Simply swamped

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 June, 2004, 12:00am

If you have had enough of the beaches and are in no rush to get home, a drive along the length of the island will surely stretch your memory banks to the limit. Besides the mesmerising views of rice paddies, palm forests and mountains, there are fishing villages that postcards were made to imitate, stunning mangrove forests, picturesque lakes and quaint aboriginal villages.

In the north, the Dongzai Harbour mangrove reserve on the outskirts of Haikou is special. There you will find Wei Yin-jau , a local crab catcher. He charges ?60 for a 40-minute ride. Entry to the reserve costs ?5, and for this you get to walk along a 120m pagoda-studded concrete walkway down to a pier where Mr Wei awaits. He operates a rickety contraption down the placid waterway: a thudding old car engine on a frail dinghy, tied to a powerless barge with seats for nature lovers. It seems a precarious platform from which to view the teeming wildlife in the 4,000 sq km of Dongzai, but on the placid waters, it works.

The reserve's soupy tidal waters are incubators for fish and crustaceans. Huge butterflies hover, small insect-eating birds dart through the tight-knit stems of mangroves reaching 10m above high water line. The impenetrable mangrove swamps provide total sanctuary to millions of birds of countless species, a wetlands paradise for birds and amphibians. And nature lovers.

How to get there
The best way to get to the wetlands preserve is to ask a hotel in Haikou to arrange a local taxi. It's a 45-minute drive from downtown. Bargain the driver down to about ?250 for a half-day hire and include some general sight-seeing in the deal.