Everglades National Park
We got up reasonably early today, jumped in the car, and headed out along the SR-41 to the Shark Valley Visitor Center at the northern end of the Everglades National Park.
Despite the name, there were no sharks there – the name for the area comes from the “Shark River Slough”, part of the Everglades where water flows along the world’s widest river – 60 miles wide and 120 miles long (and 6-18 inches deep), at a rate of around 100 feet per day. Very slow. Eventually the water flows out to the Gulf of Mexico, some of which flows along the “Shark River”, which is a known breeding ground for sharks (hence the name). The Shark Valley Visitor Center is where the National Park has set up a series of board walks for self guided tours of the Everglades environment, plus a 2 hour wildlife viewing tram-tour through sawgrass prairie.
We got there in time for the 11am tram tour and enjoyed the guided tour of the natural wonder of the Everglades. We figured we might see a couple of alligators, but after the first 50 or so sightings, it was obvious there were plenty to go around ! It was kind of like Quokkas on Rottnest Island in Western Australia – we thought we might be lucky to see one or two, but ended up seeing hundreds of them.
The ‘gators were all pretty small – the largest we saw would have been less than 10 feet long – certainly not as imposing as the salt-water crocodiles we get back in Australia, and no where near as aggressive either – the alligators are generally very docile, and about the only time you would get attacked by one is if you got between a mother and her babies, and then it would only be a defensive measure.
The birdlife was the highlight of the tour, dozens of different species, and flocks of hundreds of birds enjoying the wetlands – a birdwatchers paradise (most of the people on the tour seemed to have either binoculars or spotting scopes – they were well prepared !). We also saw some very young baby alligators on the side of the road, being very carefully watched by their mother – very cute.
After the tour, we drove back around to the southern end of the national park to the Flamingo Visitor Center, at the southern tip of Florida. We enjoyed the peaceful waters of Florida Bay, and even got to see a manatee with a baby frolicking around the marina there – our first wild sighting of the endangered manatee !
We eventually headed back home just before sundown, getting back around 7:30pm.