Umzumbe, Umkomaas, St. Lucia & Swaziland – Reaching The End Of Our Epic South Africa Journey

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

We drove our little Chevy Spark from Port St. Johns to Umzumbe to stay at the recommended backpackers – Mantis and Moon. There were no tourists there at all! Just me, Nick and the 3 staff that worked there. We hungout with them, went down to check out the beach. I wasn’t really interested in swimming though because there are many Great White Sharks in the area and even though they have a net set up to prevent them from coming in…they do! Umzumbe ended up being a bit of a gong show though. The point of going there was for Nick to dive in the nearby town of Umkomaas. We arranged it and he was to dive there on day 2 at 7:00am. Long story short, everything that could’ve gone wrong, did….from a flat tire to forgetting the directions, etc. You name it, it happened! So instead of diving that day, we ended up going to the Oribi Gorge National Park, which turned out to be great.

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Mantis & Moon Backpackers, Umzumbe, South Africa
backpacking south africa
Our bungalow at Mantis & Moon, Umzumbe, South Africa

The Oribi Gorge is a spectacular area on the Umzimkulwana River and is one of the highlights of the Southern Coast. We chose the 10km hike and set off into the thick jungle. There was a path but no signs or anything so we really had to watch to make sure we stayed on route…which we didn’t a couple of times! The path zigged and zagged with the river on one side of us and sheer cliffside on the other. The hike ended at a gorgeous waterfall, which we were able to enjoy over tuna salads all by ourselves, we were the only hikers on the path that day. Another great day in South Africa.

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Hiking along side a river at the Oribi Gorge, Umzumbe, South Africa
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Stunning waterfall at the Oribi Gorge, Umzumbe, South Africa

The following day Nick was able to dive. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t co-operate. We arrived in Umkomaas at 6:30am and he got all geared up. The zodiac boat set out into the treacherous ocean. The launch was insane, the little boat took off over massive waves and it looked like he was white water rafting!

They were out there to do two dives and in between the first and the second dive they sat on the boat until the 1/2 hour surface time was up. During that time, everyone threw up from being seasick – except for Nick and the dive instructor. The waves were so big that it wasn’t enjoyable at all. However, the second dive he did made it all worthwhile. They went to Raggie Caves dive site and he ended up seeing about 10 Raggie Tooth Sharks and even collected 2 big shark teeth from the sandy bottom! A perfect souvenir.

After the dive, we made our way North to the Unesco World Heritage Site of Isimangaliso Wetland Park. The park stretches for 200kms from the Mozambican border to the Southern end of Lake St. Lucia. This amazing park protects 5 different ecosystems: offshore reefs and beaches, lakes, wetlands, woodlands and coastal forests.

We pulled into the little town of St. Lucia and as soon as our heads hit the pillow at our backpackers, we were out. A very long day of diving and driving…and during that time, I got a cold. The following morning we took our car to the Lake St. Lucia Estuary to see the different ecosystems and hopefully, hippos.

We were in luck, the first little trail we drove down we saw our first hippos; not just one, but 8! They were all lazing around a small watering hole and sunning themselves on the shore. They were massive, greyish, pink blobs with the cutest little ears.

We also spotted a big crocodile laying on the shore beside them. A great start to our nature drive through the park. We went to a few other spots and saw hippos in the wetlands, further away than the first sighting though. We also spotted buffalo, zebras, baboons, many antelope and different bird species. It was a great day. Home for dinner and an early night.

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Hippos at the St. Lucia Estuary, South Africa
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Wouldn’t want to get in the way of those tusks. Warthog at the St. Lucia Estuary, South Africa
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Beautiful viewpoint at the St. Lucia Estuary, South Africa
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A perfect plank for hippo and croc spotting. St. Lucia Estuary, South Africa

The next day we were up early….again. Off to the Imfoluzi National Park to do another self-drive safari! This park was much, much harder to spot the animals, the brush was thicker than the other parks we’d been to so we really had to search to see the elusive animals.

We did a great job though and ended up seeing about 15 giraffes, many herds of wiildebeest and 12 white rhinos (there may have been a black rhino as well, but it’s hard to tell). Now we’ve seen everything we wanted to see….except for the leopard, hopefully we’ll see that later in the trip.

The scenery was fantastic as well and we drove up to a very high viewpoint to see the plains dotted with antelope, buffalo and zebras down below. As the sun was setting, we made our way back to St. Lucia town for a nice meal and chats with the other travellers staying at our backpackers. The last day in St. Lucia was spent chilling out and more importantly…not getting up early! No alarm clock that day.

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Antelope at Imfoluzi National Park, South Africa
south africa on a budget
A sauntering giraffe at the Imfoluzi National Park, South Africa
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Beautiful view at the Imfoluzi National Park, South Africa

Our time in South Africa was coming to an end. But first, we decided to head to the country of Swaziland, a very small country bordered on 3 sides by South Africa and on 1 side by Mozambique. Known for its traditional ways and beautiful game reserves.

We have never stayed on a reserve before and decided that this was the time to do so. We went to Milwane National Park and stayed in the traditional home called a “roundevel”. Made of mud and grass, our hut was huge, spotless and had large rounded windows on the sides. It was the most picturesque backpackers, guesthouse, hotel, hostel or hut we’ve ever stayed in!! The backpackers was set on a huge acreage surrounded by mountains and kilometers and kilometers of grasslands.

backpacking swaziland
Our roundevel guesthouse at the Milwane Reserve, Swaziland

This reserve is special because there are no predators (besides hippos and crocs) in the park and this allows tourists to be able to walk freely with the other harmless animals. Our mornings were spent having coffee and breakfast right outside our hut and watching the warthogs, different species of antelope, ostrich and wildebeest grazing on our doorstep.

It was a magical place. We went for a hike one day as well through the park and saw lots and lots of animals including huge hippos and crocodiles…right beside us, we were so close to them and weren’t even in a car like usual. Pretty cool experience. One night we went to the main camp and watched the traditional Zulu dancing before coming back to our perfect hut for another soundless sleep.

swaziland on a budget
waking up to wildlife at the Milwane Reserve in Swaziland
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Off on a hike through the game reserve, Swaziland
Crocodile island. Milwane Reserve, Swaziland
swaziland on a budget
stunning rust coloured roads, Milwane National Park, Swaziland

We left Swaziland after 3 nights and headed to our final destination in South Africa, Pretoria. We spent 3 nights there in a really cool backpackers and met lots of great people. We were just there to return our car, apply for our Mozambique Visa and do other odds and ends. It was a cool city but we spent most of our time chillin out, doing research and getting ready for the next adventure….Mozambique, here we come!

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Umzumbe, Umkomaas, St. Lucia & Swaziland - Reaching The End Of Our Epic South Africa Journey


Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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