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Wildlife and sunsets during our Whalesong Guest House stay

One of Portfolio’s youngest travellers, Erin (13), recently stayed at Whalesong Guest House in gorgeous St Lucia with her family and was taken by the area’s natural beauty, abundant creatures and genuine serenity. She was also lucky enough to explore iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, and all the wonders it contains… Here’s what Erin had to say about her visit.

Just the name iSimangaliso is exciting. It means “miracle and wonder” and it really is. My family and I visited this area for the first time and since I’m learning photography, I was very excited to have the opportunity to practise, especially at South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

We stayed at Whalesong Guest House in St Lucia and this was the perfect spot because it’s so close to the centre of town (well, everything is close because it is a small place!) On our arrival we were warmly welcomed by Toni, Whalesong’s manager. It was lovely to meet her as she had been keeping in touch ever since we booked, advising us on all the things to do in the area. Her last email was to announce that the whales had arrived in the bay – news we were very happy to hear. First things first though: Toni gave us a quick rundown of St Lucia’s best restaurants before handing over our tickets for the sunset cruise she had booked for us.

We were shown to our family suite which was thoughtfully furnished, with little touches like fresh flowers in the bathroom, biscuits on the tea tray and warm blankets on the beds – bunk beds for us! Breakfast plans were made before Toni handed us our key, warning us not to walk the streets of St Lucia after dark in case we bumped into a hippo or crocodile in the road. She also explained that closing the house gate was imperative as hippos are partial to the swimming pools – no jokes! My sister and I could hardly believe it, even though Whalesong’s pool looked very inviting.

After settling in, we headed to the quay for our boat ride. We had barely gone 10 metres before seeing our first pod of hippo. Our boat captain was brilliant at explaining everything and getting us into the perfect position to photograph. In the two hours we spent on the water we saw hippo (lots!), crocodile, giant heron, buffalo, Kingfisher and fish eagle - it was amazing. The light was low and lit everything with a glow so even my bad photos came out really great. I felt so proud that we have such an incredible place in South Africa and we are looking after it for future generations. A cruise on the St Lucia estuary is a must for every visitor’s list.

Then it was back to Whalesong to change for dinner. We chose Reef and Dune on Toni’s advice. Big burgers with tasty extras hit the spot. Full of food, we headed back for a cosy sleep. Toni met us the following morning at breakfast and explained the best way to drive the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. She advised that we take a picnic and even packed us a bag for the beach complete with towels, goggles and snorkels – she even threw in a cooler bag. This kind of thoughtfulness is the difference between a good place and a really great one.

iSimangaliso is great for self-drive – the sunroof of our rental car was perfect for scouting animals. The park has many view points and we managed to see a decent amount of game, though the park is vast and the water was low, so sightings were tricky. We did see kudu, buffalo, buck and plenty of monkeys. We also put that beach bag to good use at Cape Vidal, a pretty bay situated within the park. We wasted no time jumping into the warm Indian Ocean and had such fun playing in the waves.

Toni had suggested we watch the sunset from Catalina Bay and boy am I glad we did just that. The sun dropped like a golden ball into the lake - it was better than the movies. Even my shots couldn’t do justice to the beauty we witnessed as the sun dipped down low.

That night we went to Alfredo’s for dinner, and enjoyed fabulous, authentic Italian cooking. Better still, was sitting outside in t-shirts in the middle of winter. Later that night, when we were tucked up in bed, the rain came down. In the morning we were thrilled to see that Toni had thoughtfully left umbrellas outside our room so we could do the dash to the breakfast room without getting soaked. Needless to say, we were all super impressed with the service we received throughout our stay.

Sadly, it was time to leave St Lucia but we would definitely love to come back – Toni made it so easy to love the place. Maybe we’ll come back sometime in the summer and share that big pool with a hippo? Here’s to hoping…

Read all about Erin’s visit to Thula Thula Private Game Reserve here.

All images by Erin Coull. Main image: