PRODUCED IN ASSOCIATION WITH SOUTH AFRICA TOURISM

St Lucia: The Wetland Park

'Dark shadows move below...'

Arriving in the sleepy town of St Lucia, it is difficult to imagine that I'd wandered into the largest estuary system in Africa. It's an unassuming little holiday resort, a tiny grid of B&Bs and bait shops swathed in tropical foliage. But at night, local revellers leaving pubs have learnt to check where they're walking: hippos regularly wander into the centre of town.

Arriving in the sleepy town of St Lucia, it is difficult to imagine that I'd wandered into the largest estuary system in Africa. It's an unassuming little holiday resort, a tiny grid of B&Bs and bait shops swathed in tropical foliage. But at night, local revellers leaving pubs have learnt to check where they're walking: hippos regularly wander into the centre of town.

It's just one hazard of living within a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, as I learn on a boat trip up the estuary. My group, made up of holidaying couples and headed by the deeply-tanned Deiric, drifts along the southern end of 328,000 hectare of rivers, lakes and sand dunes. The murky coastal waterways, straggling north to Mozambique, are home to thousands of hippos. Three-metre-long crocodiles live in the shallows (and grab a couple of anglers from the banks every year). Leopards prowl between the mangroves, and ragged-tooth sharks slip over from the ocean to prey on shoals of cob salmon.

Despite the shadowy creatures that call this home, the area has a serene beauty to it, best enjoyed from a boat. St Lucia town is invisible from our cruiser, hidden by a dense snarl of black and white mangrove trees, and we engine out into a wild expanse of chocolate-brown water stretching beneath a cloudless sky.

On the banks, we see bright yellow flashes amidst the reed: weaver birds, flitting in and out of their nests. Dark shadows move beneath the surface, but it is too hot for crocodiles. Turning a bend in the river, an altogether larger shape looms in the shallows. A pair of ears twitch above the surface, followed by two fleshy nostrils. Our first hippo, a mother with a two-day old baby bobbing by her side. She is nervous, and watches us from beneath pink lids, thrusting her head below the surface in a huff as we pass.

We drift on and Deiric points out a stately goliath heron standing stock-still on metre-long legs. Flocks of sandpipers whip over the water, fish-eagles call from the trees, and glossy black storks float in from the dunes. Close to the bank we pass weather-worn rocks gleaming in the sun, but a twitch of movement tells us it is a pod of hippos resting in the shallows, their heads beneath the surface.

Nearby is a larger pod, a frisky bunch who heave vast rounded jaws out of the water in a display of strength. They don't welcome onlookers, and rise up, breaking the surface with mottled backs and pink flanks. A young male sets the example and gives chase, snorting and creating a considerable wake. Our boat glides away, and Deiric explains that hippos can reach 12km per hour in water and a startling 25km per hour on land. Hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa; they are aggressive and territorial, and have more pressure in their jaws than great white sharks; they can bite a man clean in half.

Our cruiser swings back towards town, and gliding downstream we come across a tiny fishing boat bobbing in between the banks. Deiric throws a bottle of rum into their net, and they whoop. We drift by, and I imagine crocodiles and sharks gliding beneath them as they settle back in the sun, flipping out lines waiting for the cob to catch.

St Lucia Safaris (00 27 35 590 1047) runs trips up St Lucia estuary for R110 (£10), and organises game drives and tours of Cape Vidal.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
The video, titled 'A Message to America', was released a day after Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large parts of Iraq, threatened to attack Americans 'in any place'. U.S. officials said they were working to determine the video's authenticity
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape