The first trip for Ramblers Walking Holidays to Swaziland was a success, judging by the happy walkers that I left in Simunye. The new trip, “Secret Swaziland and the Panorama Route” was half way through its journey, and Swaziland was no longer a secret. I had got a lift with the group to Simunye, and got left there whilst the group continued their journey into South Africa and Kruger. They had all said that they had fallen in love with the small yet not insignificant Kingdom of Swaziland after spending eight days of discovering what the country has to offer, mostly on foot. One of the things was how friendly and relaxed the people of Swaziland were and how welcoming everyone was.
We had visited the highveld and walked magical Malolotja, climbed the famous Sibebe Rock on a rather drizzly day (which was very out of the norm as the rainy season should have ended ages ago), walked with zebra in Mlilwane, had a fascinating walk around Mahlindza dam in Hlane and had a giraffe circumnavigate us in Mbuluzi. It was a trip to remember, and that was only half of it!
But I think it was the people as well as the wildlife and scenery that made it. At Foresters Arms, our first stop on the trip, we went for a walk and met up with children who were skipping next to their homesteads, the skipping rope ingeniously made out of twisted plastic bags tied together, nothing is wasted here. Everyone said hello as we walked by, they had only been in Swaziland for a couple of hours and were already getting the friendly royal treatment. Swaziland prides itself on giving a genuine African experience.
On our second day we walked in Malolotja, where you wouldn’t be too surprised if you saw a dragon pop up from behind the mountains. Malolotja is heralded as one of the last true African wildernesses, and it really lives up to its end. We could see for miles across rounded mountains and with not a soul in sight, just blesbok, zebra and eland. The guys at the entrée gate were delighted that we were discovering their park on foot, not many visitors there.
Following on our spectacular day in Malolotja were climbed Sibebe Rock, the worlds largest granite monolith, and only the second largest monolith in the world after Uluru. Although I have heard that there maybe a crack down the centre of Uluru making it half its size. Anna and Bongi guided us up Sibebe Rock and showed us all what a spectacular place it is. Both of them live at the base of The Rock, so it is their playground so they knew a fair bit about its history. On the top we met a couple of women who had been cutting grass and were making their way down the rock, a normal daily occurrence for them and there we were all kitted out in waterproofs for the hike whilst they were simply in skirts and shirts! Yes, it did rain, which I thought might have spoiled the views but is was still just as amazing as the other ascents I have done.
We also went on an amazing safari n Mlilwane with Sabelo, again it rained a bit and at this point I was seriously considering hiring this group out as rain makers for Southern Africa, I am sure I could have made a fortune. But the upside was that we had our drinks for our sundowner at Reilly’s Rock, an exclusive lodge in the park. Every cloud does have a silver lining. Not only did we have beers up there but we also saw red and blue duiker in the gardens along with some of the other 22 species that Ted Reilly is planning to introduce back into Swaziland, how lucky was that? What a privilege. Sabelo also showed his passion for conservation in Swaziland by talking about the great work that Big Game Parks is doing to in the Kingdom, it was very interesting to hear.
We also had a couple of great walks bird spotting in the park and walked amongst zebra, blesbok and wildebeest. By this point everyone was interested in the birds that we were seeing, there is something mesmerising about the birds of Africa, each one has its own weird tale such as if you imitate the call of an ibis you will be ill or if you see the reflection of a Hamerkop you will get leprosy, nothing positive really…
But the best walk ever was in Mbuluzi where we were welcomed by Mandla at reception and let loose on the trails there. I have spent many a day in Mbuluzi, tracking giraffe, doing vegetation surveys or cutting trails, I love this reserve. Mbuluzi epitomises what Swaziland has to offer, simply to get out into the bush and see Africa by foot. And we certainly did. After an hour of walking through the bush we had seen three giraffe and had stopped at a bird hide for some shade, it was gloriously sunny now. Inside the hide were two of the rangers on anti poaching patrol and they wanted to make sure that we had seen some of the wildlife that Mbuluzi has. Everyone wanted us to have the best time ever.
And we did. On the way back from the hide we had the most incredible encounter with a lone male giraffe. He was not fazed at all by our presence, he simply took a slightly wider route around us as we stood still and watched this enigmatic animal walk past us with dignity and grace. He was in no rush to get anywhere, he simply took his time and let us marvel at his elegance. He was obviously showing us his best side.
So there I was in Simunye and the next couple of hours totally reinforced why I love the Kingdom so much. I walked away form the Ramblers minibus that had dropped me at the petrol station and within two minutes I had been asked to have my picture taken with a young lad whilst being looked on by his family. After having shopped in Boxer supermarket, where I have to admit there is not much choice in what you can eat but I did stay clear of the walkie-talkies (chicken feet and heads). I got onto a bus to take me back to Hlane Royal National Park, only 7km up the road and through the park. I had two nights in a cottage by Ndlovu Waterhole before I flew home, a bit of me time.
The bus driver cleared the spinach that was balanced on the engine between him and the guy riding shotgun and gestured saying “Have a seat.” So I sat on the engine facing backwards looking through the throng of people crammed on the bus going to Manzini and got a few smiles from those sitting near me.
As we drove the short distance to my destination the driver nudged me and said “There are your animals”, and as I twisted myself round I could see there on the side of the road were four giraffe nonchalantly sauntering along the verge. I am not too sure what he meant by ‘my’ animals but it was good of him to point them out as I was facing the wrong way. He then asked me if I had seen a crocodile and when I said that I had he asked me how big it was. He then told me how dangerous they were and when you are fishing the crocs push the fish towards you so that you get distracted by the seeing all these fish so that it gives the crocodile time to get near to you and then leap out of the after and eat you. I was not convinced about this reasoning but I was more than happy for him to explain it to me.
I am not to too sure if the bus was allowed to stop outside Hlane entrance gate, but it did anyway and people wished me well as I got off the bus. It was a rather steep drop from the bus to the dirt road embankment and I nearly toppled over into the bush, but I managed to retain my dignity by remaining upright. Having crossed the road I had only walked ten paces when a car pulled up and a guy opened the door and said “Hop in.” It was a group of guys from ‘statistics’, whatever that means as they said the titles knowingly to me and I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t a clue what they did, but they kindly gave me a lift to the park main gate. Not too sure what they were counting…
At the gate there is a section of road that goes through the elephant and rhino section before arriving at the main camp and obviously they do not want people to walk this so the lovely smiley lady on the gate radioed for someone to come and walk me through. But they were not quick enough, another friendly gesture, this time a couple staying in the park, gave me a lift through the big game area.
What I had envisaged as a bit of a mission to get food for the next two days proved to be effortless and delightful. Simply put, Swaziland welcomes everyone with a bucket load of kind gestures.
So here I sit, with a gin and tonic, in my own cottage by the waterhole listening to the honk of hippos and eating steak, life couldn’t be better.