Coast KZN

07 Aug 2020

St Lucia is back in business

Debbie Cooper (Zululand Observer) Picture: Debbie Cooper: The flamingos are around in their hundreds at the moment, which will make for good viewing for visitors at the Lake St Lucia estuary mouth.

AFTER more than 130 days of enforced hibernation, St Lucia estuary is ready to receive tourists following the latest amendment to government’s lockdown regulations.

Domestic leisure travel is once again permitted within one’s own province, but restrictions on the number of people permitted per unit apply. Apart from a family, only two people may occupy a room.

Restaurants may also remain open an hour longer, now closing at 10pm.

Guided game drives are able to operate under stipulated conditions, which include a maximum seating capacity of 70%.

Not all operations are back in operation yet, since charter fishing and boat cruises are still waiting to hear if they qualify as they were not specifically mentioned.

Activity concession holders still waiting to get the green light have appealed to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority for urgent intervention and clarification from government, particularly as the annual Humpback Whale migration is well under way. Estuary boat cruises are also an immensely popular activity undertaken by several operators.

Entirely surrounded by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, St Lucia relies almost solely on tourism as a gateway to the multitude of activities and natural attractions afforded by its unique location. Africa’s largest estuarine system, migrating whales, hundreds of hippos and crocodiles, shallow coral reefs, spectacular virgin coastal vegetation, an abundance of terrestrial game, 530 bird species, nesting sea turtles and excellent fishing are some of the attributes that earned this park UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999.

The spectre of Covid-19 and the resultant lockdown impacted virtually every business and person negatively. Yet, despite the adversity, the fighting spirit and support for one another have been phenomenal. Todate, there has not been one recorded case of Covid-19 infection among town residents, who have strictly adhered to safety protocols.

‘We are open and ready to receive guests with all health protocols in place,’ said Shelley Klomfass, owner of a popular family self-catering lodge on the banks of the estuary where hippos famously join guests for sundowners on the front lawn on a regular basis.

Birding and wildlife guide Themba Mthembu says the situation has been dire for guides who have largely fallen between the cracks of government relief schemes.

‘This has not come a moment too soon, and we sincerely hope that the public will support us in our recovery,’ he says.

Already, day visitors seeking nature’s embrace have started filling the town and green belts on day trips, looking for flamingos, whales and other attractions. And while it may take time, St Lucia is hopeful that the many drawcards will bring the tourists back in numbers and offer businesses and employees a lifeline.