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Richards Bay & the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Early this morning, another storm washed over Silversea’s elegant Silver Wind just after 7am. Ferocious rain and wind lashed the ship, and I stood rooted to the windows in my suite for a good fifteen minutes as the storm raged on before suddenly stopping. Even so, skies remained ominous, and port congestion in Richards Bay had us bobbing around in the outer harbour for nearly an hour.
This brings me to the only thing I truly don’t care for about the Silver Wind, and it’s a very minor, specific complaint: that green no-slip decking on Deck 9 absolutely fills with water like a sponge when it rains, and that makes walking up there tough to do without getting soaked. Crew members have to vacuum up the water in giant wet/dry vacs. I much prefer the rubberized faux teak decking that was fitted aboard the Silver Spirit’s upper deck – but of course, that didn’t exist in 1995 when Silver Wind was built.
But, a little water isn’t going to stop me. I stood up on Deck 9 and looked down over Silver Wind’s port side bridge wing, watching the interactions between the pilot and our Captain and Staff Captain. They make the entire operation look effortless, even with the wind that quickly came up on our port side thrown into the mix. With a few adjustments of the levers controlling Silver Wind’s bow and stern thrusters, along with the aid of her propellers,she was alongside in no time.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Richard’s Bay is something of a seaside resort town. While the town itself stretches much further inland, it is anchored by an attractive little marina and two separate hotels featuring the usual assortment of shops and restaurants.
Since we were in Mozambique yesterday, we had to clear South African Customs & Immigration here in Richard’s Bay. On a multi-thousand passenger ship, such an event could (and frequently does) take hours. Here onboard the Silver Wind, with less than the maximum of 296 guests sailing on Voyage 2302, the entire process barely took 30 minutes from start to finish to process every guest.
My personal inspection took less than five minutes. I queued up in The Bar on Deck 5, where International Hostess Asta handed me my passport. I then went through the doorway into the Parisian Lounge, where South African officials stamped my passport – which is looking rather good, by the way! Since my arrival in Cape Town last Tuesday, it has now been stamped six times: entry in Cape Town; an entry permit stamp; an exit stamp from Port Elizabeth; entry and exit stamps from Maputo; and now, another entry stamp for South Africa. When I fly home on Friday evening, I will have acquired a whopping seven stamps total – reason enough why you need to have two full, facing passport pages free for this voyage!
Today, I took part in the five-hour St. Lucia Nature Reserve tour offered by Silversea that would whisk us to the nearby iSimangaliso Wetland Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park’s name was changed recently due to perceived confusion between St. Lucia, South Africa and the Southern Caribbean island that bears the same name.
Along with two Silversea escorts from the Silver Wind and our local South African guide, the wildlife sightings got going in full-force just sixty seconds after pulling away from the pier: two monkeys were contently sitting atop a rail car transporting coal.
After an hour’s drive through the beautiful countryside filled with Eucalyptus trees (they’re not native, but they are impressive), our coach arrived at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park where we were able to board our small boat for a two-hour cruise though this stunningly beautiful wetland.
Purportedly, more than 525 different species of bird call iSimangaliso home, along with a healthy proliferation of hippos and the so-called Nile crocodile. In fact, the park boasts the highest concentration of both of these astonishing creatures in South Africa.
Thanks to my voyage aboard Silver Explorer last May, I’ve become something of a bird fan. Also thanks to that same voyage, I’m now quite interested in plants and plant life (I can still hear Expedition member and Botanist Hans-Peter Reinthaller saying, in his heavy German accent, “Every-zing is Boooootany.”). And he was right: everything is botany, particularly in the iSimangaliso Wetlands.
One of the more astonishing sights today: brilliant yellow birds that buzz around like schizophrenic hummingbirds, taking care of their nests. These are no ordinary nests, though – they’re perched atop delicate-looking reeds and give off the impression of oversized (and overloaded) dandelions after they’ve gone to seed.
We also saw plenty of Hippos, lying half-submerged in the murky waters. They’d open their eyes a bit like a teenager being woken up at 7am on a Saturday morning – with a mix of disinterest and scorn – as we passed close by them for better picture opportunities. Here’s a few cool things I didn’t know about the hippos here: on land, they can move as fast as 40 kilometers per hour, meaning they kill far more humans than the crocodiles do. They’re nocturnal, sleeping during the day and hunting at night. And when they converse with each other, they sound a bit like an old Datsun trying to rev up to full speed.
We were also cautioned to avoid the hippo flies: large, ugly, black flies that were sized like a small bird. Apparently, their sting is unforgettably painful. I don’t like wasps or bumblebees, but today I found a new airborne nemesis.
I should mention that as we’re watching these hippos, the captain of the wetlands boat noticed a rare bird perched off to the side on a tree branch. He was in the process of preparing the catch of the day: a one or two foot long fish he held in his bill, that he would repeatedly slam and slap into the tree trunk in order to kill it.
Then, off on the other bank, was a Nile crocodile so well camouflaged that it took most of us several minutes to spot it.
The amount of wildlife at iSimangaliso that can kill, maim or sting you is nothing short of impressive. But it’s also remarkably beautiful, and unlike anything I have ever seen before in my life. Even the trees and the shrubs are so totally different as to appear alien in nature. We saw crabs that buried in the sand on the banks of the river, watched over by trees so dense that it was impossible to visually see more than fifteen or twenty feet into the woods.
During our two-hour journey along the wetlands, it occurred to me that I’ve seen many of these creatures before: in zoos, behind glass, locked up in cages. But to see even the slightly surly hippopotamus in its natural habitat was a breathtaking experience. And, as I learned, you never want to encounter one of the things on dry land!
Back onboard the elegant Silver Wind this evening, it feels even moreso like the private yacht she appears to be. Many guests are participating in one of two overnight Silversea Mid Voyage Land Adventures to the Phinda Private Game Reserve. One remains at the Reserve for one night, while another stays for a magnificent two-night stay. The single-night guests will rejoin us tomorrow, while those on the two-night adventure will rejoin the beautiful Silver Wind in Durban on Tuesday.
I can’t even begin to tell you how absolutely amazing these adventures sound – and I’m not even going on one! They’re not cheap, but the kind of experience they represent sounds absolutely magnificent: luxury accommodations at the 56,000-acre conservation land located in the KwaZulu-Natal; game drives that take place at sunrise and deep under the cover of darkness; all meals; and the ability to potentially “hunt” down Africa’s famous Big Five game that populate the park: the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo.
I’m not sure what portion of guests we’ve lost temporarily to these Mid-Voyage Land Adventures, but I’ve personally met four couples who were partaking in them – and, as I write this, The Bar here onboard the Silver Wind is far less crowded than it was yesterday!
As Sunday, January 20 draws to a close, I’d like to share some photos of the Grand Suite at night with you. Why? Because I have never, ever, seen a more beautifully designed suite, particularly at night.
Recessed lighting provides soft illumination throughout the living room and bedroom areas, while table lamps and even a series of LED lights mounted to the Panasonic flat-panel television in the living area cast a unique glow over the walls.
The walls themselves are two-toned, having been constructed of grey painted, wood-like bottom halves, while delicately light olive green fabric has been inset into the upper third of each wall. Every light switch and electrical outlet is accented with an oval brass plate, while the gorgeous lighting bounces off the ceilings, which I am still enamoured with. The extruded beams lend it a classic, almost Art Deco feel.
I fell in love with the Grand Suite not for its size, but for its beautiful décor. And if I could find the designer tonight, I would shake their hand and buy him or her a drink, for letting me feel like I’m living out something from the golden age of ocean travel, delivered aboard the sleek and elegant Silver Wind.
Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Wind continues tomorrow from here in Richards Bay, as we set out on a full-day Safari experience!
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