Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
A visit to South Africa is not complete without a stay in St Lucia. For photographers it's a mecca for bird life and particularly the opportunities to get up close and personal to the African Fish Eagle which is a constant companion down on the estuary. Lake St Lucia is the largest estuarine lake in Africa covering over 300 km2 and this "battle-axe" shaped lake was proclaimed a protected area in 1895. In subsequent years, the surrounding areas, including the coastal belt were added and this eventually culminated in a 270 000 ha park. In 1975, the lake was declared a Ramsar wetland of importance, and during the 1990's it was officially declared our first World Heritage Site. The international significance of the area is that many migratory birds from Asia use the wetland, and both leatherback and loggerhead turtles from the great Indian Ocean lay their eggs during the summer on the shoreline. The southernmost African coral reefs occur here, and whales such as humpback whales pass this shoreline en-route to warmer equatorial seas to calve.
There are numerous water birds such as gulls, egrets, pelicans, and flamingos at times. Over 3,000 flamingos may be present filtering crustaceans from the rich shallows. The lake is home to about 2, 000 crocodiles and over 700 hippos, which can be seen from the boat cruises that operate from the estuary mouth. The land area is as diverse with swamp, sand, mangrove and dune forest communities, of which the highest forested dunes in the world occur here. There are also other habitats such as water-lily Covered ponds, marshlands, coastal savannas and open woodlands at the drier western end.
Many forest inhabitants occur such as samango monkeys, the Tonga red squirrel, bushbuck and red duiker. Larger animals occur in more discrete areas within the greater park, and these include elephant, black rhino and buffalo.
The unspoilt shoreline has a few shipwrecks which can be viewed and searched for too. During the 1820's the Royal Navy had explored the coastline in attempts to seek ports and trade opportunities, and many of the points along the coast are named after their ships and crewmen that were either wrecked or died to the vagaries of disease. The name St Lucia originates from a Portuguese explorer who named the area Santa Lucia, in honour of the Saint in 1575, and the boat cruise that operates in the estuary bears its namesake. There is a variety of accommodation types in the park such as Swiss-style log cabins to camp sites, and the activities are even more varied and include walking, guided wilderness trails, shore and deep sea angling, snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching, turtle tours and leisurely boat cruising.
Photographically, this park offers great water birds as well and hippo and Crocodile opportunities on the lake, not forgetting the turtles on the beach in the summer months.
I recommend staying a Wendy's Country House Hotel in Mtubatuba. She can arrange all your transport and boat trip on the estuary. More so, the accomodation and food is magnificent an she is well used to accomodating photographers who need early starts and who return after dark from a shoot.