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Backpacker Owners Blown Away after five days of fun in Swaziland! By Ann Reilly

Posted on: Thursday, December 20, 2012
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Invitations were circulated, and applications came in fast and furious for Swaziland Tourism Authority’s 5-day, action-packed Backpackers Educational programme. Who wouldn’t snap this one up?! People flew from Cape Town while others drove north from Port St Johns…this trip was not to be missed!

Following months of preparation, 18 South African backpacker owners and managers arrived in Swaziland, representing Mphumalanga, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KZN (Drakensberg, Durban and Zululand) – a real mixed bunch! We even had ICE Cards from USA, members of SAYTC, join the fun. The initiative was a collaborative effort between Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA), participating Swaziland backpacker lodges and very valuable support from SAYTC.

The aim of the trip was to give influential people (owners & managers) within the backpackers community a wicked first hand experience of what our unique Kingdom has to offer, to enable them to spread the word to travellers and friends. As with all educationals, the geographically diverse group, time together and experiences shared provided an invaluable and fun networking platform.

So the itinerary was plump with 5 backpacker lodges, 7 activities (culture, nature, adrenalin, soft adventure), poetry and parties showing how accessible Swaziland is to tourists.

While we had a few self-drive participants, most hopped on board STA transport in both Durban and Johannesburg – the fun and networking began before crossing the border. Despite someone leaving their passport and the STA guide making a quick plan, both groups arrived at Hawane Backpackers on the 3rd December, in time for a site inspection of the old stable barn creatively converted into a great dormitory.

Next up was Malolotja Canopy Tour – a must for anyone visiting Swaziland. Set in Swaziland’s pristine mountain park, Malolotja National Park, the scenery is spectacular and the feedback on the guiding was superb. Malolotja Canopy Tour was rated by more than one guest as “Better than Tsitsikama”!

Having zipped into the Swazi feel, the group dropped into the Ezulwini Valley for their official warm welcome dinner at Lidwala Lodge, joined by STA and other backpacker owners. Here they wondered through the beautifully kept gardens before settling to a feast of Swazi proportions and learning about All Out Africa’s volunteer projects in Swaziland.

No time to dawdle though – Swazi Trails was there bright and early on day 2, sporting croc rafts for a full day of adventure – White Water rafting on the Great Usuthu River, complete with challenging grade 4 rapids in central Swaziland. The river winds through both rural and agricultural lands, with a fabulous waterfall carved through solid rock – ideal for abseiling too. Night 2 was welcomed with complimentary pizzas and comfy beds at Legends Backpackers, Mantenga.

Another early morning dragged our adventurers out of bed and into rural Swaziland with Woza Nawe, Myxo’s Tours. This was a long drive, but the accessibility of real rural Swazi culture was obvious and left everyone wishing to know more. But time was tight and the schedule full… so off to Sondzela Backpackers for a taste of safari.

Sondzela Backpackers is unique in that it is located within Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. On arrival, the 4x4’s were waiting to get the group up the infamous Nyonyane Mountain (Execution Rock) to cheers day 3, overlooking Mantenga, Ezulwini and Malkerns Valleys. Being summer, a thunderstorm brought this to an abrupt end, sending our group scuttling back to poetry by local poet, Bonisile Nxumalo and guitarist David Mkhonta, cozy and comfy around the campfire.

A slightly less hurried 4th morning was spent on chilled game-viewing activities on Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, with options of horse riding, mountain biking and hiking with a local Swazi guide. The ability to get ‘up close and personal’ with the animals was another highlight, with a few people having their debut horse ride – a lifer experience!

Educationals are about imparting knowledge – something All Out Africa excelled at with their highly rated Lobamba Cultural Village & Walking Tour, producing eager historical and cultural scholars of note among our group.

If anyone thought night 4 was a good time to slow down, Bombasos Backpackers in Mbabane had other ideas – they put on a party to rival any city night life! And on the final morning, Bombasos led our slightly sensitive guests to a stunning rock pool near Sibebe Rock to cleanse and soak up the Swazi sun before heading home via Ngwenya Glass and an opportunity to buy beautifully hand-blown gifts and momentos.

And so ended a fabulous 5-day Swazi Adventure, with options not exhausted.

Feedback from the participants says it all:

• The week in Swazi was AMAZING!!!!!!! Thanks so much for the incredible experience, what a week it was, hoping to send lots and lots of business that way.
• Thank you and all the service providers involved. By all accounts a monumental success & very well organised.
• Awesome memories and wonderful hosts not to mention the surprisingly beautiful scenery!
• I have come away with so much more insight into what Swaziland has to offer, seen some spectacular scenery, stayed in fabulous places, networked as much as possible ;) and met some amazing people, with whom I would love to keep in touch. Please pass this on to each and every one of you and I really appreciate all the time, effort, organisation, kindness thought and generosity gone in to making it possible.
• Let's hope Mpumalanga can do this one day!!!

The top 4 activities:

White Water Rafting
• Great experience, very professional & adventurous. Highly recommended
• Excellent!! Best ever!! 100%

Malolotja Canopy Tour
• Great fun and better than Tsitsikama

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Chubeka Horse Trails)
• Awesome fun, very well trained horses & very organised
• The guide was excellent and really safety conscious

All Out Africa Cultural Tour
• Best cultural tour ever! Fantastic tour, cheap, knowledgeable, good interaction
• Awesome tour. Great value, superb great guide, very informative, and good mix of history and current culture. One of the best cultural tours I've seen.

And the highlights:
Almost all the activities were mentioned, but White Water Rafting got the most mentions, followed by Malolotja Canopy Tour and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary’s Horse Riding. On the cultural front, All Out Africa’s Cultural Tour is not to be missed either!

Well-travelled Carla from Salty Crax in Cape Town sums up her highlight beautifully:
• Swaziland! I am so impressed at what it has to offer… the people, scenery, river rafting, horse riding, sondzela, braai at Lidwala. Swaziland is now in my top African countries!
While SA Volunteer Experiences could not decide:
• Many highlights!

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