5 sensational walks to do in Swaziland

This little kingdom’s natural beauties as best experienced on foot, writes Hlengiwe Magagula

18 February 2018 - 00:00 By Hlengiwe Magagula
In Phophonyane, there are several short walks in the region of the eponymous falls.
In Phophonyane, there are several short walks in the region of the eponymous falls.
Image: Hlengiwe Magagula

1. PHOPHONYANE NATURE RESERVE

Descend through the forests to Piggs Peak, turn a little north, and follow the signs for Phophonyane Falls. There's a number of short walks in the area of the falls, and you can access them via Piggs Peak Casino or Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE: This is classic middleveld, a rich mix of native plants and birdlife, with over 240 bird species recorded. The waterfalls are a series of photo-friendly cascades over aeons-old rocks.

WHAT'S SPECIAL: Watch out for the narina trogon, a vivid green-and-red, forest-dwelling bird.

WHAT'S NEARBY: The deck of the ecolodge is a fine place to combine a cold Sibebe beer and birdwatching in comfort.

WHAT IT COSTS/WHERE TO STAY: There's a small fee for day visitors to access the trails maintained by Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge. It has tents, cottages and beehive huts (R1,610/R2,360/R2,520 double).

2. EMLEMBE

Swaziland's highest mountain is right on the border and can be approached via the fascinating Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail. Rising above highveld forests, it's a perfect half-day climb from the historic mining town of Bulembu.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE: The trail takes you into eucalypt and native woodland and then up to pasturelands and the 1,843m peak. In the forest, watch out for vervet monkeys and remember to take plenty of breaks to enjoy the splendid views.

WHAT'S SPECIAL: At the top, you'll have one foot in South Africa, and one in Swaziland.

WHAT'S NEARBY: In Bulembu, visit the little museum dedicated to the town's mining history. Grab a delicious coffee-and-honey milkshake at Bulembu Country Lodge, made from the fresh milk of the cows that graze the former golf course.

WHAT IT COSTS/WHERE TO STAY: No booking is required. For a guide, ask for Benjamin at Bulembu Country Lodge, and pay his fee there. You'll learn the local lore and history as you walk. The lodge is ideal for beds (R950 double) and meals.

3. MALOLOTJA NATURE RESERVE

Drive south on the MR1, Swaziland's most scenic road. You'll wind back into the highveld, known locally as Inkangala. Malolotja is prime walking territory, with over 200km of mapped trails in 18,000ha.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE: As well as day walks, this is the place to disappear for days of wild camping: suggested routes range from one to seven nights. As well as the montane grasslands, there are tree-shaded valleys, and croc-free rivers for cooling off. You're sure to find grazers - zebras, blesbok, eland and wildebeest - as well as some of the 280 recorded bird species.

WHAT'S SPECIAL: With luck, you can spot the endangered blue swallow. Go in spring for the outrageous wildflowers, including orchids and rare species such as Barberton and Kaapsehoop cycads.

WHAT'S NEARBY: Enjoy a thrilling zipline over the treetops (malolotjacanopytour.com) and pick up some fine, soapstone carvings from the vendors near the reserve gate.

WHAT IT COSTS/WHERE TO STAY: R30 for day guests, R70 per person per night for trail camping. You don't need to camp, as Malolotja Nature Reserve offers alpine-style log cabins for self-catering, as well as a bar/restaurant. Cabins are R300 per person per night (minimum charge of R400). 

4. MLILWANE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

Continue your adventure into the heart of the kingdom, descending to warmer climes. Mlilwane is a gorgeous reserve, and part of the Big Game Parks family that includes Royal Hlane and Mkhaya. Unlike those places, you can walk freely here, but steer clear of the water's edge, where crocs and hippos lurk.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE: Rise early to catch the dawn light on the hills and sparkling dewy grasslands. Take your pick from nine mapped trails, totalling 20km. You'll share your walk with blue wildebeest, zebra, warthog, kudu, nyala, blesbuck and other antelopes. There's a breeding programme for endangered roan antelopes.

A white-fronted bee eater in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
A white-fronted bee eater in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Image: Hlengiwe Magagula

WHAT'S SPECIAL: At the rest camp, bush pigs come to enjoy the evening fire, which has burned continuously for almost 60 years. If you stay at Reilly's Rock, you'll likely meet bush babies in the evening.

WHAT'S NEARBY: At the rest camp, Chubeka Trails offer horse riding in the reserve, and it's also perfect for mountain biking. Mlilwane is in Lobamba, the cultural heart of Swaziland. The national museum is close by, and it's a short drive to Malkerns, where top-class craft shops include Swazi Candles, Baobab Batik and Gone Rural.

WHAT IT COSTS/WHERE TO STAY: R50 conservation fee for day visitors (Wild card also valid). The main camp has traditional beehive huts with spotless bathrooms (R470pp), and there's also a backpacker option (from R125), and the luxury Reilly's Rock homestead (from R2410 double). Guides R150 per hour.

5. LUBOMBO ECO TRAILS

If you make it this far, you'll be astounded at how such a tiny country can have such a variety of environments. An exciting network of trails is being developed in the northeast, where Swaziland meets Mozambique and South Africa.

WHAT YOU'LL SEE: You'll sweat in lowveld forest in Mlawula and Mbuluzi reserves, and climb shady clefts onto the rocky escarpment of the Lubombo Mountains. The 10 mapped trails in Mlawula are just the start. See lubombo.co.sz.

WHAT'S SPECIAL: The rare samango monkey has been recorded in the area, and it's perfect leopard country, but you'd be very lucky to spot either. Instead, enjoy the serenity of this little-visited corner of Africa.

WHAT'S NEARBY: Mozambique! This area is an ideal stopover for those heading to Maputo or beyond.

WHAT IT COSTS/WHERE TO STAY: Newly opened in January 2018, the Mhlumeni Bush Camp has four luxury tents (from R300). To book, e-mail mhlumenicamp@gmail.com.

Mlawula has a R30 fee for day guests and a range of overnight options, from camping (R100pp) to Magadzavane Lodge (R900 double). Guides on request, from R50. 

Mbuluzi Reserve offers camping (R110) and fine tents and lodges from R580 per person.

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