The King­dom of Ad­ven­ture

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Monique Van­der­lin­den Images © Swazi­land Tourism

A mere three and a half hours’ drive from Jo­han­nes­burg lies the Oshoek Bor­der Post lead­ing into Swazi­land, the land­locked sov­er­eign coun­try in the North of South Africa. For many South Africans, it is rarely con­sid­ered to be a hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion such as Mozam­bique or Mau­ri­tius. Or, that is what I thought be­fore I vis­ited.

I went on a four-day jour­ney around Swazi­land, and nat­u­rally I was elated that I could tick another coun­try off of my bucket list. The real ex­cite­ment be­gan when we reached the bor­der post at mid­day on a cold, sunny Win­ter’s day; it was fairly busy, but trav­el­ling with our tour guide seemed to make the process of cross­ing the bor­der quite ef­fort­less.

North of the bor­der cross­ing, not far from Mba­bane, and en route to Piggs Peak we ar­rived at Malolotja Na­ture Re­serve. Known for its Highveld beauty and abun­dant fauna and flora, this na­ture re­serve is said to be the last un­spoilt moun­tain wilder­ness left in the coun­try, stretch­ing over 18,000 hectares in North­west Swazi­land, mak­ing it the largest pro­claimed pro­tected area in the king­dom.

The re­serve of­fers a ma­jes­tic moun­tain es­cape like no other as vis­i­tors can also get a view from the top – lit­er­ally – by par­tak­ing in the adrenalin-pump­ing (yet safe) ac­tiv­ity of a canopy tour con­sist­ing of 11 el­e­vated for­est plat­forms, 10 slides, and a 50 m long sus­pen­sion bridge that crosses the Ma­jolomba River. Here, vis­i­tors get a chance to view the nat­u­ral won­ders of the re­serve from another per­spec­tive and per­haps spot the mam­mals, birdlife, and flora of the area.

As evening be­gan to fall, we made our way to Maguga Lodge, set upon the hill­tops over­look­ing the spec­tac­u­lar Maguga Dam. A per­fect re­treat for an overnight stay as it is rel­a­tively close to the bor­der as well as other cen­tral spots, Maguga Lodge of­fers com­fort­able rooms, self-cater­ing cot­tages, as well as Wi-fi. Af­ter catching up on so­cial me­dia and an­swer­ing a few quick emails, we gath­ered at the restau­rant where we en­joyed some lo­cal beer, com­fort food served by the friendly staff, and lis­tened to our en­thu­si­as­tic guide talk about the Swazi cul­ture and his child­hood in Swazi­land, which made me, as well as the rest of the group, so much more ex­cited for what was yet to come.

In the morn­ing, the un­ex­pected Win­ter glare of the sun woke me to con­tinue the jour­ney to Man­tenga Cul­tural Vil­lage where we ex­pe­ri­enced tra­di­tional Swazi songs and dances and a tour through a tra­di­tional Swazi vil­lage to learn about the fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of the cul­ture of the coun­try.

The nearby Man­tenga Falls turned out to be one of my favourite and the most scenic spots – a great lo­ca­tion for hik­ing and pic­nics. The word “pic­nic” made us think of food, so we trav­elled to Ma­lan­dela’s Restau­rant. Ma­lan­de­las Restau­rant is sit­u­ated at House on Fire, which is where the MTN Bush­fire Fes­ti­val is held. Walk­ing amid the gar­den be­tween the con­crete cre­ations that ex­ude cre­ativ­ity and artis­tic tal­ent is an ex­pe­ri­ence I will never for­get, and brought me to the re­al­i­sa­tion that the fes­ti­val is a must-visit.

The day was al­most shorter than our itin­er­ary; we quickly headed off to Swazi Can­dles to ex­pe­ri­ence the hand­made can­dle cre­ations be­fore head­ing to the Man­tenga Lodge where we would spend the evening.

Be­tween Manzini and Mba­bane, Man­tenga Lodge is sit­u­ated in the lush, green Ezul­wini Val­ley at the foot of Sheba’s Breasts Moun­tain over­look­ing the leg­endary “Ex­e­cu­tion Rock” – as the na­tion calls it due to its pre­vi­ous, un­set­tling use.

The restau­rant serves up dishes in­cor­po­rat­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents mixed with Euro­pean in­flu­ences, as well as its very own Man­tenga wine blends im­ported

Swazi­land is filled with sto­ries to tell, African tra­di­tions of a by­gone era, places to see, and things to do.

from South Africa (which I was crav­ing af­ter all the Swazi beer). An ex­quis­ite dish to def­i­nitely try is the Iyasha Inyama – a feast of meat for some­one who would like to try a tra­di­tion­ally-in­spired Swazi dish.

The next morn­ing we were off to Hlane Na­tional Park for a game drive where we came face-to-face with a pride of lions be­fore head­ing to Mkhaya Game Re­serve – a sanc­tu­ary for en­dan­gered species in the East of the coun­try. Ask any­one and they will tell you that I do en­joy the un­der­stated lux­u­ries in life, so I was not sure how I would feel stay­ing at a lodge sans elec­tric­ity, but it turned out that this was one of the best kept se­crets in Swazi­land.

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful game drive, we ar­rived in the dark of night into what looked like a fairy-tale setup with lanterns along the path­way to the lodg­ings made up of rock walls and an el­e­vated thatch roof, al­low­ing for a won­drous 360 de­gree of bushveld all around. Din­ner was set up around the fire, where the gra­cious hosts per­formed Swazi songs and dances. A mo­ment I will never for­get is sit­ting around the fire un­til the early hours of the morn­ing gaz­ing at the clus­ters of stars in the heav­ens and hear­ing the sounds of noc­tur­nal an­i­mals com­mu­ni­cat­ing and scat­ter­ing about.

Early the next morn­ing, which was also one of the cold­est morn­ings I have ex­pe­ri­enced in a long time, af­ter yet another suc­cess­ful game drive, we ven­tured back to the Oshoek Bor­der. We took an un­fa­mil­iar turn and dis­cov­ered the land­scape quickly con­verted from dusty green hill­tops to en­chant­ing forests. We ar­rived at Forester’s Arms – a quaint, colo­nial ho­tel and restau­rant amid the charm­ing high­lands of the coun­try. We were wel­comed by the largest Sun­day lunch buf­fet I have ever seen, boast­ing de­li­cious home­made foods from around the world.

Af­ter lunch, I de­cided to take a walk; Forester’s Arms of­fers a num­ber of scenic walks for vis­i­tors to ex­plore the coun­try­side, and a horse­back ride is a must on a sunny af­ter­noon. Other ac­tiv­i­ties in this peace­ful area in­clude golf, ten­nis, cy­cling, cro­quet, fish­ing, and scenic pic­nics.

Even though we did not get to ex­pe­ri­ence all the ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer, what we did ex­pe­ri­ence in abun­dance was the heart and soul of the tiny, land­locked coun­try. Swazi­land is filled with sto­ries to tell, African tra­di­tions of a by­gone era, places to see, and things to do; but most im­por­tantly, it is filled with the love of the warm-hearted Swazi peo­ple. For now I am say­ing salani kahle (good­bye) to Swazi­land and the peo­ple – un­til we meet again!

For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit www.thek­ing­do­mof­swazi­

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