Saga Pearl II blog - Captains' blogs
17th March, 2019
Just a short hop of some 80 miles or so up the coast from Durban lies the town of Richard’s Bay – named after Admiral Richards who sailed into it in 1879 to deliver supplies to the troops during the Anglo/Zulu war. It is South Africa’s largest natural harbour, and the bay lagoon was declared a game reserve in 1935. The town however continued to be built on the shores of the lagoon, requiring a compromise to be met which ended up being in the form of a wall splitting the lagoon into north and south regions; the latter remaining as a sanctuary for wildlife.
Having tried to hail the local port and pilots by radio as general procedures dictate, we finally received a reply informing us that the pilot boat had broken down, and so our pilot would be landed on board by helicopter. 20 minutes or so later, with our pilot having been winched onto the foredeck, we entered the harbour channel and peeled off to the left into a smaller bay just prior to the main harbour/lagoon.
As we manoeuvred into the interestingly named ‘Small Craft Harbour Repair Berth’ at breakfast time, our 3rd officer enquired about the possibility of swimming on a pleasant looking beach just ahead of the ship. The pilot replied that it should be fine for swimming as there hadn’t been crocodiles or wild cats spotted there for a while, but to be careful for the lone male hippo which was living in the area. After having reminded himself that hippos were actually responsible for more human deaths each year than cats and crocs combined, his swim was postponed until a safer beach was sought.
As with many of our previous calls, this port is a gateway to delightful golden shores and wildlife parks galore. We also ran cultural tours to local villages for those who wanted to discover a bit more about how the local people live and their continued local traditions. Of course, there was also a tour offered to the obligatory unpronounceable Game Reserve (“Hluhluwe-Umfolozi” was today’s choice) but I decided to take myself on a boat cruise, for I just can’t get enough of boats. The proposed cruise though was no ordinary one however, for we would be exploring the ‘world class wilderness’ of Lake St Lucia which, for those who are unaware, is full to the brim with hippopotami.
A minibus trip of just over an hour took us to the park, where we almost immediately embarked our boat which had just returned from a previous trip with another group of smiling Saga passengers. Shortly after casting off, we saw a Nile Crocodile basking on the surface, and then a sea eagle perched on a tree branch above the orange coloured waters.
We then proceeded to come across 3 separate pods of hippo, all basking just beneath the water surface. The first group were hiding in the mangroves but poked their heads out to give us a decent view every now and again, the second lot were considerably more vocal, snorting, grumbling and growling as we looked on. The third pod were obviously tired, for yawning seemed to be their trick of the day. Amusingly docile looking creatures during the daytime, but in evenings they emerge from the wetlands and wander into the nearby green areas and townships, to graze on around 20-30kgs of grass per day. Don’t whatever you do make a hippo grumpy, for it has teeth more than a foot long and can easily run up to about 30mph.
Back at the ship just prior to sailing, I had enough time to don my local African outfit (to the amusement of many) and head to the Bridge for our departure to another African country, this time – Mozambique.
Captain Kim Tanner
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