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Trip Report St Lucia area & Drakensberg rock art

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Back from exploring a different part of South Africa. Had a terrific experience with a young, laid back yet totally professional tour guide based in Durban. I chose to go to St Lucia, iSimangaliso, and the Drakensberg Mountains.

I love hippos, so St Lucia where hippos are spotted in town sounded fascinating. It's a small town, but the perfect base for the region. Once there, a drive in iSimangaliso brought wildlife viewing and a visit the beach and Indian Ocean. Everyone goes on the 2-hour river cruise--I think there were at least 4 boats taking off at close to the same time. Hippos in the water, hippos on the shore, hippos walking down the bank into river, even saw a hippo in town...hippo heaven. Oh yeah, there were eagles, crocodiles, but lots of hippos. The night drive on the eastern shore was OK, but not an exciting evening. The guide said that previous evenings they saw leopard. Always chance.

My other major destination was the San rock art in Kamberg in the Drakensberg Mountains. The hike and the art did not disappoint. A truly amazing destination.I was the only one on the tour with local guide that day, so I had plenty of time to study the works. It takes some effort to climb up the hill at that elevation, but totally worth it, at least in the winter. Even then it was a hot climb in the open.

I usually like to at most join a day tour, but I ended up traveling with a guide for the entire time. He was great. Shanil Balgobind at Kimburi Tours is based in Durban. I liked that he was laid back yet organized and professional. He advertises the typical destinations, but enjoys taking people for outdoors experiences or interactions/experiences of local culture, food, etc. So he was a logical choice for my interest in hiking up to the rock art as well as seeing wildlife and birds. If I were in the area during turtle nesting season, I would call Shanil. His eco-friendly approach while still providing the client's level of desired comfort from camping/picnicking to four star hotels/restaurants caught my eye. I've never hired a tour guide with an environmental law degree before. Great conversations. It was also interesting to hear the Indian South African perspective. I strongly recommend him. He has only been in the business a few years and is building his clientele.

In planning this trip I wondered if I would be disappointed in choosing this area rather than returning to Kruger area for more open air truck drives in the private reserves. I mean, how can anything top sitting still while a leopard walks slowly around your open truck or watching lions fighting over position at a kill? But this experience was totally different. The sheer number of hippos was impressive. The up close personal viewing of the San bushman rock art was an amazing experience. If you don’t know what I am talking about, check out http://www.kznwildlife.com/kamberg-rock-art-centre.html . I was also concerned about the effects of the drought on the St Lucia area. While suggestions for conserving water were posted, I was told that rains last summer were improving conditions. I'm not sure how that will all play out in the long run for the river mouth and the lake with the sugar cane farmers, the estuary park, and the local residents with conflicting objectives and opinions.

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