15.06.2017 - 24.06.2017 16 °C
Leaving the Kruger Park bubble behind after our five-night stay, we spent the next night in Malelane, where it was great to enjoy the afternoon sun by the pool, our first pool use since leaving The Philippines! The next day we waved South Africa goodbye to head across the border to neighbouring Swaziland, a country small enough to give Northern Ireland a run for its money, so small in fact that it would fit comfortably within the perimeters of the Kruger Park!
After the initial excitement of another stamp in our passports (it never gets old!) it was great to see the beauty of Swaziland spread out before us, a country I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of until my doctor/travel agent husband started piecing this trip together! Swaziland is an interesting country as it is ruled by a monarch, the current King Mswati III, who makes all the big decisions including who makes up the government. Knowing a little of the corruption within politics in South Africa, it sounded to me a little concerning that one man is calling all the shots in the neighbouring Swaziland. However, on learning a little more about the current king, he appears to be popular amongst locals and is portrayed as having Swaziland’s best interests at heart.
We visited Nsangwini Rock Art, original caveman art which can only be reached by a fairly bumpy 7km dirt road drive and then a 20-minute hike. Dating the exact age of the art seems fairly vague, but it is estimated it could be up to 4000 years old, and it was interesting to hear about its meanings from a local guide. For our first night in Swaziland we stayed at ‘Maguga Lodge’, in a traditional style rondavel overlooking the impressive Maguga Dam. Water is very precious in Africa, so they need to make use of every last drop, a bit of an alien concept to us!
We stayed three more nights in Swaziland, all of which were in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a fantastic wildlife park because as there are no carnivorous game (as long as you steer clear of the crocodiles!), and as long as you don’t irritate the hippos, you are able to roam free unguided amongst the wildlife! During our stay we made full use of this, going for plenty of runs and walks and meeting lots of wildlife along the way. The most spectacular view in the park was from ‘Execution Peak’, so named as it was originally where those sentenced to death in the area were forced to jump off! We loved staying right in the middle of the park and had a beautiful rondavel where warthogs, zebra and impala grazed right on our doorstep.
During our stay in Mlilwane we also took a daytrip to Hlane Royal National Park with the hope of locating rhino, the last of ‘The Big 5’ we’d yet to see! It’s very sad that due to rhino poaching, numbers of these magnificent animals are dwindling rapidly. in the Kruger at least one rhino a day is killed by poachers, therefore they’ve become a rare sight. Apparently a rhino horn can be sold for up to 70000 US dollars, which explains the reason behind the sad situation. We spent the morning driving around the park seeing plenty of wildlife, but as we stopped to have our picnic lunch we were still yet to spot any of the illustrious rhino. We were therefore pretty frustrated when we realised we’d forgotten our lunch and would have to cut our visit short to go and buy an alternative! It’s funny how things work out, as we ended up stopping at the park restaurant to eat, timing it perfectly to see two groups of rhino (5 in total) at a nearby watering hole, who we would have missed had we remembered our pack lunch! It was an incredible sight to see them drinking right next to hippos having a splash, and one that was worth all the effort.
The next day it was wonderful to enjoy the amazing, mountainous Swaziland scenery one last time before crossing back over to South Africa, not that the views in South Africa are too bad either! Heading South-West, we spent a night just outside of Vryheid on a beautiful dairy farm, which featured animals we’re much more used to at home than the big game we’ve been seeing the last few weeks on safari!
From Vryheid we travelled onwards to Rorke’s Drift, the location of a famous battle in the Anglo-Zulu war in 1879. Richard was aware of my sketchy historical knowledge, and so we prepped the night before by watching the film, ‘Zulu’, made about the battle! The battle at Rorke’s Drift followed the battle of Isandlwana, where over a thousand British soldiers were killed by the Zulu army. 4000 Zulus then descended on the small settlement at Rorke’s Drift, where just over 100 British managed somehow to hold them off and survive, earning 11 Victoria Crosses in the process! We stayed at the amazing, rural location of ‘Rorke’s Drift Lodge’ nearby, with incredible unspoilt views across the mountains. We loved being able to explore the walking routes on their land, and admire the views from all angles!
We continued to travel towards the Drakensberg Mountains, spending a night in Harrismith to break up the journey. From there we moved on to our highest stay of the trip at ‘Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge,’ 2200m above sea level. Our purpose for staying there (aside from the spectacular views) was to climb the nearby Sentinel Peak. Our first attempt was cut short by dense mist and cold temperatures, so we were thrilled the next day to see the fog lifting as we ate breakfast, just in time for our second attempt!
We needed a good challenge to get over the disappointment from watching the first Lions vs All Blacks test, and we certainly got it at Sentinel Peak. It is an incredible hike, ascending to over 3050m altitude. It begins with a steep trail, which culminates in a set of chain ladders to scale the sheer rock cliff up to the flat plateau at Mont-Aux-Sources. The views were absolutely breath-taking and we were incredibly lucky to have clear conditions on top. It is a surreal experience to be hiking uphill and climbing ladders to then pop out on the mountain plateau and be walking around on flat land. These huge mountain plateaus are what the Drakensberg is known for, and something we have particularly enjoyed seeing as the scenery is so different from anything we’ve seen before.
Nsangwini Rock Art
Good to know when there is danger ahead!
Warthogs by the pool in Mlilwane
Early morning mist in Mlilwane
Rhino in Hlane
Aloe vera at Vryheid
Richard's new pals in Vryheid
Breakfast at Rorke's Drift Lodge
Climbing Sentinel Peak