seen so many Nile Crocodiles. Not only were there dozens of them, swimming and basking in the hot sun, they were gigantic! Wow they were big, and they seemed to be everywhere. A family, tourists like us, mum, dad and three young children greeted us with polite hellos and smiles and walked to the estuary edge. We kept our distance but their excitement at spotting a monster obscured by the reeds lead us to the estuarie’s edge. Barry was more worried about his binoculars than the crocodiles. He had borrowed them, and I could see his knuckles were white as he gripped them, not wanting to drop them. He only took a hand off them, which he did constantly, to check that the strap was secure over his head.

From where we stood there were agitated hippos and crocodiles everywhere. Like us, the family, we now stood with were on high alert. The three youngsters also seemed as interested in the binoculars as they were the wildlife. Barry looked at me and them down to them. With a white-knuckle grip, he offered them the binoculars so as they could get a closer look at the giants in the estuary. Their faces lit up and smiles beamed from each one as they took it in turns to look. They were so excited to see into the jaws of some of the biggest crocodiles basking mouths wide open.  I could see Barry was on edge. He almost crouched like a cricketer anticipating a catch.

The last of the children to look then handed Barry the binoculars back. The parents and all the children said thank you and then goodbye as they made their way away from the waters edge. Barry held the binoculars at arm’s length and looked at them. He was clearly relieved to get them back as after all, they were not really his lend out. Giving a mock wipe of his brow, he smiled and with a flick of wrists tossed the strap behind his head. I watched the white-knuckle grip relax as he let them drop, secured by the strap, to the back of his neck.

There was a dull thud, binoculars hitting grass. Then a clonk, followed swiftly by another, of metal on rocks. Then the last sound, a splash caused by binoculars hitting water. I had never seen Barry move so fast. There was now another big splash as he entered the estuary. With two strides he was up to his waist. Then his arms shot into the water. Binoculars recovered he was back out in a matter of seconds. In a Tarzan film there would have been multiple splashes and the crocodiles would have been on him in a flash.

It turned out the flick of the wrist had not been accurate enough to put the strap behind his head. He spent the remainder of that trip draining and wiping his borrowed binoculars. They have remained cloudy and St Lucia water marked to this day.


About Author

People say that Africa has an effect on your soul and Mark Henson the ‘author’ of this site is no exception. He first travelled to South Africa and the province of KwaZulu-Natal in 1993 and has been coming and going every year since. Twice now most years!

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