St Lucia is a town that exists for tourists - nestled inside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on KwaZulu-Natal's Elephant Coast, it's a prime spot for setting up a headquarters for exploring the region.
Driving into the small town, you're bombarded with signs for so many tourists activities, you might start getting a little anxious on deciding what to do with your limited time - especially when it's only a two-day stop between Durban and Sodwana Bay.
But despite the smorgasbord of activities, you can still manage to see a lot in that time, if you organise your time well. After a gruelling almost week-long diving course, relaxing at the side of a lovely pool while snacking on strong local cheese bought at a random detour, St Lucia gives you the chance to catch your breath.
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Stay: Monzi Safaris
Right in the heart of town, this is a one-stop-shop for a variety of accommodation options - safari tented camp, lodge and backpackers (I opted for this option). It has two beautiful pools that are sublime after a long day of exploring, with comfortable lounging for when you want to curl up to a book or catch some rays.
If you book early enough on the day, Monzi also offers a scrumptious Zulu dinner with all the works - from steamed bread to pap to samp alongside aromatic stews - and it's cheaper than any restaurant meal. You also get to share the meal with other guests (normally backpacking internationals) - a great chance to meet new people for beers later in town.
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See: Hippos and crocodiles on a boat cruise
The St Lucia Wetlands and Lake is the capital of hippos and crocodiles, both flexing some scary teeth as they bob in and out of the water.
This is one of the most popular activities to be advertised around town, so it's good to shop around a bit for the best prices instead of deciding on the first one you see.
Do: Snorkel at Cape Vidal
Forming part of iSimangaliso, Cape Vidal has a beautiful snorkelling spot where you don't need to be experienced to see the beautiful creatures of the sea. But being able to snorkel is very much dependent on the weather and the tide so be sure to check at your accommodation if they think it's a good day to go. There are also snorkelling tours on offer from St Lucia and at the Cape Vidal beach where you'll be able to hire snorkelling gear if you don't have your own.
On the way you'll drive through some of the wildest parts of iSimangaliso, filled with most of the big game including rhinos (which are heavily protected). We opted for a safari drive which takes the stress out of driving with a cheap rental, you learn a lot more about the animals and you will definitely not get lost.
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Eat: A peeled pineapple like an ice-cream
Besides the traditional Zulu cuisine - which is a must-do if you're not Zulu - you must have some pineapple. Driving through the province this golden fruit is abundant everywhere, ranging from giants to tiny pipsqueaks, but when you're from the Western Cape they taste like they have just fallen from heaven.
In St Lucia, you will easily find a stall selling small pineapples like ice-creams - peeled and cut around its stem so that you can eat while holding it. Just watching these experienced women slice through one in seconds is also interesting to watch.
Drive out for: the Cheese Farm in the middle of nowhere
On our way to St Lucia, the GPS took us on some strange roads through horror-esque plantations until we saw a billboard for a cheese farm. With time to kill we took the detour, hoping it's not some serial killer lure, and found ourselves on a massive goat farm, with a cute family-friendly restaurant and a lot of cheese.
If you opt for the cheese tour, you get to milk a very don't-give-a-hoot goat and taste every goat version of cheese you can think of. Safe to say we ended up buying an entire platter and smelt like goat for two days - but it was worth it.
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When: Avoid springtime
We opted for November because of prices and timing, but one thing you don't expect in KwaZulu-Natal during this time is the wind. Whenever you want to head to the beach the gust of wind tells you no, even though temperature-wise it was still pleasant.
The popular periods are during the dry season in winter for the animals, whereas in summer the humidity and crowds can be cumbersome but the landscapes will be exploding with greenery. I would say late summer is a good bet for the best of both worlds.
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