In order to get a better feel for all types of conservation and game parks I thought it would be interesting to visit other countries and reserves to see how they do things, so self funding a trip to Swaziland and South Africa I went with an open mind and a ‘sort of plan’.
One man’s account of getting lost for a week in Swaziland!
So the idea was to see Swaziland and experience all it has to offer in the space of a week under my own steam, enjoy the country, meet the people and experience the wildlife and environment. Well, I managed to do all of that and more whilst spending a lot of time not knowing exactly where I was or where I was going.
I arrived in Johannesberg Monday 13th April 2015 with the aim of driving from there into Swaziland and starting my adventure the next day. All went according to plan at that stage, basically pick up the car come out of the airport car park turn right and drive straight for 300 miles, easy. The traffic and roads within a 50 mile radius of JoBerg are fantastic, and within an hour I was well on my way, the country started to change into rural farmland and the warm comfortable, exciting feeling of being back in Africa come slowly back, the warmth, the red earth, the people, cows, goats scattered at the roadside …wonderful.
I entered Swaziland at Oshoek Border Post, bit like Wales really, you pay to get in , not to get out. Within minutes the landscape changes to a mountainous Alps type feel, very picturesque and as with most of the African Landscape its not spoilt by buildings, pylons or people. Very soon after crossing the border as you climb the mountains you reach the capital Mbabane a mix of modern office buildings, mainly banks and small stores and shops surrounded by market stalls on every street, I was staying a night here before moving on to Mlilwane Game Reserve in the Ezulwini Valley for 2 days of Horse Trekking.
It was my first time of getting totally lost and it took me over an hour and multiple requests for directions to find somewhere that was actually only a mile away, its a combination of no road signs, no signal for phone and inability to understand when someone is giving you directions, but never mind i did get a full tour of Mbabane in the process.
So, the next morning I moved on to Mlilwane Game Reserve one of the 3 Big Game Parks that are government owned in Swaziland. You can hike, bike or horse trek as there are none of the main predators at the park, Hippos and Crocs are your only concern. The camp is fairly basic , hence my beehive hut, no windows, lots of spiders but we all got on together so no worries.
The 2 days I spent there were great for being able to spend time walking, cycling and riding in a relatively safe environment surrounded by game, to the extent that the camp has nyala and impala constantly in attendance and a resident family of Warthog, the dad of which lays at the evening camp fire much in the same way a domestic dog would sit near a fire.
The horse trekking was fantastic as the animals allow you closer on a horse than in a jeep or on foot, they have a good selection of antelope at Mlilwane , Roan, Bleesbok, Impala, Eland, Kudu and Nyala, i even got the chance to see a Kudu jump the reserve fence about 10 foot from a near standing jump ! Sights of a Crocodile on its nest, Crocs and Hippos basking on the banks were worth the trek and walking around the reserve also enables you to get a feel for the environment.
So, onwards to the Hlane Game Reserve in the North East of the country and this is where I got seriously lost !! The area is the main Sugar Plantations for Swaziland as one of their main industries, mile after mile of Sugar Cane, you can see nothing and its as flat as a pancake. But occasionally entertaining when you see a group of Baboons running across the road with stolen cane followed by the dogs protecting the fields. Don’t know what happened but ended up going 20 miles on a dirt track, asking locals for a direction to Hlane, and seriously started to worry as the only instruction seemed to be ‘just keep going straight !’ until i eventually ended up at the gate of the resrerve. Realised they were kind of right as its just a 50 mile circle round the reserve.
Hlane is a Self Drive reserve again Government owned and has 4 of the big 5 , excluding Leopard. I drove myself and managed to see Lion, Hippo, Python wrapped around a tree, Elephant and so many Rhino I was shocked , not having seen many in South Africa over the past 4 years.
Theres a reason for this I discovered, Swaziland has the most strict laws governing Rhino and Animal poaching. A minimum of a 5-15 year jail sentence, powers to arrest and search anywhere in Swaziland in and out of the reserves and no trading a jail sentence for a fine as many are able to do in South Africa. Speaking to the Rangers and guides, they have very good efficient Anti Poaching teams but acknowledge that they will inevitably start to be tested as Rhino Poaching has become harder elsewhere in the Kruger due to public awareness and the technology now in use to protect the Rhino. Depending on who you speak to they have lost 0 to 3 Rhino in the past 20 years, thats an amazing record, lets hope they can maintain it with help from organisations like As Wild As.
After a great stay at Hlane I moved on finally to the last of the Big 3 game reserves, Mkhaya in the South East, a specialist Rhino reserve with good stocks of both Black and White Rhino, calves of both and a good breeding record nearing its capacity which again is a great testimony to their efforts.
I was fortunate to be the only guest on the reserve and had 2 amazing game drives with encounters with Black Rhino, v
close enough to touch , White Rhinos with calves, White Wildebeest ( an unusual albino gene that has bred), Black Backed Jackal, a beautiful creature that is just like an exotic fox, a mother Hippo teaching its 3 week youngster to swim and so much more, thank you to my guide Bonjani, good job and some great sightings.
The cottage in the forest where I stayed was open on all sides and you are told not to leave anything out as Monkeys, Baboons and Bushbabies amongst others will all come into camp, I spent half the night hoping they would but no they were clearly busy elsewhere.
I left Mkhaya to re-enter South Africa and continue my journey to meet up with Wild Tomorrow Fund and Wild Lion Trust in Tembe on the Saturday.
I loved my time in Swaziland, its very safe, even when you dont know where you are. The people were really friendly, the reserves and wildlife whilst possibly in most cases not as numerous as other countries is well run, they have good ethics and laws helping them maintain the environment.
Would I go back ? Definitely, if only for the Rhino, if thats your love and you want guaranteed sightings and good experiences please go to Swaziland, I rushed through in a week but you could easily do more and White Water Rafting, Trekking and other extreme sports are all available, I loved it and it may be one of if not the smallest of the southern African countries its got great potential and deserves support.