The Kingdom of Adventure
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.thekingdomofswaziland.com.