World Heritage Sites in South Africa
by Jodi Tanenbaum
At first we were confused why the St. Lucia Wetlands had been given the exclusive designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO assigns special status to unique places around the world based on biodiversity, beauty, cultural or historical significance. Yes the area was crawling with thousands of hippos, crocs and a dizzying array of birds but scenic-wise we had seen places of similar beauty without the UNESCO status. Then we learned that St. Lucia has over 400 species of trees (compared to 73 species of trees in all of Europe) and five distinct ecosystems all within an 80km stretch of land, and we understood UNESCO's decision.
Each passing hour in this unique area uncovered new trees and birds we had not noticed before. Besides seeing the hippos and crocs in abundance we saw large white-headed eagles and enormous land-based flamingo-like birds of which the name escapes me (refer to picture). To see an animal behave in its own natural habitat is completely different then viewing it in a zoo. I caught a glimpse of a hippo opening up its mouth to the sky at 180 degrees, a true National Geographic moment.
We spent our last few days in SA exactly how we began our journey, immersed in nature, surrounded by scenic beauty and bathed in warm sun. The Royal Natal National Park is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is only one of twenty-three sites in the world that has both cultural and natural World Heritage properties.
You see, cavemen (aka bushmen, San, hunter-gatherers) lived here 5000 years ago. Their rock paintings, which we admired, date back over two-thousand years. Max and Sam were so inspired by the paintings that we pretended to be cavemen for the balance of the day, using colored rocks to draw on larger rocks and hunting by the river.
Geographically, we are situated in the middle of a large mountain range called the Drakensberg, which in this particular area forms an ampitheatre of towering basalt rock (see picture) that surrounds us. Distant waterfalls crash down the mountain and the sound of running streams below, lull us into a state of peace. We hike the hills admiring the views, witness an abundance of birds (over 900 species live here) and frolick for hours in the fresh sweet water streams. The boys play lion, cavemen and discover curious crystals and animal teeth (imagine that) in the river bed.
We sadly bid farewell to a country of scenic magnificence, wild animals and very friendly people. We are grateful to the African spirits who carried us through this country in safety and health so that we could enjoy all the magic it has to offer. Yebo.