Durban - Endless plantations of wattle and gum flashed past, gradually transforming into the rows of sugarcane that heralded our approach into St Lucia.
Started by Phillip Mkhwanazi, headman of the surrounding Khula Village, Veyane Cultural Village introduces visitors to Zulu culture with beehive huts, dancing and stick-fighting. Phillip takes his responsibility to the community seriously – 23 locals are employed at Veyane, while the importance of the environment and conservation is taught to both young and old.
It seems that his efforts have met with success – there is no crime in Khula Village.
A project in collaboration with African Conservation Trust and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs saw 180 permaculture food gardens established. As a result, many residents harvest rainwater, have thriving nurseries and enough produce to generate an income.
Nearby Isiphaphalazi Butterfly House is another inspiring community-focused initiative. Started by brothers Ernest Mlambo, Mdudi Mhlongo, Bhekinkozi Phungula and Musa Zhikali, and supported by the trust, the idea was conceived when caterpillars started devouring plants in their organic nursery. Rather than seeing them as a problem, they started seeing them as a solution.
Today, the butterfly house is home to anywhere between 13 and 100 species of butterflies and helps spread the message of conservation.
A quick visit to St Lucia’s estuary didn’t yield any hippos so we ventured to Hluhluwe River Lodge, located at the tip of World Heritage Site iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. We imagined we were in deepest, darkest Africa as we rode through thick jungle on even thicker sand. Passing nyala and eland close enough to touch, we arrived at Hluhlwe River Lodge with its log cabins and stunning sea views.
A game drive to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Park revealed only rhino from afar, more wildebeest and antelope.
In the northernmost part of iSimangaliso lies one of the world’s top 10 dive sites, a 40km stretch of coast where leatherback and loggerhead turtles nest, and Rocktail Beach Camp.
Owned by Wilderness Safaris, Rocktail Beach Camp’s 17 spacious tented double rooms are dotted amid the Maputaland Coastal Forest. We arrived just in time to learn about the critically endangered leatherback, the world’s largest turtles, and loggerheads, so named because of their exceptionally large heads. Wilderness Safaris, in partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the local community, has long been involved in turtle conservation – Rocktail Beach Camp guides monitor the area, while concession fees go towards turtle scouts and the income derived from turtle drives is fed back into the project.
A “turtle drive” at night, while keeping a keen eye out for tracks, was a surreal experience. We were hoping to see a turtle mother in the act of laying up to 150 eggs, only a few of which will hatch and survive to adulthood. Though our timing was perfect – the turtles lay their eggs between October and March – we spotted only the tracks of a leatherhead that had come on to shore and turned back.
Shrugging off our disappointment, we headed out the next day to Lala Nek, one of the premier snorkelling sites in the Maputaland Marine Reserve.
We snorkelled amid masses of butterflyfish and triggerfish; enthralled by marbled electric rays, a honeycomb moray eel and a blue-spotted stingray.
We also joined up with Mokarran Dive Charters, Rocktail’s in-house Dive Centre, for a snorkelling trip to Island Rock. Moorish idols, the highly poisonous lionfish and stonefish, an octopus that did its best to blend into the coral, and a Spanish Dancer (a sea slug) were just some of the incredible sights.
Apart from the conservation happening at Rocktail, Wilderness Safaris is committed to community upliftment; the Wilderness Trust supports wildlife management, research and education across seven countries, while the Children in the Wilderness programme teaches environmental and life skills to rural children.
More than two percent of the community are permanently employed at the camp, while Wilderness Safaris also supports community-based enterprise.
Their latest joint venture is the Gugulesizwe Community Centre, a traditional Zulu homestead replica with beehive huts and quad-biking activities. And with recycling, biodegradable products and energy-saving bulbs, Rocktail Beach Camp is a prime example of ecotourism in action.
Off-the-grid Amangwane, a beach camp with safari tents just outside of Kosi Bay, was our last stop in South Africa. We discovered remarkable marine life at Kosi River Mouth – which, with strong currents, felt like being on a conveyor belt at an aquarium. We couldn’t wait to see what incredible nature we’d encounter next in the Kingdom of Swaziland. - Cape Times
Rocktail Beach Camp Special offer for readers
R1 550 per adult per night sharing, including full board and twice-daily scheduled activities. For travel within 14 days of booking (excluding December 20, 2012 to January 10, 2013). The offer expires on March 20 2013. Call Janice Starling on 021 702 7539 to take advantage of this opportunity. For further information, visit www.wilderness-safaris.com