After a reasonable amount of driving we were happy to get to Florida and some warm weather. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in this state but we were hoping to experience our first swim of the season and hopefully also see some manatees for the first time.
From Jacksonville (A) we were making our way to Crystal River (C), ‘Home of the Manatee’, but with a detour on the way to hopefully have a swim at the Blue Spring State Park (B). It was nearly a two hour drive from our accommodation to the state park and we were well prepared with a picnic lunch to enjoy there before taking a dip in the crystal clear waters of the spring. It was a lovely Sunday and unfortunately when we arrived at the entrance there was a sign being put out indicating that the park was full and to check back in two hours…. this put a real dampener on our plans but we had just passed a sports ground and picnic area back up the road so we decided to have our lunch there and try our luck again afterwards. We are so glad we did because even though we hadn’t waited two hours the park was accepting visitors again, so we paid our $6 USD/$8.57 NZD per vehicle fee and parked up. It was very busy, as we expected due to the previous entry restrictions, but it’s a very large area so it didn’t feel crowded.
We walked the boardwalk next to the river inlet and were surprised and excited to see five manatees swimming around, our first ever real life sighting of these huge animals. It was hard to get good photos but you might see the huge grey shapes in the water and a snout or two sticking out. We watched them for awhile and a couple of them even came right under the viewing platform we were on.This area is refuge for these mammals as even though they are huge, they don’t have much fat and can’t survive in water colder than about 18°C, so they come into this natural spring during winter as its temperature is around 22°C year round. Most of the manatees had headed out of the springs now that the temperatures had increased so we were very lucky to see some.
We were amazed by Blue Spring’s manatee numbers and it just shows the results that conservation measures can produce. In 1970, two years before Blue Spring State Park was established, researchers tracked 14 manatees in the spring run. By 2005, after years of park improvements and manatee protection efforts, wintering manatee numbers exceeded 200 and by 2018, that number skyrocketed to a record 485. Fantastic!! And there is no swimming with the manatees here so they are left to do their own thing.We walked further along the boardwalk up towards the spring boil and caves and then came back to the swimming area as we were looking forward to a dip. The water was a little chilly, but we held our breath and took the plunge, it didn’t take long for it to become a refreshing first outdoor swim of the year.Even though it was nearing the end of the viewing season, we were continuing on to Crystal River in the hope of seeing more manatees, but we were more relaxed about this now as we had been lucky enough to see some here. When we left the park it was 28°C and once we arrived at Crystal River a couple of hours later the boys were pleased to see the pool was open at our accommodation, Days Inn by Wyndham Crystal River (see our Wyndham Properties review here), so an after dinner swim was had.
Sadly the next morning we woke to rain and cold temperatures, we investigated visiting Three Sisters Spring but they hadn’t had any manatees in their waterways for quite awhile and the rain put us off hiring kayaks to venture further out to see if we could find any. So we were extra pleased that we had seen some the day prior and so this day now became one of school work and laundry before we hit the road the following day. We were heading round the coast to Mississippi for the night on our way back to Louisiana. We had an incredible visit to this state last year, when we stayed in New Orleans, and now it was crawfish season!!
Average Daily Spend for 2 nights – $201.37 NZD ($86.13 under budget per day)