South Africa is a land of adventure. It is filled with contrast and color, chaos and calm. Within a few kilometers of each other you may find a buzzing African Wetland and a dry semi-desert. A thundering waterfall and a quiet beach cove. Jangling Zulu dancers and soft-spoken street artists conjuring magical tunes from their marimbas and jembe drums.
St Lucia, situated along the Kwa Zulu Natal coastline is no different. And it is here that I recently embarked on my sandy beach adventure…
About St Lucia
St Lucia is a tiny coastal town situated just outside the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park in the Kwa Zulu Natal Province in South Africa. Despite a minute population of just over a 1000 people, St Lucia has something to offer for all types of holiday-goers and adventurers. A walk along the main street reveals quaint bookstores, surf shops and sidewalks littered with vendors selling fruits of every color and description. Morning is the busiest time of the day as each sunrise brings with it the squawking of sea gulls, the scent of boat engines being started up and the sight of fishermen of all shapes and sizes, dressed in bright yellow ponchos heading off to try their luck in the azure waters of the Indian ocean.
Thinking about your next beach holiday? Well, read on for descriptions of the best adventures available, the must-visit spots and just about everything else you could possibly want to know about St Lucia.
Welcome to St Lucia
As a Pretoria girl, I took the 6 hour drive up to St Lucia. However, no matter where you come from, the trip into St Lucia is one that gets your senses tingling, your heart pounding with excitement and your blood pumping. There is only one entrance to St Lucia, a bridge that crosses the estuary and provides a tantalizing taste of what’s to come. After passing through imposing forests and rural settlements, I smiled when I saw the “Welcome to St Lucia” road sign. And believe me, that smile just got bigger.
The afternoon was rainy and the waters of the estuary were patterned with rain drops and wind but that didn’t stop me from pressing my face against the car window and keeping an eye out for the famed St Lucia hippos and crocodiles. I continued to smile as I passed a cheese farm and creative vendors along the side of the road, marketing their wares. Before even entering the town I got to check out twisting tree statues carefully crafted from roots and stained wooden hippo carvings- a clear testament to the talent of the people. And then I entered St Lucia and the adventure truly began.
The Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park
The Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park (Isimangaliso Wetland Park) is a must-see destination. This park is South Africa’s first National Heritage Site and is bounded by the Indian Ocean on one side and Lake St Lucia on the other. The morning after I arrived in St Lucia, I was up before the sun and on my way to this very park. The park opens at 6AM and that morning our car was the first one in. What an experience! As we passed through the gates I was dazzled by the African sun, rising over the horizon, casting light over the majestic trees, the coastal forests and the dancing waters of the sea. An energetic elephant bull had recently passed along the road by the looks of things because tree branches were scattered liberally along the road. As we cruised through the park we passed a spotted hyena sprawled lazily along the side of the road and elegant kudu moving through the short grass. At one of the remote lookout points we even saw a fish eagle flying along the estuary!
Find out more about safari rides and accommodation in the park here.
St Lucia, Cape Vidal and Mission Rocks Beaches
There are several beach options for the beach bums out there. St Lucia itself has a few beaches, jetties and a boardwalk if you’re just looking for somewhere to watch the sunset over the sea. I spent most of my time on the beaches in the park though. The first morning I was there we took a drive through the park and stopped at the Cape Vidal Beach. A short walk through a green forest littered with pine cones and cheeky monkeys, gets you onto the soft beach sand. From there the options are endless. One can explore the imposing sand dunes, get your toes wet in the clear waters of the ocean, collect shells or even grab a snorkel and check out the glimmering rock pools, overflowing with life. On that particular morning, a short walk brought us to the rock pools where a few of my friends would be cray-fishing. I, myself, planned on simply grabbing a snorkel, checking out the underwater world and simply enjoying the sunshine.
Cape Vidal is beautiful and also provides excellent picnic spots and swimming opportunities. Just a few kilometers down the road though is another beach, seemingly another world. The Mission Rocks Beach is littered with boulders, rocks and millions of shells. A little traipse down the beach also yields the imposing Bats Cave. Bats Cave is a collection of dark caves, open for exploration and the squeaking bats provide fitting background music for the strange little caves, nestled into the rocks of the beach. The Mission Rocks Beach is an incredible place for the explorers and for the shell-collectors. Just check out all the shell treasures I found in the photos!
St Lucia has various boating options. If it is hippos and crocodiles that you wish to see then there are various options for boat trips along the estuary. Otherwise there are several companies that offer whale and dolphin watching trips in the sea. I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to take a boat ride down the river, however, I was fortunate enough to spot quite a few hippos and crocodiles while exploring the park. I did however get to tag along on a sea boat ride.
The morning of the ride was a tad windy but the African sun was beating down and the water was warm and nothing much was going to stop me from going out. Once my legs were soaked in salty water and the boat was launched, we set out through the waves, flying fish dancing their way alongside the boat, sparkling in the sunlight. I had the privilege of seeing some brightly colored fish from the reef 30 meters below. After that we were off, cruising along the coastline, sea spray splashing my face. A whale lifted it’s tail right next to our boat! I also spotted some dolphins jumping a little way away and got to see the lighthouse and the coastline from a completely different perspective.
I’m not the greatest fisherwoman so I simply stuck to sightseeing on the boat but there are also many deep sea fishing options in St Lucia. While I was there the fisherman were catching tuna, derado and cooters.
Something for the “less-wild-at-heart”
The town itself is also a place to relax, to enjoy quiet evenings and to have calm mornings- a break from the surrounding areas of thrilling adventures. I spent a morning or two exploring the curio shops filled to the brim with South African innovation and creativity and being the bookworm that I am, I also enjoyed strolling through the many book stores on offer. One can enjoy tea and scones at the Thyme Square Coffee Shop or a sun-downer at one of the various restaurants scattered throughout the town.
Keep an eye out though! On one of my pleasant strolls through the town, with an ice-cream in hand and the star-filled sky above me, I came across a hippo, merrily grazing on the grass. The town belongs to the hippos in the evenings but this natural freedom only makes St Lucia all the more beautiful!
What are you waiting for?
St Lucia is a place for the wild-at-heart, for the nature-lovers, the beach bums and even just for those in desperate need of a holiday. It is a place seeping with African spirit and overflowing with natural beauty. It is a place you should visit. Why not?