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Water Parks

Florida Guide > State Parks

Having spent an enchanting couple of hours walking the Boardwalk and watching the aquatic wildlife, we were absolutely captivated by the whole area, thoroughly relaxed and pleasantly anticipating our leisurely 2 hour boat trip down the St Johns river. Little did we realize the delights that were to come once we boarded the shallow bottomed MV Native II.

Twenty five year old James, our enthusiastic, amusing and knowledgeable guide released the moorings at 1pm, reversed the boat into the stream and we set off on our adventure along the St Johns River. Within 5 minutes we knew that we were in for a wonderful afternoon with a great commentary, because this young man so obviously loved his job.

All boats traveling through manatee waters are required to travel at very slow speeds, to avoid colliding with these magnificent creatures, and as if to illustrate this point we were escorted into wider and deeper waters by 3 manatees. They swam along the starboard side creating their unique, almost circular wakes. James told us to look approximately 10 feet in front of the latest wake circle and then we would see the manatee when it briefly surfaced for air. Sure enough, after a few minutes, we saw them break through, take in air and then drop back below.

Rounding a bend we discovered a cormorant, battling with a large fish. James stopped the boat and then reversed a little, so that pictures could be taken and we could watch how expertly and quickly the cormorant could eat its lunch.

The trees were particularly spectacular because although Florida doesn’t have noticeable seasons, her deciduous trees do lose majority of their leaves for a brief period around December and January. The Maples which grow along the water’s edge were displaying spectacular, bright red seed pods from their topmost branches. The Cypress trees stood tall and proud with their "knees" all around them. James told us that at the turn of the 20th century logging was big business on the St Johns river and that all except one of the old and tall Cypress trees were cut down and used for timber. The remaining tree is over 3500 years old, is called the Senator and stands at Altamonte Springs. At the time when the logging was happening, no one realized that Cypress trees take many years to grow big and tall and that most of them were older than the Giant Redwoods in California!!! It is now not only an offence to cut down a Cypress tree but also to remove their knees. People used to take the knees and carve them. They are spindly protuberances that grow up like stalagmites all around the base of the tree and are vital to the Cypress. No one is exactly sure why, but they do know that if the knees are removed then the tree will die. There were also plenty of Oaks, young and old, and many of the trees had Spanish Moss and other air plants dangling from their branches.

James and the other captains had names for the several alligators that we encountered, and knew almost to the exact spot, where they could expect to find these territorial creatures basking in the sunshine. One female, lounging in the reeds, had 6 young with her, none of which was longer than 12 inches. We spent quite some time with James reversing the boat on several occasions so that everyone could have an excellent view and take as many photos as they wished. We frequently saw turtles wherever we saw alligators. The former were often relaxing on a tree limb that jutted out from the water. Sometimes they’d quickly slip into the water as Native II passed by.

The birdlife was varied with many Ibis perched in the larger trees. They would suddenly take off en masse and fly to another tree further down the river. A number of Blue heron and Egrets were wading along the river edges, or resting on the floating masses of vegetation or standing amongst the Dollar Weed, which is a staple of the manatees' diet. A Belted Kingfisher stalked the boat for most of our journey and finally rested on one branch long enough for us to have a good look at him and to take photos.

A magical journey that lasted for well over 2 hours thanks to a terrific guide and cooperative flora, fauna and aquatic creatures!! We finally docked at Blue Spring just after 3.30pm. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

All this for just $18 each.

Riverboat Tours start at 10am and 1pm and last for aprroaximately 2 hours depending on what wildlife is encountered. During Winter months there may be an extra tour at 3.30pm providing there are 6 or more people wishing to take this tour.

We aim to provide accurate and useful information, but if you feel anything provided here is not accurate or out of date, please email us with the address of the page concerned and any comments so we can amend as necessary.

Page added on: 8 February 2006
Viewed 4496 times since 1 September 2008.

The following photos have been submitted by our villa owners for this article.

Who's got the knobbliest "knees" then?

An old timer relaxing on his patch

One of the many riverbank inhabitants

Cypress trees and their knees

Auatic plants thrive everywhere on this river

We made it - now for some serious sunbathing

Quick, that tree over there is free!

I do look a bit like log

Gator and friends logging

Beautiful vibrant keys against the Spanish moss
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