Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Long Weekend at St. Lucia Wetlands Park and Mkhuze Game Reserve

This weekend we did one of our favorite trips that we have made during our time here. Friday, April 27th, is South Africa's Freedom Day, the anniversary of the election of Nelson Mandela. All of the schools in South Africa had April 30th as a school holiday and May 1st is Workers' Day. We had a five-day weekend from school, so we decided to take a trip a little bit farther than we usually would on a weekend. We left Thursday for the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park, South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Park is home to thousands of hippos and crocodiles and includes a part that contains the “Big Five” game animals, elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and buffalo. We went on a horseback game ride, where we rode in a group to spot animals in the game park. We were able to get very close to zebras and blue wildebeests.

We spotted a gorgeous Kudu, the biggest that we’ve seen, in the Eastern Shores section of St. Lucia.

We also took a kayak trip to watch hippos and crocodiles. We were able to get fairly close to both hippos and crocodiles, which was scary and fun.

Our last night in St. Lucia the woman who runs the guesthouse where we were staying came out and told us that there were hippos outside. Believe it or not, the huge hippos eat only grass and come out of the water every night to eat over 40kg (about 90lbs) of grass. More people are killed by hippos than by any other game animal in Africa. They look very slow, because they are so fat and goofy, but they can run 52K per hour (about 30MPH) and stomp you very easily.

St. Lucia has a creepy, but very cool, crocodile center, where they have over 100 crocodiles and tons of information about crocodiles (and a ridiculous caution sign). They will let you watch the trainers feed the crocodiles dead, rotting chickens.

We also went to a snake demonstration at the crocodile center, where they let Kate hold a python.

For the second part of the long weekend we visited Mkhuze Game Reserve, 2 hours north of St. Lucia. Mkhuze is home to 4 of the “Big Five” animals, missing only lions. The park has constructed “hides,” little houses where you can watch animals without being seen. We went on a night game drive, where we saw a white-tailed mongoose and several tiny African Nightjaws (an adorable owl).

We also went on a bush walk at 6am with a guide armed with a rifle. We followed Sinyane, our guide through the trees and he pointed out the different birds and animals that we saw. We had been out for about an hour and a half when we saw a gorgeous giraffe, which Sinyane says was darker because it is very old.

Sinyane also spotted a white rhino lying down in the bush, which looked like a huge rock. He made some noise to get it to stand up for us, and we were able to take pictures of him walking around.

The second and third rhinos that we saw were a mama and baby. We walked up along side the two of them and took them by surprise. The mama rhino started running straight at us and Sinyane told us to climb up the closest tree. We were able to hide behind a bush while he scared the angry mama off by shouting and waving his rifle. Though Andy says that he wasn’t scared, I was, but in a fun, ridiculous way.

There were two more white rhinos by our cars, another mama and baby that we stayed a good distance from. In all, we saw 5 rhinos, 1 giraffe, about 50 blue wildebeests, about 10 zebras, and countless impala on our game walk.

We spent the next two days driving through the park, looking for animals. You’re not allowed to do any hiking in the park, for obvious reasons…

No comments: