Thrill-Seeking in Swaziland
By Katie McCarthy, Click here to read Katie’s other blogs
For intrepid thrill-seekers, the Kingdom has more action squeezed into its pint-sized frame than the sardine run, and an enviable location just a sprint away from Johannesburg, Kruger and Maputo. Add these top 10 Swazi thrills and spills to your adventure bucket-list today and book your trip to the Kingdom of adventure.
The Kingdom opens up like a tardis when you enter, exposing wild rugged landscapes, cascading waterfalls and enough blood-pumping activities to keep you entranced long after you leave.
River-rafting on the Kingdom’s longest river, the Great Usutu, is Swaziland’s most iconic adventure activity. Rated as being the best white-water south of the mighty Zambesi, trips depart throughout the year and include challenge Grade III and Grade IV rapids using 2-man inflatable rafts. Favourite rapids include the ‘Monica Lewinsky’ (don’t ask!), ‘Station Rapid’ and ‘The Initiator’.
No prior experience or skill is necessary and all equipment including life-jackets and helmets are provided. With guaranteed departures for only 2 people, online booking and an option of ½ day, full day and raft-abseiling combo trips, it’s never been easier to go big in Swaziland.
This activity (from R820pp for a ½ day) departs from the Swazi Trails office based in Swaziland’s main tourist hub, the beautiful Ezulwini Valley. There’s nearby accommodation to suit all budgets and tastes, including camping, dorms or private rooms at both Swazi Trails’ own Legends Backpackers (Dorms from R127.50pp) and Sondzela Backpackers located within Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Dorms from R100pp). Mlilwane also offers en-suite Swazi Beehive Huts (From R380pp B&B) which give you a sense of Swazi living, and for those looking for a little bit of luxury in a beautiful setting Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge (From R880pp D,B&B) comes AA Highly Recommended. For a real splurge and the option of a bit of post-rafting ‘Cuddle Puddle’ action at their thermal springs, The Royal Swazi Spa (R1977pr pn) is ideal.
Recently hailed as ‘…on par with a mountain gorilla encounter in Central Africa’ by photo-journalist Stephen Cunliffe, the walking safari included in Mkhaya Game Reserve’s award-winning 24hr+ Package is at once breathtaking and excellent value for money. When contemplating getting the most bang for your buck, it’s worth noting that the price includes park entry, all meals, all activities and truly unique accommodation. In fact Mkhaya recently also won the ‘AA Travellers Value Award for Top-End Leisure Travellers’ in Southern Africa.
Expect up-close photographic opportunities with white and, if you’re lucky, black rhinos, unique semi-open stone and thatched cottages and hearty four course meals beneath a giant sausage tree.
SWAZI RHINO UPDATE
The reserve is currently on ‘high alert’ due to the massive threat of rhino poaching which has spiraled out of control in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and which almost took root again in Swaziland in 2011 when its sister reserve, Hlane Royal National Park lost two rhino. Mozambique’s rhino have now become extinct for the 3rd time, while South Africa’s rhino are being poached at an unprecedented and unsustainable level. Mkhaya is managed by the pioneers of conservation in Swaziland, Big Game Parks (BGP) – a private, not-for-profit trust. It hasn’t lost a single rhino to poaching in over 20 years (touch wood!). The company provides employment to over 300 Swazis and is completely self-sustaining through tourism receipts. Without government subvention, support from the public in visiting the reserve is much appreciated as a means to maintain this exciting conservation success story.
A 24hr + Stay (All Inclusive, fixed pick-up at 10h00– drop off at 16h00, 1 ½ days) is R2110pp sh though there are packages available which don’t include the walking safari from R620pp (Day Tour) and R1420pp (D,B&B).
Adventure Caving is one of Swaziland’s most famous adrenaline pursuits. Launched in April 1999, following the exploration of the unique Gobholo Cave system, Swazi Trails now offer amateur explorers the opportunity to get underground in true speleological fashion. Water-eroded chambers include the ‘Key Hole’, ‘French Connection’ and for Harry Potter fans; ‘Platform Nine & Three-Quarters’. Headlamps, battery packs, muddy passages, bats and lots of total darkness are all part of the experience – ideal for first-timers, as well as dedicated spelunking experts.
The Gobholo Caves are a very unusual geological formation. There are very few granite caves in the world, with information generally only available on sites in Sweden and the USA. This is the only known major granite cave system in Southern Africa and thus presents a unique geological experience. With only 5% of the cave having been explored, this is a truly authentic adventure.
Half day or evening excursions are available on a daily basis from R650pp.
Short on time? Opt for a 3-in-1 activity based in Swaziland’s Ezulwini ‘Valley of the Heavens’, which includes horse-riding, a safari and a night spent in an authentic San Bushman cave. Run by Chubeka Trails, riders depart from Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary’s Rest Camp, meandering through the reserve’s stunning plains alongside galloping Zebra, Wildebeest or Blesbok.
The trail follows the slopes of Swaziland’s infamous ‘Rock of Execution’ where in bygone years unfortunate souls met their untimely end. Only beautiful views and a delicious lunch are on the cards now, thankfully. On arrival at the cave just before sunset, riders enjoy a traditional dinner over the fire, plus roasted marshmallows and a drop of sherry, while viewing the remnants of San Bushman paintings on the cave walls.
This fully-catered overnight Cave Trail will set you back R1355pp. Other activities run by Chubeka Trails include hourly rides (R150pp ph), the ‘Rock of Execution Challenge’ which lasts 3-4hr (R570pp) and the 2 night ‘Klipspringer Trail’ (R2755pp).
Located 10km outside of Mbabane in the aptly named ‘Pine Valley’, Sibebe is 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 – a definite adventure bucket-list must-do!
Trails to the summit range from the gruelling ‘steepest walk in the world’ to much more gentle, slower ascents. The ascent reaches 800m and averages 2.5hrs, and 1.5hrs for descent. Incredible views, caves, waterfalls and swimming holes come as standard.
Walking tours start from the visitor centre at Mbuluzi Gate which opens at 8:00am and cost around E25 per person. The tours are run by local community members as part of Swaziland’s Community Tourism Programme.
Home to Swaziland’s annual Imvelo MTB Classic which this year sold out in just 3 days; make sure you hit the awesome single track in Swaziland’s pioneer nature reserve Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, and keep 7th June 2014 free for the ride of your life – Imvelo 2014! Proceeds go to Big Game Parks’ community and conservation projects account, which this year saw the whole Hlabazonke community bordering the reserve receiving clean water for washing, cattle sustenance, irrigation and human consumption.
Once you’ve paid the conservation entry fee of R40pp (or free for valid Wild Card holders) you can ride your own bike unguided for free amongst the plains game, or hire one of the reserve’s own well-maintained mountain bikes guided (R130pp ph) or unguided (R120pp ph). While there are tracks for all levels of rider, avid mountain bikers should see if they can conquer Swaziland’s infamous ‘Rock of Execution’ – not for the faint-hearted!
Facilities within the reserve include the popular ‘Hippo Haunt Restaurant’, Braai/BBQ areas, swimming pool, activity centre and accommodation to suit all preferences. Choose from camping & caravanning (from R90pp), en-suite Beehive Huts & Rest Camp Huts (from R315pp), Self-catering Cottages (from R330pp) or a luxury Lodge (from R830pp).
Combine adrenaline and incredible vistas in one of Swaziland’s most enchanting wilderness areas, Malolotja Nature Reserve. This 3-4 hour Canopy Tour involves zipping between platforms near the tops of trees and criss-crossing a gorge from cliff-face to cliff-face.
Under the careful guidance of canopy tour guides, participants glide effortlessly from platform to platform.
Participants are clipped into safety lines at all times, and although braking (to reduce speed) is done manually by the individual, back-up safety systems are in place to slow down those who may need assistance.
Spectacular scenery, exciting river adventure, incredibly unique accommodation and a special interaction with rural Swazis – this is what a 2-day tubing adventure along the Ngwempisi has in store.
On this adventure run by All Out Africa, the beautiful Ngwempisi River and gorge is explored for around three hours from the comfort a river tube. This is followed by a walk up to the Kingdom’s famous Rock Lodge (featured) where lodge guides await with ice cold drinks. The lodge itself is an attraction in its own right: a rustic tree house-type structure built into clusters of giant boulders high up on a ridge which overlooks a magnificent gorge. An apt den for feasting and reminiscing about the day around a roaring fire.
This 2 day Adventure Tubing package is from R1200pp.
This quad trail was custom-designed and has been described as one of the most interesting all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) tracks in Southern Africa. Known as the Devil’s Cauldron, the area was once an active tin mine in the early 1900′s and is now totally re-forested and inhabited by a variety of bird and wildlife species. All that remains of the mine workings are deep gullies, or as they are known locally dongas – ripe for some challenging quad-biking!
There is hardly 20m of straight track, with twists, turns and corners being the order of the day. Swazi Trails run the activity with the Suzuki Ozark LTF250. This powerful bike with a semi-automatic clutch system is ideal for beginners, but also fun for more experienced quad-riders.
Hlane Royal National Park, Swaziland’s largest reserve and home to the largest herds of game in the Kingdom, is close to Mozambique and encompasses 22,000 hectares of Swazi bushveld dominated by ancient hardwood vegetation. Home to Lion, Leopard, Elephant, White Rhino and Giraffe, Hlane is also blessed with an abundant and diverse bird life, including the highest density of nesting white backed tree-nesting vultures in Africa.
With the exception of the Lion area, visitors can explore the reserve unguided in their own vehicle and end the day, sundowner in hand, in a semi-open restaurant overlooking a waterhole frequented by Elephant and White Rhino.
Must-sees while self-driving include Marabou Stork Nests, the ‘Hunter’s Rock’ viewpoint and the Mahlindza Waterhole – all recently featured in Wild Magazine.
While a wide range of accommodation is available from camping to self-catering cottages, intrepid explorers may want to get back to basics on the fully-catered one or two night ‘Ehlatsini Overnight Bush Trails’.
With Swaziland’s capital Mbabane located only a few hours from Johannesburg, it greatly benefits from the access and infrastructure of South Africa’s international hub.
For full details on how to get to Swaziland including intercontinental flights to Johannesburg, flights to Swaziland, luxury minibus shuttles from OR Tambo Airport, and essential border, passport and visa information, visit: www.thekingdomofswaziland.com
For all accommodation and activity bookings in Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve including Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge, Sondzela Backpackers &Chubeka Trails contact:
• +268 2528 3943/4
To book White Water Rafting, Quad-Biking, the Malolotja Canopy Tour, Tubing, Hiking at Sibebe, Adventure Caving or accommodation at Lidwala Backpackers or at The Royal Swazi Spa contact:
• +268 2416 2180
To book Adventure Tubing, contact All Out Africa at:
• +268 416 2260
Note: Prices quoted in this article are a guideline based on 2013 rates. Prices may fluctuate, are subject to availability and exclude local government bed levies and reserve entrance fees where applicable.