Swaziland is a very small country, particularly by African standards, at just over 17,000 sq km - slightly smaller than Wales. At Independence in 1968, the country was divided into the four regions of Hhohho, Manzini, Lubombo and Shiselweni. These regions are distinct from the four geographical zones which are based on altitude and vegetation, and run from west to east, varying in altitude from 1800 to 400 metres above sea level.
The regions of Hhohho and Shiselweni are named after old royal homesteads in these areas, Manzini is the name of Swaziland’s largest town, while Lubombo is named after the flat-topped range of mountains that run from north to south on the kingdom’s eastern border.
The boundaries were designed so that each region would have at least one sizeable town to serve as an administrative centre. Thus Hhohho, Manzini, Lubombo and Shiselweni are respectively served by Mbabane, Manzini, Siteki and Hlathikhulu. Nhlangano has superceded Hlathikhulu in size and importance in terms of employment, commercial output and services, while in the Lubombo Region, Big Bend and Simunye, the ‘company towns’ serving the vast sugar estates, are today much larger than Siteki.
This region cover the north-western part of the country and is primarily highveld land, including the beautifully scenic Malolotja and Phophonyane Nature Reserves. It also includes the country’s capital, Mbabane, and the tourism hub of the Ezulwini Valley – home to the greatest concentration of hotel and lodges. With the wonderfully accessible Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and the royal area of Lobamba, this is a region packed with places of interest, and offering all the variety that Swaziland as a whole revels in – rich culture, beautiful scenery and great wildlife experiences.
This region forms the central part of the country, covering the Highveld, middleveld and down to the lowveld. It’s highland areas include the forstery town of Mhlambanyatsi and the beautiful Ngwempisi Gorge cutting through the Ntfungulu Hills. The rural Malkerns area is best known for the amazing Malandela’s Centre – an eclectic mix of handircafts, accommodation, food and a unique performance arena. In contrast, Manzini is a bustling town that lies right next to Matsapha – the country’s main industrial area and location of the main airport.
This region takes its name from the line of mountains that form Swaziland’s eastern border with Mozambique. Apart from those mountains, the region is lowveld, characterized by vast sugar estates. It is home to the country’s greatest number of nature/wildlife reserves, including Nisela Safaris, the Mkhaya Game Reserve (one of the best places in Africa to see rhino) and the trio making up the Lubombo Conservancy: Hlane Royal National Park, Mlawaula Nature Reserve and Mbuluzi Nature Reserve. Atop the beautiful Lubombo Mountains is the Shewula Mounatin Camp – one of the country’s most successful community tourism projects.
This is probably Swaziland’s least visited region, though it straddles the south of the whole country, so including sections of the three main geographical zones – highveld, middleveld and lowveld. Nhlangano is the main town of interest, and the Mahamba Gorge offers some scenic and birdwatching delights.