SWAZILAND IS SAFARI CENTRAL
This small, landlocked country in the east of South Africa is bordered by Mozambique on its eastern side, and by South Africa everywhere else. Covering just over 17,000 km2 (10,000 mi2), this is one of the two independent kingdoms – the other being Lesotho – nestled within South Africa. King Mswati III celebrated his 50th birthday, serendipitously, with the country celebrating 50 years of independence, in 2018. It was during this double jubilee celebration year that the king announced the renaming of Swaziland – its colonial name – to ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’, much to the pleasure of the country’s people. IT’S A RED FEATHER AFFAIR Being a traditionally polygamous clan, the king has many wives and many, many children. Want to know how you can tell if you’re in the presence of royalty? The members of the royal family are entitled to wear red feathers in their hair. Now that you know this, let’s start talking about safaris… ESWATINI SAFARI Swaziland may be small, but it has a heart of gold and offers a wide array of delights to the safari-goer. In early 2018, King Mswati III of Swaziland officially renamed the country ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini.’ The new name, eSwatini, means ‘land of the Swazis’. While you won’t get to see all of the ‘Big Five’ in one park here, you can see four out of the five – leopard, lion, elephant and rhino – at Hlane Royal National Park. And if you’re in the mood to see rhinos and Cape buffalo hanging out, you’ll want to visit the Mkhaya Game Reserve. If those choices sound limiting, fear not! There’s plenty more game to see. Think a wide variety of antelope species, including sable antelope, roan and tsessebe, giraffe, hippo, zebra, wildebeest and many bird species. Other parks include Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Malolotja National Park. One thing’s for sure: whichever parks you visit, you’ll have a truly splendid bush experience. WELCOME TO THE TROPICS Swaziland is just over 300 km (200 mi) south of the Tropic of Capricorn and enjoys a suitably tropical climate, making it a good place to visit throughout the year, with average summer (October to March) daytime temperatures in the mid-20⁰Cs (mid-70⁰Fs) and winter (May to August) daytime temperatures a balmy low 20⁰Cs (high 60⁰Fs). One thing to note is that it’s a summer rainfall area, so the bush between October and March is lush and thick, making game-viewing a little harder. Also, if you’re going during that time, pack a raincoat and be prepared for short, but dramatic afternoon thunderstorms followed by blazing sunshine. TRADITIONAL BEEHIVE HUTS Driving through the countryside, you will notice traditional huts between more modern dwellings. The traditional ‘beehive hut’ – so-named because it is made in the shape of a beehive – is made of dry grass. Basically, it’s a whole house made of thatch. A number of these huts are arranged in a yard with different ones for sleeping, cooking, and storage. (NOTE: What do you mean by ‘arranged in a yard’?) Since the Swazi people are traditionally polygamous, one Swazi homestead will consist of numerous sets of huts – one for each wife. HLANE ROYAL NATIONAL PARK LIVES UP TO ITS REGAL NAME This is the place to be … here you’ll find Swaziland’s largest herds of game. The park does a splendid job of conserving expansive natural resources, and in addition to that, a proud sense of royal and cultural belief. You can choose between guided game drives, game walks or get behind the wheel yourself and do a ‘self-drive safari.’ The park’s gates are open from sunrise to sunset to welcome you to this neck of the woods. (A quick language lesson: ‘Hlane’ is the siSwati name for ‘wilderness.’) This 20,000 hectare (77 sq. mi; 200 sq. Km) Lowveld destination suits the pocket and is characterized by hardwood habitats of yesteryear, game aplenty and rich birdlife. The Lowveld is sometimes referred to as the ‘real’ Africa. It is an expanse of land stretching through Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and a number of other countries, that is lower than 1,000m above sea level. It is an open area that contains slow moving rivers and huge Boabab trees, as well as lots and lots of game. They have what you call specialty species – lions, ellies, vultures and marabou stork. In the Hlane Park, you’ll find Ndlovu and Bhubesi Camp – 16km apart with affordable accommodation options – located right amidst the big games’ comings and goings. STAY IN A TRADITIONAL BEEHIVE HUT Mlilwane ‘Little Fire’ Wildlife Sanctuary Park is situated in the beautiful Ezulwini Valley (Valley of Heaven), flanked by an impressive backdrop of mountains and the vast Usuthu Forest complementing the scene. The park is regarded as Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area and the kingdom’s most popular eco-destination for locals, internationals and safari-goers. Its nickname, 'Little Fire’ came about by countless fires caused by spectacular lightning strikes on Mlilwane Hill. Nowadays, it holds significance as the little fire that sparked a flourishing conservation movement in the country as a whole. You can fill your days with guided or self-guided explorations within the 4 560 ha, as there are no ‘dangerous’ animals around here. (NOTE: What does 4 560 ha mean?) The southern plains are characterized by the picturesque Nyonyane ‘Execution’ Mountain with its exposed granite peak. This is the area where they concentrate on tourism the most; you can go on guided Chubeka Trails to explore the north as far as Luphohlo Peak. Back at the camp, you get the chance to stay in a traditional beehive hut. Say goodbye to questionable hotel artwork. Nestled in-between Mbabane and Manzini, with 24-hour access to the sanctuary, you can enjoy the neighboring tourist hubs of Ezulwini and Malkerns with their many unique attractions and craft shops. VISIT SWAZILAND’S REFUGE FOR ENDANGERED WILDLIFE Now we’re heading to the southeast of Swaziland. In the center of the Lowveld, you’ll find Mkahya Game Reserve. Traveling in this reserve is solely guided – be it an open Land Rover or on foot – and it is sure to bring out the wildlife photographer in you. Here is your best chance to see the black rhino in its natural African environment. Apart from generous grants and the support of benefactors, Mkhaya's operations are all self-financed through visitor revenues, conservation revenues, and raising white, brown, golden yellow, black and dappled or spotty Nguni cattle, plus a host of self-sustaining resources. The reserve is named after the Senegalia (Acacia) nigrescens tree that was once quite abundant across the Lowveld. ‘Mkhaya’ also means ‘home’ – the precious hardwood is the preferred tree to build structures in Swaziland. You will notice knobthorn trunks incorporated into Stone Camps’ structures. GAME, GAME, AND MORE GAME This place is the stomping ground of the country’s only buffalo, black rhino, sable antelope, Livingstone eland, and tsessebe populations. There are also white rhino, giraffe and roan antelope. Birding is an additional aerial highlight and sound activator of note! Fenced zones allow for intense species management and premium security required for endangered species. Rhino sightings in this award-winning reserve are regarded in the same light as a mountain gorilla encounter in Central Africa: the stuff of bucket lists! Mkhaya itself is staffed and patrolled by locals from neighboring communities and has an extremely effective anti-poaching unit. A trip to Mkhaya is a journey through authentic Africa. Need any more persuading? LET’S HEAD NORTH WEST Pigg’s Peak is the only settlement of any size in the north-west of the country. The town’s name is often localized to ‘Spiggy-Speegy,’ or even just ‘Spiggy.’ A French prospector, William Pigg, whose son married a lass with the surname Hogg, made his fortune not in streaky back bacon, but gold. He chanced upon a gold reef in the nearby hills in 1884. His ‘peak’ was the closely situated summit of Emlembe, which is Swaziland’s highest mountain. As mining developed, the intersection of the Bulembu supply road with the Mbabane – Matsamo corridor – became a lively central hub, offering services to the settlers. It’s the origin of today’s town and an entry route for safari-goers. At present, forestry has replaced mining as the main local industry. The town is also known for its hospitable hotel and casino, located on the crest of a ridge 10 km (6 mi) north of the town and close to the old mining town of Bulembu. While you’re there, make sure to take a look at the ancient rock paintings of Nsangwini, and don’t forget to stop by the Phophonyane Nature Reserve. Phophonyane’s easy-going trails are home to an abundance of wildlife. Look out for the timid red duiker or a troop of banded mongooses and vervet monkeys. Here, 240 recorded birds can be found – the regal bird throne is held by the magnificent Narina Trogon. SWAZI CULTURES AND TRADITIONS Eswatini has been inhabited since the early Stone Age, with rock paintings of the San people indicating the occupation of these clans and others, like the Sotho and Ntungwanguni, during the interceding ages. Nowadays, Swazis – which simply means ‘people of Mswati’ – are mostly Nguni and speak the language of siSwati. They are descendants of the clans that migrated south from East Africa in the 15th century. Knowing that history, it’s not surprising that the country has a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions. Learn about them at The Cultural Village in the Mantenga Nature Reserve in the Ezulwini Valley. Here, you can visit a ‘living museum’ that will give you insight into how people lived in the mid-1800s, as well as allowing you to be a viewer of their beautiful traditional dancing. SWAZILAND SPLENDOR There is an ancient Swazi proverb that spells out a slice of life as follows: “A person that says it cannot be done shouldn’t interrupt the man doing it.” Waterfalls, fine examples of San rock art, caves, valleys, local rituals and ceremonies, stone carving, traditional music, curious giraffes, breeding herds of elephant, nyala with their beautiful horns and shaggy coats, endangered black rhino browsing in a thicket tearing off thorny twigs. Go ahead – book that Swaziland (oops! eSwatini) safari. No interruptions.