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  • Swaziland trip report Jul 2010

    SWAZILAND: TRIP REPORT


    PART 1: HLANE ROYAL NATIONAL PARK:
    Three things of Hlane will always remain in our thoughts: elephant grazing around our tent throughout the night until first sunlight, lion roaring from sunset to dawn and hundreds of school children.

    We left Pretoria on a very cold and windy Tuesday morning, 13 July 2010, at 05:30 and headed for the Josefsdal border post via Barberton. The R40 from Barberton to Josefsdal is a long winding mountain pass of approximately 40 kilometres. This route is very scenic and well worth the drive, but estimate at least an hour travel time as the turns are sharp and hills are steep.




    Border crossings at Josefsdal/Bulembu were done in less than 10 minutes. From Bulembu we headed to Piggs Peak. The road from the border post to Piggs Peak is an 18 kilometre forest road, fairly bad, gravel road, which brings you to the MR1 which is at Piggs Peak. On the MR1 you head north until you get the MR6 which turns out to your right. You follow the MR6 until it becomes the MR5 at the MR105 turnoff. The MR105 is a gravel road going south past the Sand River Dam. The MR5 is a tar road (at that stage) which passes the Sand River Dam on the northern side. Both the MR105 as well as the MR5 reach the MR24. You will continue with the MR24 in a southern direction until you reach the MR3 which passes through the town of Simunye. Shortly after the town you will find the entrance to the game reserve on your right hand side.

    The camp sites are rugged but beautifully kept. There is running water, but no electricity. The hot water for the showers is supplied by a donkey, which a willing assistant is always nearby to pack the firewood of. The ablution facilities are super neat and consist of toilets, showers and basins.


    Our first evening at the camp was fulfilled when a white rhino decided to do the sunset stroll on the border of the camping area. Whilst the campsite is not immune to the nearby sounds of traffic, the beautiful surroundings as well as the sounds of the nightlife make up for it. We have never been awakened so may times by the roaring of lions, which sounded as if they were right on our doorstep. For peace of mind, however, the lions are kept in a separate camp, approximately 100 metres from the campsite.


    The early evening noises also include the snorting of the hippopotamus, which spend their day in the nearby dam and waterhole, at the restaurant where rhino, elephant and other antelope will be seen drinking during the day. This watering hole is conveniently located at the entrance to the campsite, within walking distance.

    This park has launched an initiative in an attempt to breed a nation of nature conservationists. The traditional quiet months of July and August are sported by special prices for school children, educators and parents (R6.00 per child, R12.00 per adult). School buses arrive in their masses and, at its busiest, the park can host up to 1,500 scholars per day. A dedicated area on the camping ground has been allocated to the schools, rows of toilets, two handmade stone cement top with taps and braai facility, in the south western corner of the camping area denotes this demarcated area. We, as it turned out, decided to set up camp slap bang in the middle of this blusterous area. (Obviously this designated area is not marked as such and there was no need for any staff members to inform us as such: Hlane being known as a perfect "stopover" and not, as we did, a week long holiday spending time at the campsite). The Swazi children are extremely well behaved, greeting eagerly and watching the tourists with amazed little eyes. It seems that the game park’s initiative is effective, as not one single piece of litter was left behind after several hundreds of scholars almost daily received a lunch bag consisting of (roughly) a fruit, bun, cool drink, KFC and, of course, a Lunch Bar.


    Early one evening, my wife alerted me to the sounds of bush and branches being broken close by our tent. Undoubtedly a grazing elephant. Later in the evening/early morning the rest of the herd joined in. These sounds became louder, closer and obviously more intriguing as daybreak was supposed to be drawing close. When the day (eventually) broke, I c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y unzipped the tent and witnessed the most spectacular sight of an elephant bull reaching at full length for a succulent branch off the tree located in the fenced camping area. We later also had the privilege of witnessing all five elephants (two calves) having their sunrise breakfast. We made ourselves comfortable a mere 20 metres from them, and enjoyed our first (and second) cup of coffee.



    Hlane is divided into three sections, namely a rhino/elephant section, an antelope section and a lion/elephant section, of which access is only obtained by a guided tour on a safari trip. As we were to find out, seeing lions is no guarantee. The rhino/elephant section, albeit relatively small, is criss-crossed by a myriad of two spoored tracks ensuring that most of the area can be covered by vehicle (high ground clearance is necessary), thereby enhancing the chances of spotting elephant or rhino. One afternoon we counted no less than 20 white rhino lying at the waterhole near the restaurant at the camp site. The antelope section, on the other hand, covers a much larger area and features a lovely dam ("Mahlindza waterhole") with two hides and one open air picnic site, from which the most spectacular views of which antelope such as zebra, impala, blue wildebeest, nyala, kudu as well as bushbuck can be seen.



    It need not be said that warthog and crocodile are also a (almost) permanent fixture. For two consecutive days we nearly witnessed a crocodile catch, had our crocodile not been so inefficient. I prefer calling it "out of luck". My wife on the other hand reckons the impala obviously had more luck.



    In high hopes of seeing lions, we booked a sunset drive with the guide to travel through the lion/elephant section of the park. Nature once again proved that money cannot buy sightings and we were not fortunate enough to spot any of the lions (apparently nobody else for the entire day had also spotted any lions). Be that as it may, the lion adhered to their self-obliged duty of reminding us of their presence throughout each and every night, from sunset until dawn. At this stage, it also needs to be mentioned that the traffic of the MR3 (GPS pronunciation: "Mister Three") can also be heard throughout the night, being only approximately 200 metres away from the nature reserve, but is only distracting for the first night or two. The lions on the one side and the hippos on the other side, compete in attempts of drowning out any sound of suburban origin.

    Free firewood is supplied for the duration of your stay, but it needs to be mentioned that the firewood is supplied in the form of a small tree, which you on own accord need to drag to your campsite, where you can break it into smaller pieces. The resident ostrich has come to greet us several times during our stay. Our foreign neighbours called her "Delilah" and went to all attempts to elicit a game of soccer from their newly found two-legged feathered friend. Apparently Delilah was not a soccer fan. What also was out of the ordinary was that vervit monkeys were seldom seen throughout the game park and never at the campsites. You are more likely to encounter an inquisitive warthog.

    We left Hlane on Monday morning, 19 July 2010, feeling well rested and headed for Mlilwane Game Reserve, after filling up with fuel and drawing some cash at Simunye town, approximately eight kilometres from Hlane National Park.

    PART 2: MLILWANE NATIONAL PARK:

    For accommodation at Mlilwane we opted for the Londwini rondawels of which there are three in total. Only two of the three rondawels have dedicated braai areas. Apart from camping, the remaining accommodation options do not have private braai areas, but use the communal braai area.

    The claim to fame of the rest camp is the resident hippos which are being fed late afternoons (hippo permitting) where close encounters with the eight hippos are almost guaranteed. Part of Mlilwane's magic is the close location to the other well-known Swazi tourist attractions, i.e. the Swazi candles and the Ngewenya glass factory.



    The Ngewenya glass factory is truly a must-see during a visit to Swaziland. The viewing balcony allows one to witness the amazing art of glass blowing. What appears like a myriad of activity is a well-organised and extremely professional process. The vast variety of glass ornaments, glasses, vases, chandeliers, etc, will keep you amazed and fascinated for hours. There are two prerequisites to any visit to Ngewenya glass factory, namely: enough space in your car and a healthy bank account. There is no need to draw cash prior to a visit to Ngewenya as, firstly, all credit and debit cards are gladly accepted and, secondly, you would not have drawn enough cash.
    The candle factory, on the other side, was not as impressive but still warranted a visit as the wide variety of colourful and shapely candles are very interesting. Both the Ngewenya glass factory as well as the Swazi candles are surrounded by small curio shops.

    A highlight of my trip must surely be meeting Mr Ted Riley, the pioneer of nature conservation in Swaziland. A coincidental passing by this legend at the rest camp facilitated our meeting. Having spent half a century of his life as a dedicated nature conservationist, this 72 year old is still dynamic and actively involved in nature conservation of Swaziland today. It is known that, in his early 20's, Mr Riley, being born in Swaziland, was appalled to see the diminishing of wildlife as he grew up. Being committed to do something about it, he approached King Sobhuza II during the early 1960's and proposed the donation of his family farm named Mlilwane (460 hectares of farming and mining land – being the present Mlilwane rest camp and surrounding) to be donated to a non-profit trust dedicated and ensuring a safe haven for all wild animals. This initiative sparked the proclamation of several other nature reserves as well as the proclamation of strict legislation ensuring nature conservation. Today it is well known that not only King Sobhuza II, but also his son, the current King Mswati III, as well as the Queen Mother, Ntombi Tfwala, were all avid nature conservationists and many a folk tale is told about the King and the Queen Mother's passion for all wild animals - including caterpillar to lion.

    We also went for a daytrip to Mkhaya Nature Reserve.




    A visit to Mkhaya can either be a day trip or an overnight stay, both of which your vehicle will be left at the entrance to the game reserve, where after you will be transported by open land rover. Although sightings of the endangered species or any of the game are not guaranteed, a visit to Mkhaya is well worthwhile. On our visit, we had two close and personal encounters with white rhino's, where the vehicle was stopped and we, at the one sighting, walked towards the group of rhino where we stopped approximately 10 metres from the group which provided excellent photo opportunities. A lunch was included in the day visit and the lunch was enjoyed at Stone Camp, which is where the overnight guests stay. As the name suggests, Stone Camp is a camp built out of stone but what it does not say is that the chalets do not have walls and windows, but stone pillars and merely a 2 foot high wall around the chalet to keep inquisitive rhino out.



    Stone Camp is situated on the bank of a river and can therefore be very cold in winter. We also had a very memorable close encounter with two herd of elephant, when we got caught in the middle of the two herds, but thanks to our skilled guide, who manoeuvred the Land Rover out of the situation from where we could watch the elephants safely, although very closely.





    If you stay at Mlilwane and travel to Mhkaya for the day visit, you should estimate approximately 1 ˝ hours travel time between the two game reserves

    Whilst staying at Mlilwane we also went on a morning visit to the local cultural village. This village is unique in the sense that it is the only village in Swaziland where the chief is female. Accompanying us on the tour were 24 jovial and cordial French tourists, one 19 year old American student (travelling solo) as well as three Dutch girls from Holland. We must say that being in such a large group surely enlightened the experience of the traditional Swazi dancing and singing, which every visitor has to partake in during this cultural tour.



    This experience, too, was definitely worthwhile and turned out to be extremely good value for money. At least once in a lifetime, such a cultural experience is a must.

    BACK TO SOUTH AFRICA:

    Back to South Africa, we went through the Ngwena/Boshoek border post. This is the biggest border post between South Africa and Swaziland and is therefore very busy. Despite being the busiest, all our documentation and formalities were dealt with in less than 10 minutes. At Customs on the South African side, however, we were requested to produce a SARS document documenting the re-entering of our vehicle back into South Africa. This document is supposedly handed to you when you exit South Africa. However, at the Josefsdal border post on our entry to Swaziland, they apparently do not supply this specific document. Upon our explanation that we entered Swaziland through Josefsdal border post, the customs official gladly stamped our gate pass without any further questions and we were allowed to enter South Africa.

    All and all, Swaziland proved to be a pleasant holiday destination and proved herself to be much more than just a stopover through to Mozambique. A 10 day holiday was not too long at all and we returned well rested and with all intentions of revisiting Swaziland soon.

    VACATION/BREAKAWAY OPTIONS:

    In summation, we would recommend the following vacation/breakaway options, should you consider visiting Swaziland:

    For a bush breakaway, Hlane Royal National Park is the place to go. They have a variety of accommodation options.

    For a self-catering weekend away, where relaxing, and not necessarily game viewing is your preference, the rondawels at Mlilwane is recommended. It is also a great basis to visit the local tourist attraction from. Here you are also allowed to ride your mountain bike through the park and do hiking.

    For a weekend breakaway that is fully catered for, Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge in Mlilwane would be the best option.

    Should you want to do game viewing whilst enjoying a fully catered breakaway, the overnight accommodation at Mkhaya would, in our view be the best option.

    We trust that the trip report will inspire others to visit this beautifull, quiant little country on our doorstep.

    For more information about Big Game Parks in Swaziland go to www.biggameparks.org
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    This article was originally published in forum thread: Swaziland trip report Jul 2010 started by Morne Snyman View original post