From Swaziland we re-entered South Africa and headed to iSimangiloo Nature Reserve. We planned to spend some time exploring this wetland area and stayed the night at Wildebees EcoLodge. However, heavy rains and flooding made us decide to forgo our plans and continue heading north.
We next stopped at Triton Dive Lodge with the intention of doing a morning of diving in Sodowana Bay. However, because it is off season the only dive charter operating was full. So we again packed up and headed to our next destination – Wilderness Safari’s Rocktail Camp.
After almost 2 weeks solid of camping, we were looking forward to our two nights at this luxury camp like you wouldn’t believe. We are huge Wilderness Safari junkies! Their camps are always so well done with a focus on nature and wildlife viewing so we will always chose their brand if available. They also give last minute discounts which makes it possible for us to afford their camps.
Rocktail Camp is on the lower end of their camps. It is more basic and do-it yourself as opposed to the over the top all inclusive luxury camps we have stayed at in the Okavango. At Rocktail, you choose which activities you want to do and pay extra for each one.
The biggest reason for visiting this area was to try to see nesting sea turtles and to scuba dive. The diving is done via Mokkaran Charters which is onsite at the property. You just walk next door to the dive shop. It is managed by Sam who was also our dive guide. She was awesome! Her guiding was top notch and I think she spotted more little critters for us than we saw in all of our Maldives liveaboard trip!
The reefs were very healthy and full of life. We saw raggie toothed sharks, lots of rays, turtles, new types of crabs and shrimps, pipefish and lots more. We did four dives and at most there were only 2-3 of us on the dive which was a real luxury.
In the evenings we went out searching for turtles. We would have to leave after 10pm because high tide prevented driving on the beach in the early evening. Our guide drove up and down the beach looking for mother turtles laying eggs or babies hatching. You basically just look for tracks in the sand to indicate that there are turtles crawling on the beach in that area.
The season for turtle nesting is November – February, so we were at the end of the season which means a much lower chance of seeing any activity. We were lucky to see one baby leatherback trying to come out of his nest. We could see that he was born with one flipper larger than the other which was making it hard for him to dig his way out!
I was so pleased our guide let us help him to the ocean. The rules of the national park dictate that you aren’t supposed to interfere in nature. These poor baby sea turtles really have the odds stacked against them. The mother typically lays around 100 eggs in a deep hole on the beach. There is a risk of the eggs being dug up and eaten by honey badgers, dogs, and genet cats. There is a risk of the nest being washed away if it is dug too close to the shore. Cars can disrupt it by driving over it if it is too shallow. If the eggs actually hatch, the babies must dig there way up from the deep sand. There are hundreds of crabs, sand plovers, and other predators awaiting them at the surface.
They have to make it through this onslaught of attackers to slowly shuffle their way to the beach. They follow light to help them figure out which way to go. When they reach the ocean, the swim directly out to the deep water where tons of predators again await them. It is estimated that only about 1% of the eggs that are laid, hatch and make it to maturity. This is why sea turtles have become so endangered. They already have so many natural forces acting against their reproduction, that when humans start adding to the trouble, it really stacks the cards against them.
Loggerheads and Leatherbacks are the two species which nest in the Maputaland Nature Reserve. The interesting thing is that although they nest here, you won’t find any adults in the area. These turtles swim to Australia and Costa Rica for their adult lives. Then when they are ready to nest, they somehow navigate their way back to the exact beach they were born on to lay their own eggs. Incredible! We were also told that if you pick up the hatchings and put them into the ocean it ruins the encoding of their internal gps and they lose the ability to navigate back to their birth site! Crazy! Even though we didn’t get to see a mother laying eggs or a whole load of babies – this was still quite the special experience!
Free activities included in your stay at Rocktail Camp are a forest walk and a scorpion walk. On the forest walk, our guide taught us about the indigenous flora and fauna. I especially enjoyed that he explained how each plant is used in Zulu culture for traditional medicine. I am continually amazed by traditional African medicine. They have found a treatment for almost any malady you can think of. I can’t figure out who would have ever been able to figure out what plant could be used to treat kidney stones! Or liver failure! And every local person who teaches me about them, swears these treatments work. It is fascinating.
The scorpion walk happened right before dinner. We took UV lights into the forest to search for scorpions. It was alarming to see that we were surrounded by them! The body glows bright yellow with the UV light making them eerily pop out from the surroundings. I learned that scorpions hide in holes during the day, then come out to hunt at night. I had never seen a live scorpion before (although I know there were many on our property in Botswana, I just got lucky to not run into any!).
It was super cool to learn about them and especially learn how to avoid them! We were given the room with the best view at Rocktail Camp (#12), the only downside was that it was a 15 minute uphill walk from the main camp. However, it gave us pristine views of the forest and the beach below. The rooms are all permanent tents with the usual luxury amenities added in. A large comfy bed, desk, shower, sink, vanity, toilet and a fabulous porch. Meals were a la carte breakfast, lunch, dinner. The food wasn’t anything special but we were just happy not the be cooking for ourselves out of the back of the car!
Rocktail camp is one of only two lodges located within this protected area of the Maputaland Nature Reserve. The benefits of staying there are that you have the beach almost completely to yourself. You also have access to walking down to see the turtles on your own in the evening or driving along the beach with a guide at night. If you stay in other areas along the coast you have about a one hour drive until you get to the beach and then you have to walk to search for the turtles which greatly decreases your chances of findings any.
Day trips from Rocktail include a visit to Lake Sibaya which has great birding. You can also make a trip to Tembe elephant park, which we chose to do on our own instead of paying for the day trip. Tembe allows self-driving and it is a small park so really not necessary to have a guide.
If you want a secluded resort with great opportunities for unique wildlife experiences, Rocktail is a great option!