The Gourmez happy in the swamp.

The Gourmez happy in the swamp.

This is the fourth entry in a series on my December New Orleans vacation. Lest you think this many entries is a few too many, just know New Orleans has always been high on my list of cities to visit, so I was pretty excited to finally do so! Blog #1 was on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, Blog #2 was on dining at night in New Orleans, and Blog #3 was on drinking at night in New Orleans—and no, drinking need not be limited to the dark hours in this town.

The dock at Cajun Encounters.

The dock at Cajun Encounters.

For our next New Orleans adventure, we went 40 minutes east of the city to Slidell. Honey Island Swamp is 20 miles long, and a good portion of it is protected for wildlife conservation. A large number of boat tour companies operate within the protected section of the swamp, and we chose Cajun Encounters on a recommendation. It’s $25 for a day tour of the swamp, and with a tour that takes about 90 minutes, it’s well worth it. I thought it a deal in all honesty. They offer transportation from New Orleans for an extra $20 if you don’t have a car.

First view of the river. Click twice for the largest picture.

First view of the river. Click twice for the largest picture.

Who doesn’t love Spanish moss?

Who doesn’t love Spanish moss?

Our tour guide was super nice and pretty entertaining for a man with only a few months under his belt. Questions were always welcome. We went through three distinct areas of swamp. The first was similar to a standard riverbank but with plenty of Spanish moss, reddish leaves, and cypress outcroppings called knees.

Knees in the water.

Knees in the water.

This was December, which means winter and the least active time for the swamp’s wildlife, so we were cautioned we wouldn’t see a lot of it. We didn’t, but there were some creatures to encounter!

Turtles on the left.

Turtles on the left.

Plenty of snapping turtles lined the banks, and they’d dive into the water when we got close.

Turtles up close

Turtles up close

Blue Heron taking in the sights

Blue Heron taking in the sights

Blue Heron up close

Blue Heron up close

We were especially cautioned alligators would probably elude us because most had migrated southward at this time of year, but there was a surprise in store.

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Yep, that’s a baby alligator sunbathing on the right with a few snapping turtles on the left.

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So cute. And yes, I find reptiles cute. After the alligator sighting, we headed into the next section of the swamp. It had narrower banks and much more tree coverage. Our tour guide called it the prettiest place in the Honey Island Swamp, and it was positively breathtaking in spots. Right away, I fell in love with the trees’ reflections in the water.

I swear it’s Impressionism with a swamp for a canvas.

I swear it’s Impressionism with a swamp for a canvas.

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The tour guide told us a few stories of how the swamp had been used as a meeting place for bootleggers during Prohibition. I think it was this specific tree they used as a landmark:

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The stories weren’t nearly as exciting as staring at the scenery, however.

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Once we entered the section of swamp where the water is covered with tiny green plants, gorgeous doesn’t seem enough anymore.

Click twice for the biggest view.

Click twice for the biggest view.

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At the back edge of this particular river finger, we stopped to take it all in for a while. Some animals decided to join us.

Owl high up in the cypress.

Owl high up in the cypress.

A wild pig came running, and it turns out that the guides know calls to draw them closer. The marshmallows tossed in the water help as well. I couldn’t get a clear shot of the pig, but he hung out for a while. I was must struck by how his back was covered in moss.

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Sun hitting the cypress.

Sun hitting the cypress.

We circled back out of that beautiful, plant-covered section of the swamp, passing another couple of tour boats on the way out.

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Then we headed into an area dominated by sawgrass.

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It’s called sawgrass for a reason, so we didn’t try and touch any as we crept through.

2012_Dec_Nola_308smallArrowroot also took up a lot of real estate there.

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At the end of the sawgrass section, we rode out into wider waters again, and the tour guide took us through a Cajun fishing village.

Click twice for the largest view.

Click twice for the largest view.

 

People are granted use of the land as long as they have a structure standing on it, so buildings go up everywhere, and they aren’t destroyed until another one goes up. Everything must be transported over by boat from the docks on the west side of the river.

First house encountered.

First house encountered.

Plenty of Cajun humor could be found in signs posted on the houses or painted on bathtubs.

 “Cajun bathtub”

“Cajun bathtub”

“Da Palace”

“Da Palace”

Many structures have never been rebuilt or torn down since Hurricane Katrina came through.

Dipping into the water

Dipping into the water

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After leaving the village behind, we headed south on the river back to Cajun Encounters’ dock.

 Last view from the swamp.

Last view from the swamp.

I would highly recommend this experience, and although it limited our animal encounters, I’m glad we did it in December. The weather was perfect, in the 60s. There was no humidity, and none of the bugs to go along with that. It was also less crowded than summer tours can be, and all of that made up for missing large alligators. But no matter what time of year you go, it’s worth it for the beauty of the swamp.

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We’ll take on New Orleans sights and eats in the daytime hours next. For more pictures of the Honey Island Swamp, click here. 

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