Category: General

Hippo's St Lucia EstuaryAfter Cape Vidal we head to St Lucia Estuary to camp at the Sugar Loaf site also one of the iSimangoliso facilities in Zululand South Africa. This camp site is very different to the Cape Vidal site in that it is located at the estuary in high coastal forest so is a lot wetter with a high moisture content so be carefully working on electronic devices in the evening.





There is a lot of wild life here though not as tame as the Cape Vidal mammals but still good sightings of Red Duiker, Bushbuck (females mainly), Vervet and Somango monkeys, including many bird species. The vervet monkeys are just as naughty here as in Cape Vidal so again keep you food locked up in your car or trailer not in your tents as they will tear through them to get to it! Somango monkeys are rare here as well and the ring tailed Mongoose so you have less to worry about as far as food defense goes.

There are a variety of birds and at night you will hear a lot more noises from birds and of course the resident Hippo that you can observe up closely from the walkway at the entrance of the camp site. Good times to go down and photograph them are in the evening 2 hours before sunset when you have really nice soft light. The Hippos start getting active after sleeping most of the day and are now often getting out of the water to bathe in the last few rays of sunshine to warm up for the evenings grazing on the banks of the river.

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Treat yourself to a trip down the river booking at one of many of the tour operators to get up close and personal with all the activity on the St Lucia lake. There are plenty crocodiles and Hippo, which the operators take you to within a few meters of with no sign of irritation displayed by them as they have become so used to all the boats and tourist noise, which I found annoying including the skipper describing in detail the animal/bird you are observing close to a group of sleeping hippo!

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The skipper commentaries are generally good though and give you a lot of detailed information out the ecosystem in general identifying birds, trees and anything else interesting about the lake itself so very educational! This is also a photographers delight as you get up really close to most of the species in the region including fish eagles, which also seemed to have become accustomed to the boats on the river sometimes following them hoping they will exposé some tasty morsal while their props churn through the lakes waters. Check the video out we have created thanks to Advantage Hippo tours.

Insert video (pending)

Again look in between the big stuff and focus on the smaller details around you. This region is very moist and humid so you find plenty insects, butterflies, flowers and interesting trees. Remember your macro lens, tripod and shutter release for these tricky depth of field shots that make all the difference.

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Make sure you join the Rhino club and get your discounts out of season, which are well worth it often giving discounts up to 40% on the Rhino gold card at selecting reserves, boat trips etc. see site for more details.

ARP Rating : ***** (40/40)

Overall I give St Lucia a high African Rhythm lifestyle rating as you can satisfy just about all your requirements in one week for the month. Let’s start with Social 5 (great to take friends with and camp in the large camping sites they have); Financial 5 (rates are low R85 in season and 40% off out season when on special); family 5 (great to take the whole family with for fishing, great beaches and generally safe for kids to run around even through they’d do warn you this is a game reserve and there are wild animals!); spiritual 5 (there is not much night life here besides restaurants so you are able to spend most of your time evaluating your life etc. and spending quality time on your own, meditation etc.); Intellectual 5 (there is so much to learn in this region and you have a variety of tours to select from to observe and learn from nature besides the many day hikes you can do from various points in the village); health 5 (there is so much outdoor activity here from cycling to walking along the huge wide beaches and forest walks including some great surf and kiteboarding etc.) Overall St Lucia gets full marks for offering a complete lifestyle solution if you spend one week there! Accommodation 4 (-1 for the electricity) top class plus the are also rondavels for the not so happy campers.; ECO Footprint – 5 – as this reserve is near StLucia and is not From Durban it is quite easy to get there and you do not need a 4×4 to get there.

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Fire contrast at Camp site

I have always enjoyed Mkhuze from the days I used to travel to Sodwana often stopping on my way to camp at the western gate( when it was open of course) – apparently they have water problems with a  borehole drying up so water  has to be carted to cater for anyone at a major expense for the showers/ablution blocks. Camping can be arranged if you plan ahead and organize with the local authorities.

 The taps in the camp site if dripping attract many birds in the region especially in the dryer times of the year so if you sit quietly nearby you can get some amazing close up photos.

Red winged Starling


Depending on the time of year there are various optional routes you could take. I was there in March and for the first time headed up the Northern route, which heads north veering north-west into the hills.


Along the way I found a huge group of Giraffe that were reasonably comfortable with you being close up joined by a group of Impala and Wildebeest. Further up into the hills I came across a family of Rhino, which were great to see with all the pressure they are under from poaching!


Young Impala

Family of Rhino

When passing through the main reserve admin site be sure to stop at the bird view site to the right of the reception entrance were you will be amazed at the photo opportunities from a variety of birds and antelope.

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On a more recent visit I happened to head to a water hole with a hide and was pleasantly surprised at how much game was there around midday July this time. What is great about this hide is it protrude over the water so you can find yourself looking down at Rhino a couple of meters below you allowing you to take stunning photos of the variety of antelope, Zebra, Warthog etc. coming to quench their thirst. 

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A major mistake most visitors make when visiting game reserves is they always look for the “big” five instead of looking at what lies in between and Mkhuze has plenty to offer. Because you are able to walk around this reserve to view sites there are plenty opportunities to whip out your new macro lens to get some closeups of some of the amazing insects, spiders, trees and flowers in the region. So open your vision to the photographic opportunities there are when ever you get out of your vehicle… however remember this is a wild environment so be aware of what s going on around you!

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If you are into birds you need to head to the main lake hide where you can sit for hours viewing the hippo and a variety of birds from pelicans to the smaller natal robin. There are numerous view points along the edge of this lake so make sure you stop at all of them. If you are fortunate you might be lucky to see some vervet moneys in the region that also give you fantastic photographic opportunities especially against the Fever Acacia Trees that are so abundant in the region


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Total rating : 29/40 = ***

This is a Reserve I highly recommend and  star ratings are as follows : Social 5 (great place to have your friends join you); Family 5 ( safe hiking and great fun for the entire family) ; Financial 3 ( unfortunately th campsite is closed due to problems with water so tented camp and rondavels available) ; Spiritual 5 ( plenty of time to spend on your own playing music, meditating, healing with no distractions) ; Health 3 ( Hiking only option so bring boots and walking gear) ; Intellectual 3 ( if you take an interest in nature the diversity of nature here is mind-boggling from amazing trees to stunning birds, butterfly, insects and various game including Hippo, Rhino, ELephant, Giraffe, Impala, Nyala, Wildebeest and buffalo. No Lion). Accommodation 2 – The Camp site has electricity otherwise basic (-1 ) there are a few rondavels and tented camping you can stay in if you wish to be more comfortable.;  Eco Footprint 3 – (-1 for fuel costs to get there).


Remember to like our FB page and be reminded of updates including videos of sights and sounds of the various regions we visit.

There are plenty of opportunities along the way to get fantastic photographs while driving to and from Mkhuze in the rural regions. I found this baby donkey at the turn off to the reserve in a perfect setting.

Kozi Bay

Kozi Bay Fish Traps

One thing I can say iSimangoliso has got consistently right is the friendly staff at all of their reserves. On arrival there are a couple of guys offering assistance, firewood etc. at the main gate but not pushy at all. I commit myself to a guided hike to second lake as Alex (my guide) insists he knows the bush well. The next day we set out, a bit late, as the wind had been howling with plenty cloud cover, which would have ruined most of the photographs I would be taking. So when the sun does finally come out at 10ish we head out on a path into the bush heading north from the camp. Alex is in no time identifying trees and birds as we head through stunning fern forests that are mixed with some lala palms, which he says they make alcohol from the oil and explains how they tap it. He has a bird book with him in case there are birds we discover that he cannot identify. The ferns here are stunning climbing high up on tree stumps achieving great heights giving you a real jungle feel especially when accompanied by the birds chirping in the canopies. They are hard to see, but they are most definitely there.

Finally after walking for about an hour we reach the 3rd lake and walk along the banks encountering fish traps and someone’s maintenance branches, clothes etc. and finally encounter the owner walking in his jockey underpants towards us to collect some more branches. He greats us as we also wade trough the chilly water to get to the bank on the opposite side, to avoid a marshy area. Remember to take shoes that can handle hiking and water. The water is crystal clear with small fish darting around in front of you. I take some photographs of white breasted cormorants and the fish traps, which they are using to rest and dry their wings on when our maintenance man passes us on his way to expand his traps. I nearly stand on a small stunning frog who is quite happy for me to photograph, next to the salt waters edge. Not sure you find frogs in salt water but maybe this is why he never escaped into the water? Further on we come across what must be the fisherman’s younger brother who has stoked a fire and has some fish to cook being a Bream and Tilapia. Having no protein at the camp and was very tempted to purchase the fish from him but we had a long way to walk so rather left the thought thinking… they probably need it more than I do!

I am disappointed by how few birds we are encountering and finally come across a African Stonechat who is very skittish not allowing me too close, but curious. We head north towards 2nd lake along a narrow path with plenty prints of various animals including cattle! There are of course hippo in the region and when you walk through the forest walking down to the lakes will see their activity and paths they create when browsing at night. There are not many Hippo apparently for some reason and we do not see any on our hike, which is probably just as well as the area is very open and exposed with no trees to climb up!

We finally come across 2nd lake and walk along the banks of this vast expanse of salt water. Someone has a fishing boat anchored on the banks further east but we continue north west and finally come across a deep river, which we have to cross using a small pont. It has just enough space for the two of us, made out of palm stems and plastic bottles. Alex pulls us across to what I though was going to be dry land but turned out to be marshy mud we had to traverse, testing each foot in case you disappeared into what felt like quicksand. I on numerous occasions sank my 90kg’s down to knee depth and had difficulty pulling my leg out, especially with a heavy Canon 7D camera and 400mm lens hanging around my neck, making it difficult to hold onto anything while trying to yank your foot out without losing your shoe!

Finally we manage to reach the end of the muddy marsh and again head back into fresh clear water, which is quite a relief, enabling you to wash the mud out of your shoes! Again there are a lot of fresh water fish darting around and not many birds. When we do however leave the waters edge, now 2hrs into the hike, we do encounter birds as we get close to the forest edge once more. We head up a jeep track past an area where locals have been collect reeds for their hut roofs encountering quite a lot of birds along the way. We have not seen any antelope at all and I presume they have been snared and are now extinct in the region after the locals were given access to this region. Many people moved to this region when they built the tar road to the Farazela Mozambique border post putting pressure on local resources. Alex explains the fish poaching using gill nets and that they are all aware they can go to jail if they use them. His english is impeccable and hats off to the local schools as he was born in the region and went to school here in Manguzi.

As we head deeper into the forest we again encounter stunning jungle areas with ferns, palms and large trees, marshy but this time we do not have to get our feet wet as we hope from root to another. The road now is very sandy and soft under the feet making it difficult to walk up the hill as we head back to the camp. Along the way Alex again explains the edible fruit in the region such as the Black monkey Orange ( he calls it the Monkey Apple) and the difference between the Green Monkey orange , which has smaller leaves but the tree otherwise looks very similar with it’s tapering branches. The are a lot of vines in the region sometimes covering entire tree canopies enhancing the jungle experience.

My watch reminds me 3 hrs are up, which is what I contracted Alex for. We are still not near the camp however an aerial protruding out of the forest shows it is not that far off! This is quite a serious hike and I am reasonably fit so I recommend anyone doing it that is not, to give yourself more time and do not attempt it if you have any problems with your back or legs! Also take a hat and sunscreen, especially in summer.

Back in the camp site it is clean with the usual stunning hot showers that iSimangoliso have really managed to also perfect in each camp. A very strong wind however puts an end to any photography, birds etc and then the heavens open up forcing me to stay in my tent and I gain some valuable time to catch up with my various photographic chores and blog sites. Cannot wait for the sun to come out as the photographic opportunities are going to be stunning as the region was very dry needing this injection of fresh water! In between the downpours the birds are out but the light is so bad all I can manage is recording the happy chirping of the various birds in the forest below my camp site and down the Somango path nearby (campsite 10). I have used this on the background sound for the video of photographs I have taken in the region, which I will release in the future. The weather does not improve so I will have to return to complete my studies of this region in the near future.

Overall ARL( African Rhythm Lifestyle) rating : 26/40 ***

This is probably one of the not so appealing reserves I have been to for versus reasons mainly being the biodiversity limitations due to population pressure on resources and possibly lack of policing : Social 3 (not much you and your friends can do besides hiking and fishing); Family 4 ( safe swimming and great fun for the entire family) ; Financial 3 ( a little pricy for what the camp site and reserve has to offer) ; Spiritual 5 ( plenty of time to spend on your own playing music, meditating, healing with no distractions) ; Health 3 ( the only healthy activity you are able to do here is hiking so bring walking gear…no kiteboarding or sailing allowed) ; Intellectual 2 ( if you take an interest in nature the biodiversity of nature here is very low compared to the other reserves we have stayed in.); accommodation 3 ( campsite clean, ablutions great, has electricity -1); Eco Footprint 3 ( not easy to get to -1 fuel; electricity -1)

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Cape Vidal – Swift Tern

Earlier in July we visited Cape Vidal nature reserve just north of St Lucia in northern Zululand, South Africa. As usual I am camping and must say in one of the most upmarket camping sites I have ever camped in. The ablution blocks are state of the art, tiled in slate and tastefully designed with high pressure hot showers to massage your aching muscles after a glorious day on the pristine beaches nearby.


The swimming here is extremely safe as a reef 50 meters out to sea creates a  natural bay, resulting in a swimming pool on the south beach at low tide with no wave action. The surf outside of this is great for surfing and when the onshore winds blow  kiteboarding! Fisherman flock to this region to fish from the beach and at this time of the year were catching numerous Elf(Shad) a few meters out from the waters edge.


Sitting on the beach I noticed many whales breaching in the distance other way up to Mozambique and Madagascar to breed(give birth?) before heading back down again to Antartica to fatten up once more. 

Walking around the camp site you can find numerous photographic opportunities to film stunning birds from the usual bulbul to a stunning woodepecker that seems to hand around the north side of the camp site. What’s is also amazing is how habituated the antelope are in the region with Red Duiker and Bushbuck walking up to you while seated next to your tent looking at you for a small snack, which obviously people have been doing here for a while. I personally witnessed a young boy feeding a Bushbuck biscuits with his father watching not saying anything. There are hefty fines for feeding animals in the reserves because of the problems it creates especially with children and I held back on warning them to later pull his father aside and get him to correct this situation. This habit has created a huge problem here with the vervet monkeys raiding your tents and  taking any opportunity to raid your food store so make sure you lock foodstuff away in your car or trailer not your tent as they bite through the tents to get to the food. The banded Mongoose are fortunately not a big problem here as they are in Sodwana where they come right up to you and come close to snatching food out of your hands with their razor sharp teeth! So please as cute as they are please do not feed any animals/birds etc. in any reserve anywhere in the world.

Bring your cameras and make sure you have a good zoom lens to film the birds as they are quite small from white eyes, sunbirds, ……… And be patient waiting for them to pass your way as they normally raid the trees in waves each bird eating what it prefers from small aphids to worms then monkeys follow eating fruit etc. including the rare Somango monkeys, which are also a bit of a pest here, which is unusual as they are normally extremely shy.

Remember to do your shopping in St Lucia as there is only a small shop here with a few basic items, no vegetables, meat etc. some wine but no beer.


What is amazing is that nobody plays any music in the campsite – maybe they do but so quietly you do not hear them, which is unusual for camp sites frequented by fisherman! Thanks for respecting other people in a campsite as the is no way everyone will enjoy your music, which tends to happen in most camp sites I go to.


Once you leave the campsite or whey of are ere do a game drive on the loop road, which takes you along the shores of the St Lucia Estuary where you are able to get out at various view sites. The northern region has wetlands and plenty of geese and water birds then as you again head south you come across game and when I was there in July was green after a bush fire, which resulted in some amazing photographs for winter in a reserve. 


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Overall rating : 35/40 – *****  


This is a Reserve I highly recommend and  star ratings are as follows : Social 5 (great place to have your friends join you); Family 5 ( safe beaches and great fun for the entire family) ; Financial 3 ( a little pricy but this is quite upmarket for a camp site) ; Spiritual 5 ( plenty of time to spend on your own playing music, meditating, healing with no distractions) ; Health 5 ( bring your surfboards, boogy boards, kite boards, snorkeling kit, running or walking gear) ; Intellectual 3 ( if you take an interest in nature the diversity of nature here is mind boggling from amazing trees to stunning birds, butterfly, insects and various game from antelopes to monkeys.); Accommodation 4 (-1 for the electricity) top class plus the are also rondavels for the not so happy campers.; ECO Footprint – 5 – as this reserve is near StLucia and is not From Durban it is quite easy to get there and you do not need a 4×4 to get there.

Remember to like our FB page and be reminded of updates including videos of sights and sounds of the various regions we visit.

Ndumo is one of the greatest birding sites in Southern Africa with over 400 birds recorded. Here I was fortunate to photograph a Fish Eagle attacking a Pelican, probably just fooling around as I do not think he had a chance on bringing it down.

Enviropaedia : Books

Enviropaedia : Books

via Enviropaedia : Books.

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