Breathtaking break from city life in Swaziland
It’s with great excitement that I accept when the Swaziland Tourism Authority arranges a media trip. It felt as if I was going to go to another continent. What would I pack for winter? Would I be able to use the rand? I had no idea what to expect. A delightful surprise awaited me.
Heading towards the Ngwenya-Oshoek border post - the fastest way to reach Mbabane, the capital, from Gauteng - I get my first glimpse of the majestic Ngwenya mountain range, named for its resemblance to a basking crocodile.
Crossing the border is no problem, as long as you have a valid passport and sufficient documents if in a private vehicle. This is the biggest port of entry and exit and is open daily from 7am to midnight.
The Ezulwini Valley, a tourist haven, awaited. First on our stop was Malolotja Nature Reserve. With more than 18 000ha of mountain wilderness, it’s breathtaking.
The protected reserve is home to a variety of plants and wildlife. It offers spectacular views and is an adventurer’s dream.
There are about 200km of hiking trails. Walks on these - which vary from two to seven days with an abundance of backpacking camps along the way - are safe. They can be done with or without a guide.
A great break from the hustle and bustle of the city, it’s guaranteed to recharge mind and body. As they go through the mountains and grasslands, hikers will come across various buck and other wildlife.
It has also been recognised as one of southern Africa’s richest bird life areas. Even though I’m not a great bird watcher, I can’t help but be amazed by the variety of species.
Malolotja is especially important for the breeding of endangered species, such as the blue crane and blue swallow.
More than 280 species of birds have been recorded here.
An absolute must for the adrenaline junkie is the treetop canopy tour in the nature reserve.
With 11 forest platforms, 10 slides and a 50m suspension bridge that crosses the Majolomba River, it provides an up close and personal encounter with nature, big thrills and spectacular views.
By the time it was getting dark, we set off to our first overnight destination, Maguga Lodge. This hidden treasure is set in the Mokojwa mountain range next to the vast Maguga Dam, about 15km from Piggs Peak and easily accessible by car.
It’s hard to decide what to do next - whether to relax in my thatched rondavel, watch the African sky from my veranda or explore the gardens.
I opted for a drink at the hotel deck with its panoramic vista and followed up with a pleasant meal chosen from an extensive menu.
Maguga Lodge is the perfect getaway for families or those who just want to bask in the sun and enjoy the view as well as the energetic who want to go hiking or cycling.
And if you don’t want to be completely disconnected, rest assured it has great internet connectivity.
As we left, I spotted a houseboat drifting on the dam - accommodation for the tourist looking for something different, it’s definitely on my bucket list.
The next day we set off to Mantenga Cultural Village to watch traditional dancers and learn more about the Swazi way of life and traditions.
The Swazi people are proud of their rich heritage and among the friendliest people I’ve met.
Our guide, Lucky Mavusa, is a true gem and as we wound along the mountain range and drove through endless sugar cane fields, we got to know him well.
A man of many talents, Mavusa is a trained game ranger and storyteller of note.
When we encountered cattle on the road - which happened often - he referred to them as “natural robots”.
He assured us that no one ever got lost in Swaziland. There was always a friendly local around to nudge a tourist in the right direction. After spending the morning at the cultural village, we had lunch at Malandela’s Farmhouse Restaurant.
The lawns here host the Bush Fire Festival and people come from all over the world to this annual music and art event, which usually takes place at the end of May.
The drive there was easy, along the road to the rural town of Malkerns, through sugar cane and pineapple farmland.
The restaurant was cosy, with fires going, its speciality top-notch home-cooked meals.
A tour of the garden, with its sunken Afro-Shakespearean Globe Theatre, is a must. It’s colourful and a popular venue for functions.
Mantenga Lodge in the Ezulwini Valley was the overnight stop and another easily accessible destination.
You can get almost everywhere in Swaziland with a regular hatchback - the main roads are well maintained, with barely a pothole in sight.
Mantenga was warm and welcoming, like most of the places here - fairy lights brightened the outer deck overlooking the mountains. It’s the perfect spot for a sundowner before you move into the cosy dining room for supper.