Hip hip hooray for the hippos: Experiencing the wonders of a South African safari

  • The Daily Mail’s Mark Palmer headed to South Africa for a safari adventure 
  • First stop was the St Lucia Estuary – there are almost as many hippos as people
  • He also visited the Thanda private game reserve in northern KwaZulu Nata

There are almost as many hippos as people in and around South Africa’s St Lucia Estuary.

No wonder river safari companies in this part of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park tell punters: ‘Refund guaranteed if you don’t see hippos!’

Of course you’ll see a hippo. There are some 800 of them bobbing up and down in the muddy water. From time to time they open their mouths to reveal 12-inch main gnashers — and the man with the mic tells us ‘they can snap a croc in two with one snap.’

Splash: The Isimangaliso Wetland Park has 800 hippos

That must be why the crocs keep their distance. There are even more of them in this stretch of water — some 1,000.

But at least the crocs, unlike the hippos, don’t go walkabout down the High Street at night, drinking from swimming pools.

‘Just keep 50 metres or so from them,’ says the mic man.

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St Lucia is about two hours north of Durban and you could spend a happy few days here with the hippos, crocs and birds, especially the African Fish Eagles. But we move on to the Thanda private game reserve in the north of KwaZulu Natal, where we are soon introduced to herds of buffalo and impala, as well as many giraffe and zebra.

Thanda is owned by the Swedish entrepreneur Dan Olof Olofsson, who in the early 2000s started buying up farms and combining them to create a 35,000 acre game reserve.

If you’re part of a group then you can stay in what used to be Mr Olofsson’s house. Otherwise there are plenty of rooms at the main lodge. Our wildlife expert, Christian, is a highly respected photographer and is happy to give tips on shutter speeds as well as answering silly animal questions from urbanites like me. This is Zululand and so we are entertained one night by a troupe of female Zulu dancers.

An aerial view of the St Lucia Estuary in Isimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

There’s a comical element to safari, especially when it comes to ‘sundowners’. Christian sets up a bar in the middle of the bush, complete with a cocktail menu and canapes. In fact, the sun went down almost an hour ago and there is no moon.

Which means Christian uses his laser beam and summons the spirit of the late Patrick Moore as he points out Jupiter, Mars and the Milky Way.

‘Beats arguing over Brexit,’ says Christian. Beats most things, actually.


British Airways flies Heathrow to King Shaka Airport, Durban, from £505 return. Thanda Safari (thanda.com, 0027 32 586 0149) from £390pp per night.

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