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Water and Wildlife – A Boat Trip on St. Johns River
As a break from the normal hustle and bustle of the theme parks and Central Florida’s other major attractions, a group of us decided to rent a pontoon boat on Florida’s historic St. Johns River. A google search turned up a number of possible rental outlets. We chose Hontoon Landing Marina which offered a 10 seater self drive pontoon boat with a 40 hp Honda motor for around a $100 for the day (9am – 5pm). A boat was secured for the following day with a $25 telephone deposit.
From our home on the Hwy 27 the journey was approx 70 miles and took us about 1 ½ hours. On arrival at Hontoon Landing we received a friendly welcome at the onsite ship’s store and reception. Although no previous boating experience was required the renter had to be a responsible adult at least 22 years of age and hold a valid driver’s licence. Once the paperwork was complete we were given a thorough briefing on the boat and then loaded our supplies of food and drink for the day. We had been a little concerned that the boat might have been a tight squeeze for our party of 7 adults and 2 children and possibly lacking in shade, however we needn’t have worried as there seemed plenty of room and one end was covered in a Bimini top offering plenty of shade.
Armed with the supplied map of the river we set off. We were hoping to see some of the wildlife for which the St. Johns River is famous. Unfortunately, however, the one species that we were told that we would not see that day would be the manatee. Due to the time of year the park rangers had not seen a manatee for over a month.
To start with we kept to the main channel and saw a fabulous abundance of wildlife including turtles, snakes, and a blue heron flying around us with a fish in his mouth. Later we saw Ospreys and an awe inspiring American Bald Eagle which flew down the river towards us and the swooped up and perched on a tree no more than a few feet from us. We stopped the boat and sat for many minutes just watching him.
As we grew more confident we ventured up some of the quieter channels and were rewarded with a close up encounter with a family of young alligators. Again we stopped to observe, however we decided to move on when mummy alligator came over to investigate.
Our time on the boat passed incredibly quickly and soon we only had time to look down one more quiet backwater. There was a cry from the front of the boat and everyone pointed. I nudged the boat forward and then I saw it, floating in the plant life, a manatee! What a way to end a perfect day on the water.
We drove home with two excited but exhausted children. Both desperate to do it again!
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