Take a walk on the wild side

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Trekking in wildlife reserves in Africa is a truly memorable experience. The Kingdom of Swaziland positively encourages people to explore its game parks, of course only those that have do not have any of the Big 5 – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. Escape mass tourism and discover real Africa on foot.

The Kingdom of Swaziland
Swaziland is ideal for hiking as there are many reserves where you can walk amongst wildlife and which do not have the dangerous Big 5. The reserves have few visitors and this gives you a sense of adventure and allows you to truly connect with nature.

The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small country and is often referred to as “Africa in a nutshell” as it has a little bit of everything that Africa has got to offer. There is varied scenery ranging from mountains to savanna, wildlife from the Big 5 to a host of smaller game and it is where culture is woven into everyday life. Swaziland is a little-known country with a very big heart.

Wildlife of Swaziland
Swaziland is the ideal destination for the first-time visitor to Africa as it does have the Big 5, although leopard is pretty elusive. The game reserves of Hlane and Mkhaya only the Big 5 – Hlane has lion, rhino and elephant where as Mkhaya has black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo. The Kingdom is famous for its rhino conservation and if you do not see a rhino in either Hlane or Mkhaya then you probably have had your eyes closed for the duration!

The other reserves open up their doors for people to explore them on foot. Quite often these reserves have wildlife wandering around the camps so it is not unusual to wake up to a row of warthog hoglets sleeping outside your door, a zebra looking in your window or a nyala watching you as you eat breakfast. The birdlife is fantastic, as you walk through the reserves the magical sounds of trilling birds in the trees and sky is restoration for the soul.

The people of Swaziland
The Swazis welcome you with open arms, it is an incredibly friendly nation. As you journey through Swaziland you’ll see people in traditional dress, watch children dancing on the side of the road and listen to singing around the campfires. Take the opportunity to spend time with the guides on your safaris, chat with people at markets and play with the children at a local school. A simple “sawbona” (hello), creates an engaging and rewarding experience!

Exploring Swaziland on foot
One of the best places in Swaziland for serious hikers is Malolotja, the scenery is astounding and this is where we spend our first two days. Malolotja is a magical place of rolling mountains as far as the eye can see – if you saw a dragon pop up from behind one of these distant mountains, you wouldn’t be too surprised, there is a Tolkein-esque feel to the area! When walking here make sure you have a warm fleece as it I can get cold when you stop to marvel at the views.

After Malolotja we visit Sibebe Rock, the largest exposed granite pluton in the world. Although different in their geology, Sibebe is second only to Ayers Rock in Australia as the largest freestanding rock in the world. The best view of Sibebe is experienced trekking up it. There are several hiking trails to the top and this will take us up 800m and will average 2.5hrs for ascent and 1.5hrs for descent.

The next few days are at Mlilwane Nature Sanctuary, an outdoor lover’s paradise, with its well marked walking trails that are easily followed you can really get away from everything. Wildlife here has grown accustomed to people walking nearby and this makes discovering Africa an absolute pleasure. Walk amongst a “dazzle” of zebra, a herd of wildebeest and a host of antelope, listen to the plethora of birds in the bush watch the hippo and crocodile in the dam. Seeing wildlife on foot has never been so exhilarating in such a safe and secure environment.

Lastly, in the lowveld is Mbuluzi which has the best cut walking trails in the area and also the less challenging with terrain, just much more extensive! The one thing about the Mbuluzi is that it has the largest population of giraffe in the kingdom, so it is an absolute joy walking past a “journey” of giraffe. Watch theses magnificent animals slowly eat as they keep any eye on you as you trek by. Who can say that they have walked with giraffe before? Don’t forget your camera to capture your memory.

Jenny Bowen owns and runs Sense Africa, tailor-made safaris and African holidays. Read more of her blog posts here.

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