Did you know?
Humpbacks are the fifth-largest mammals on Earth, famous for the long, intricate love songs they sing.
Between May and November, humpback whales make their way north from their Antarctic feeding grounds, heading for the sea channels between Mozambique and Madagascar.
Here they give birth to their calves in bathwater-warm temperatures, only leaving when the babies have developed enough thick blubber to withstand the icy temperatures down south.
On their way there and back, they stream past the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. And yet, until fairly recently, not much fuss was made of the whale-watching opportunities the humpbacks offered: the lolling southern right whales off the Southern Cape coast tend to grab all the attention.
St Lucia Tours and Charters, based in the toe of the famous iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is a responsible tourism operator certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa. It is the only operator with a licence in KwaZulu-Natal to take people out humpback whale watching.
On your trip into these biodiversity-rich waters of the Indian Ocean, you might also spot turtles, whale sharks, dolphins, marlin and unusual pelagic birds.
Danie Bennett, who will almost certainly skipper the boat, has long been fascinated by humpback whales, and has one of the largest photographic collections of their tails, each one unique as a fingerprint.
St Lucia Tours and Charters, also known as Advantage Tours and Charters, is best known for its cruises up and down the St Lucia estuary. From its custom-made boat, the Advantage, you’ll almost certainly spot hippos and crocodiles, admire the mangrove trees, see iridescent malachite kingfishers hawking for tiny tilapia fish, and almost certainly hear the wild call of an African fish eagle.
The company can also take you deep-sea fishing, on turtle tours in egg-laying season, or on snorkel safaris of nearby Cape Vidal beach.
But it’s not all about marine and estuarine life. St Lucia Tours and Charters also offers game viewing in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, horse riding along the beach and a cultural tour.
Its offerings reflect in miniature the wealth of experiences offered at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, designated a World Heritage Site in 1999.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Advantage Tours and Charters
Tel: +27 (0)35 590 1259
Cell: +27 (0)83 487 2762
How to get here
The town of St Lucia, where the company is based, is about a three-hour drive north of Durban. Take the N2 northwards. After about 225km, take the Mtubatuba turn-off and follow the signs to St Lucia, which is about 25km away.
Best time to visit
The winter months, from May to August, are particularly pleasant because this subtropical area is cooler. It roughly coincides with the peak season to see humpback whales (June to November). If you’re keen to see leatherback or loggerhead turtles, come between November and February. The Big Five, hippos and crocodiles are there all year round.
Around the area
iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers some of the most extraordinary waterscapes in the world. There are inter-leading lakes, fishing practices that date back centuries (fish traps), and some of the highest vegetated dunes in the world. You could be deep in the bush seeing the Big Five on one day, and lolling on a glorious talcum-powder beach the next.
What to pack
If you’re going on a whale-watching trip, bring an extra jacket, shoes made of rubber or plastic (that can get wet), a towel, a bottle of water, a packet of biscuits and seasick tablets if needed. And, of course, bring your camera. St Lucia Tours and Charters supplies lifejackets and raincoats.
Where to stay
The little town of St Lucia has a number of guest houses, B&Bs and camping sites.
The grass weaving around St Lucia is some of the best in Africa. Because there is little or no clay, the people used to carry water in finely woven grass containers. Mats, baskets, hats and bags are made from coloured reeds.