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South Africa: St Lucia – hippos and beach

Surrounded by an UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is at the heart of magnificent natural coastal forests, wild animals, majestic bird life, breathtaking beaches and hospitable people. There are at least 1 200 crocodiles and 800 hippos found in Lake St Lucia.

We arrived in St Lucia mid-morning and decided to grab a cup of coffee before reviewing our plans for the day. I had booked several trips during our stay. One of them was a boat cruise on the estuary that runs from the ocean 85km northwards and at its widest is 22km. It is one of the largest estuaries in Africa. 

I had originally booked the boat ride for a couple of days later but wanted to bring it forward to this afternoon. After a visit to the tour company, I changed the boat ride, and we headed down to the beach.

We had briefly seen the Indian Ocean at Cape Agulhas where it meets the Atlantic Ocean wanted to get a closer look. With the car parked, we headed through a path by the sand dunes and onto the beach, which seemed to spread for miles in each direction. Our shoes were quickly discarded, and we waded into the warm waters of the ocean. The waves were quite large, so we didn’t venture in too far. Karen headed down to the beach to offer to take some photos for a family who were enjoying the beach – she ended up in most of the photos. By this time, we were getting close to check-in time at the hotel, so we quickly made and ate some peanut butter sandwiches and set out for the hotel.

It was a quick turnaround and we headed down the dock to catch our boat. The trip was only 90 minutes long. Along the way, we came across a few pods of hippos, including some babies. Apart from hippos, we got to see the odd crocodile and wetland birds. It was not long before we were back at the pier and driving back to our hotel.

A small pod of hippos out on the river - St Lucia, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
A small pod of hippos out on the river
This juvenile hippo enjoys dining on the mangrove trees - St Lucia, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
This juvenile hippo enjoys dining on the mangrove trees
A yellow weaver bird building its nest - St Lucia, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
A yellow weaver bird building its nest
An African darter - St Lucia, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
An African darter

Other things to do in St Lucia


A World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (the former Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park) incorporates an astonishing variety of habitats from the Ubombo Mountains to grasslands, forests, wetlands, mangroves and ancient dunes, magnificent beaches and coral reefs.

This awesome KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Park stretches along the Zululand coast from Maphelane in the south to Kosi Bay in the north, on the Mozambique border.

Covering 220km (137 miles) of coastline, this KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Park brings together eight inter-locking ecosystems and ten unique destinations: Maphelane, Lake St. Lucia/St. Lucia Estuary, Cape Vidal and the Eastern Shores, Charters Creek and the Western Shores, False Bay, Sodwana Bay, uMkhuze, Lake Sibaya, Coastal Forest and Kosi Bay.

Down on the beach- iSimalingiso Wetlands, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
Down on the beach


The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is the only park under formal conservation in KwaZulu Natal where the Big Five occur. 280 kilometres north of Durban and established in 1895, this is the oldest game park in South Africa along with nearby St Lucia Reserve.

Set in the heart of Zululand this is the oldest game reserve in Africa, where Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws.

Today, Africa’s ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros) stalk the flourishing savannah. Game viewing is the principal attraction in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Viewing hides overlook pans and waterholes enabling one to observe the wildlife at close range.

We saw many white rhino during our tour - Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
We saw many white rhino during our tour

Planning your visit to St Lucia

Getting there

St Lucia is an easy 3-hour drive from Durban along a good quality dual carriage highway.

The main airlines flying into King Shaka International Airport in Durban are British Airways, Emirates, Qatar and South Africa Airlines. If you’re travelling from Europe, it’s most likely you’ll need to connect in Johannesburg.  However, there are several daily flights from the other hubs in South Africa including Cape Town and Elizabeth Bay.

Best time to visit St Lucia

St Lucia is never out of season. With sub tropical hot summers and mild warm winters, St Lucia experiences mostly blue sky days. St Lucia enjoys an average of 325 sunny days per year. In summer, St Lucia experiences around 60% of its annual rainfall with the wettest period being between January and March. Summer days are hot, with late afternoon and evening thunderstorms.  St Lucia weather temperatures range between 25°C and 35°C.

Winter from June to August in St Lucia is the dry season. Most days are sunny and warm, with cooler evenings. Maximum temperatures range between 15°C on the coldest days to 28°C. The average daytime temperature in the winter is 24°C.

Where to stay


During our time in St Lucia we stayed at the Maputaland Guest House which as situated in a quiet area of the town. We had a lovely spacious studio which was tastefully decorated. As well as having a very comfortable bed it had a small sitting area and a fully equipped kitchen which was perfect for us.

The bathroom was all white, with a subway tile on the wall. For some people it might have looked stark, but we loved it.

An added bonus was the wi-fi connection was really good and available in the room.

There was also a large pool area, but we were only here for a short while and out and about most of the time, so we didn’t get to use the pool at all.


Leopard Tree Lodge in St Lucia is situated 1.6 km from Ndlovu Beach and features air-conditioned accommodation with free WiFi, as well as access to a terrace.

Each unit comes with a fully equipped kitchen with a dining table, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a private bathroom with shower, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Some units have a balcony and/or a patio with pool or garden views.

Guests can swim in the outdoor swimming pool, go hiking or cycling, or relax in the garden and use the barbecue facilities.


Set amidst a subtropical garden, The Sandpiper offers accommodation in St Lucia, neighbouring the St Lucia Nature Reserve. The guest house offers a 10-metre long outdoor pool. Free WiFi is available.

All rooms at The Sandpiper are air-conditioned and equipped with satellite TV, a small fridge, and tea-and-coffee-making facilities. A hairdryer and wall safe are available. Some of the rooms have a patio, overlooking the spacious garden, nature area and pool.

Breakfast is served every morning and restaurants are within 10 minute’s walk.

St Lucia is the gateway to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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