Durban - Lake Jozini pays no heed to border crossings – it stretches unhindered across South Africa and Swaziland like an emblem of diplomacy. However, crossing to the other side proved more difficult; it was two hours before we entered Swaziland, where we’d be spending the festive season.
Royal Jozini Private Big 6 Game Reserve, named after the Tiger Fish that breed on Lake Jozini’s shores, was so close we barely had to change gears. Royal Jozini, a conservation initiative between private landowners and the Kingdom of Swaziland, is situated within a 14 000 hectare reserve that is home to 450 species of birds, 27 species of fish, numerous giraffes, hippos, antelopes and warthogs – one of which has found a home at Kujabula Lodge after being abandoned by its mother. Pumba doesn’t seem to be struggling to adjust – the week-old baby warthog sleeps on the sofa and runs around like it owns the place.
The reserve, which is 40 percent owned by the community, offers numerous accommodation options which run on solar power and aim to uplift the community through a Community Trust. Royal Jozini also plans to further contribute towards conservation by bringing in elephants and black rhinos. Riding out the reserve after recent rains was a real treat – with no large predators guests can use their own vehicles, so we really put the term “scooter safari” to use.
Popping in to Milwane Nature Reserve, where we were hunted by a fat croc at the Hippo Pool, our next stop was Lidwala Backpackers, arriving just before the heavens opened to show us what a Swazi storm looks like. Lidwala is owned by Kim Roques, a passionate crusader who has also founded All Out Africa, that utilises paid volunteers for crucial community work, and offers responsible tours. Projects include the building of schools, neighbourhood care points for orphans, marine conservation and research.
Despite its tiny size, the country teems with aid workers and do-gooders from around the world. Guba Permaculture aims to change the food aid paradigm and instead teach people to grow their own food – that they may become self-sufficient and make a living.
It would be hard to miss Guba with its living roof, natural buildings and log bridge, which we crossed with caution. Run by Emma Granville and Sam Hodgson, both with years of experience working with NGOs, Guba takes in up to 30 unemployed adults for practical study over 12 months. With a food forest, abundant vegetable garden, extensive rainwater harvesting, reed beds that filter water into a dam built out of recycled plastic and free-range chickens on 2.2 hectares of land that was once invasive bush and pineapple stumps, Guba has a lot of knowledge to share and freely does so. After a night spent camping in their backyard with two American volunteers, we spontaneously joined them on a trip to Zombodze Falls, well off the beaten track in the heart of a rural village.
Despite steep uphills, rock-strewn roads and muddy obstacles, I realised that somewhere along this trip I’d stopped being scared. Gravel no longer made my heart plummet; could it be that I was enjoying off-roading?
The waterfall appeared before us as a mirage, made instantly real as we plunged into its cool crystal-clear waters. Leaving to summer rain and the shy smiles of villagers, we headed out to Malolotja Nature Reserve, where we camped in one of the most incredible campsites I’ve seen yet. Green hills rolled into the horizon, offset by jutting rocks formed over millions of years from the erosion of different rock types. We joined guests for a canopy tour, taking in sweeping views while dangling from a harness.
A short ride later and we were in the Phophonyane Falls Nature Reserve, home to an eco-lodge that forms part of a conservancy to protect the surrounding 600 hectares of botanically diverse middleveld habitat. Apart from its rich biodiversity, the reserve is home to 240 species of birds and ancient gneiss (old rock).
Perched amid the indigenous forest, the lodge offers luxury safari tents, cottages and beehive huts that fuse traditional and contemporary design. Ducking under spider webs, we ventured to Phophonyane Falls. With the only disturbance a visit from a bushbaby we fell asleep to the symphony of the flowing river.
Shewula Mountain Camp, Swaziland’s first community-owned tourism camp and a model for community-run enterprises, was our final stop before crossing over to Mozambique. Riding up a mountainous road through the village of Shewula, we soon realised we were going where no scooter had gone before.
Shewula Mountain Camp has hosted school groups, itinerant travellers, and us. Overlooking a valley where two nature reserves join, the shimmering Mbuluzi River and glorious sunsets that set the sky ablaze in colour, the mountain camp is where poets and artists should flock for inspiration. Income from the camp goes towards developing the community, an orphanage and school for vulnerable children, and training locals in conservation agriculture. - Cape Times