A Kingdom of Adventure
For many South Africans, the landlocked sovereign kingdom of Swaziland that lies in the northern part of South Africa is rarely considered to be a holiday destination one might think of when daydreaming during a meeting. At least, that is what I thought before I visited.
Naturally, I was elated that I could tick another country off of my travel bucket list thanks to a four-day journey exploring Swaziland. Our group reached the border post on a sunny Winter’s afternoon. While it was fairly busy, travelling with our tour guide seemed to make the process of crossing the border quite effortless.
Our first stop was Malolotja Nature Reserve. Known for its natural 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 north-west Swaziland, making it the largest proclaimed protected area in the kingdom.
Visitors to the park could get a bird’s eye view 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 spot the area’s mammals, birdlife, and flora.
We then made our way to Maguga Lodge, set upon the hilltops overlooking the spectacular Maguga Dam. Perfect for an overnight stay, Maguga Lodge offers
comfortable rooms, self-catering cottages, as well as Wi-fi. Elated by this, most of us proceeded to catch up on our daily dose of social media and emails, after which we gathered at the restaurant where we enjoyed local beer, comfort food served by the friendly staff, and listened as our enthusiastic guide talked about his culture and childhood in Swaziland. This served to make us that much more excited about what was yet to come.
The next morning, the sun’s rays woke me up just in time for the next destination – a visit to the Mantenga Cultural Village, where we were treated to traditional Swazi song and dance, and a tour through a traditional Swazi village to learn about the fascinating traditional way of life.
The nearby Mantenga Falls turned out to be one of my favourite and most scenic spots of the trip, and is a great location for hiking and picnics. The word “picnic” made us think of food, so we enjoyed lunch at Malandela’s Restaurant, memorable because of the fact that it’s situated within a creative garden of concrete sculptures.
Mantenga Lodge, between Manzini and Mbabane, is situated in the lush, green Ezulwini Valley at the foot of the Sheba’s Breast Mountain overlooking the Execution Rock – as the nation calls it due to its unsettling historical use.
Mantenga Lodge serves dishes which are a fusion of local ingredients and flavours with some European influences, as well as its very own Mantenga wine blends. I was looking forward to a great meal paired with a glass of wine, which I was craving after all the Swazi beer. An exquisite traditional Swazi meal to definitely try is Iyasha Inyama, which is similar to braai meat.
The next morning we were off to Hlane Royal National Park for a game drive. Here we came face-to-face with a pride of Swazi lions before heading to Mkhaya Game Reserve, a sanctuary for endangered species in the east of the country. As I do enjoy life’s understated luxuries, I wasn’t sure how I would feel staying at a lodge sans electricity, but it turned out the lodge at Mkhaya Game Reserve is one of Swaziland’s best-kept secrets.
We arrived at the lodge in the dead of night, after a successful game drive through the area. We walked into what looked like a fairy-tale setup, lanterns providing a romantic glow on the pathway to the lodgings with their rock walls and elevated thatch roof. Our accommodation allowed for a wondrous 360-degree view of bushveld. Dinner was set up around the fire, where the gracious hosts also performed Swazi songs and dances after dinner. One of the moments 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.
Early the next morning – one of the coldest mornings I had experienced in a long time – we had another successful game drive, before making our way back to the Oshoek Border Post. This time though, we took an unfamiliar turn and discovered the landscape changed from green hilltops to enchanting forest. We arrived at the Foresters Arms, which includes a quaint, colonial hotel and restaurant. We were welcomed by the largest Sunday lunch buffet I had ever seen, the table groaning under delicious homemade dishes from around the world.
After lunch, I took a walk to explore the beautiful scenery. Foresters Arms offers a number of scenic paths, and horseback rides are a must on a sunny afternoon. If you’re planning on staying a few days, there are plenty of other activities to pass the time in this peaceful area, including golf, tennis, cycling, croquet, fishing, and picnics.
While we didn’t get to experience all the activities on offer, we did experience in abundance the heart and soul of Swaziland.
An ideal gateway between Kwazulu-natal and the Kruger Park, as well as Johannesburg and Maputo, this tiny, landlocked country is filled with stories, African traditions of a bygone era, places to see, and things to do. But, most importantly, it’s filled with the love and acceptance of the warm-hearted Swazi people. For now I am saying salani kahle (goodbye) to Swaziland, and until we meet again (which we certainly will).
For more information, please visit www.thekingdomofswaziland.com.