When you walk the St Lucia streets at night, beware of marauding hippos. The Dive Durban team spotted several on their trip back from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. One was meandering up the main drag, two others were grazing in a garden and another was shooting the breeze on the grassy verge at the town’s entrance.
The perfect gateway to the diving mecca of Sodwana, St Lucia is a bustling tourist town with a variety of accommodation, restaurants and shops – and the odd hippo or three.
The Dive Durban team, consisting of Chris Desseigne (Reunion), Monica da Silva (Switzerland), Debbie Reynolds, Sifiso Mngoma and Thami Mabina (Durban), were fascinated by how cosmopolitan the little town is, but how easily it blends into the sprawling world heritage site which it borders.
A stopover in the town was a great interlude to the expedition which is profiling the huge marine diversity on the KZN coast.
Organised under the banner of Durban Green Corridors (DGC), in partnership with eThekwini Municipality, the Dive Durban expedition aims to encourage scuba diving tourism to the city and the province.
The team began the St Lucia experience at the Wow Zulu Market Place where they were treated to a bicycle ride through Khula village, which included a stop at a local tuck shop to taste a traditional “vetkoek”.
After a catered lunch, it was time to hook up with Shaka Barker tours for a Sundowners Eastern Excursion tour of the iSimangaliso Park. The five-hour trip was packed with excitement as the team spotted elephants, hippo, wildebeest, zebra, buck and buffalo.
Sunset over Lake Catalina was spectacular, especially enjoyed with snacks and warm drinks or gin and tonics (depending on your preference). The night sky revealed the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and Scorpio and – much to the team’s delight – a rare dwarf chameleon.
Sunshine greeted the team the next day as they headed for Sodwana Bay, considered one of the world’s best dive sites. First stop was the welcoming Coral Divers, in the heart of the iSimangaliso Park, which, with Mseni Lodge, shares the only two dive concessions inside the park.
With perfect weather, the team chose to dive on 7 Mile Reef. It did not disappoint. Crystal clear water and a gentle current took them around outside edge where the sea life came out to play in abundance.
Coral fish galore, two very curious turtles, honeycomb eels, schools of trevally, yellow striped snapper and slingers, blue-spotted ray, a giant ignoblis and puffer fish and a scorpion fish were just some of the marine life they spotted.
Not to mention the dolphins which put on a show just before they kitted up and hit the water.
Dives on Antons, Roonies and 6 Mile were just as spectacular. The team added schools of big eyes and batfish, a green coral tree with long-nosed hawkfish, giant parrot fish and trigger fish, paper fish, nudibranchs and a crocodile fish to their repertoire.
Three days of diving the prolific Sodwana waters ended on the perfect note with a performance by three whales just 300m away from the boat as it headed to shore. The team watched in awe for around 10 minutes as the two larger whales and a baby jumped and frolicked in the sea.
From the vibrant Coral Divers, which offers everything from basic tented accommodation to en-suite rooms with air conditioning, the team enjoyed the more serene cabin accommodation at Mseni Lodge and Sodwana Bay Lodge.
All three options have their own bar and restaurant with a great choice and good quality of food.
“Sodwana is a place where you can dive over and over without getting bored,” said Monica. “Besides the choice of reefs, they change every time you dive them.”
Sifiso said he loved Sodwana because of the hospitality of its people and the pristine diving conditions.
“The reefs and fish life were truly beautiful,” he said. “I’ll be back.”
Next stop: Rocktail Bay and Hluhluwe.
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