Today dawned clear and sunny, last night’s thunder and rain showers having cleared up. As usual we woke up at 6 am, packed, ate our breakfast, and were ready to leave soon after 7 am. Before heading to St. Lucia we decided to explore Mlilwane a bit more.
First we went over to the main camp to look at the hippo pool. We could have stayed there instead of at the backpackers’ place, and we might have liked it better. But anyway, after looking at the bird pool for a few minutes we went to the camp store and bought a park map to help us find our way around. Initially we were going to do a walking trail but then changed our minds and decided to drive.
The hippo pool was just a minute up the road, so we went there first. Sure enough we saw at least two hippos and a crocodile. The map was fairly accurate, or at least we didn’t misunderstand it enough to get lost, and in our short tour we saw the expected zebras, impalas, and wildebeest. And we also stumbled upon the special enclosures where they were breeding oribi, blesbok, and roan antelope, so we added those to our animal list. There were also pinioned Blue Cranes in enclosures, so perhaps they were breeding those as well.
After a couple of hours we left Mlilwane, stopping for a few minutes to check out the historical displays at the main gate. After leaving the park we used the maps in the Swaziland tourist newspaper to navigate our way to the Mantenga Craft Centre. There were several craft outlets there, each one selling a different range of products. Some of them caught our eye, but in the end we bought nothing but some soap and lotions made from the marula tree. At the Gone Rural shop we had more luck and bought some items to be given away as Christmas presents for relatives.
By now it was getting close to 11 am and we still had a long drive ahead of us. No more craft shops! We refuelled the car in Manzini, then spent the Swazi change on lunch food at the nearby Spar. (Swazi emalangeni cannot be used in South Africa.) Then it was drive, drive, drive down the NR8 to the border. All of the roads had two narrow lanes with no shoulders, and there were giant sugar cane trucks that often overlapped the centre line. We made lunch in a parking lot near Big Bend, where the cane processing facility was, then carried on to the border crossing, which was no problem. Back in South Africa we drove, drove, drove down the N2 all the way to St. Lucia.
We arrived at the Hippo Hideaway in St. Lucia about 3:30 pm, and they were expecting us and gave us a warm welcome. Steve and his wife gave us some brochures about things to do and places to eat in St. Lucia, then showed us to our room, #12. The décor in the room was very nice. All the furniture matched and the pots and pans in the kitchen were better than the ones we have at home. The place was rather expensive, but we were getting the third night for free so the price wasn’t too bad at all.
After we had a cup of tea we called Charl, as we had said we would when we got to St. Lucia, where he lives, but his wife said that the chance of leading another trip had come up and so he was away. We were sorry to miss him but happy that he was getting work.
The Hippo Hideaway didn’t have an estuary view, so we went for a walk along the main street. Just along from where we were staying were some booths where people were selling crafts and fruit and vegetables. We could have bought a basket of eight little pineapples for R25, but we didn’t want that many. And anyway we didn’t want to carry a pineapple on our walk, so we declined to buy any. Not much further along was the boat dock, so we walked down to see the estuary. There was a lone hippo poking its nose out of the water, but no crocodiles, and the sun was hidden behind clouds so the sunset was not very good.
Back at the Hippo Hideaway we cooked our dinner and then had showers. About 9 pm the security guard (who sits in the courtyard all night) knocked on our door and asked if we wanted to see the hippo. They come up from the estuary to graze on the lower lawn and sometimes even appear on the main street. So we hurried down and just saw it as it disappeared into the neighbour’s garden.