Swaziland is a land of contrasts. This small kingdom is only 17 400 square kilometers in extent yet has scenery ranging from highland peaks to open savannah. With a population of less than a million people, Swaziland has an absorbing cultural history, and lively tradition. It borders on Mozambique to the east and South Africa to the west, and is easily accessible from both countries.
The kingdom became independent from Britain in 1968, under the leadership of King Sobhuza II, who ruled until his death in 1982. His was succeeded by one of his many sons, who was crowned King Mswati III in 1986. The Swazi people are proud of their cultural tradition, which seldom comes into conflict with the modern lifestyle that most of them enjoy.
PIGGS PEAK AND THE NORTH
The road to Piggs peak passes Malolotja Nature Reserve, which contains the second and third highest peaks in Swaziland, as well as the highest waterfall in the country. It is the perfect place for hikers and botanists, with over 1000 plant species to be find here. The journey onward passes over spectacular rocky heights and river valleys. Piggs peak was founded on the discovery of gold by William Pigg in 1884. It is now a forestry area boasting good hotels, lodges and a casino.
NHLANGANO AND THE SOUTH
A good tar road leads to the south through the grand valley, where many traditional Swazi homesteads can be seen before the road climbs out of the valley revealing splendid mountain vistas. Nhlangano means “meeting place” and is the agricultural center of Swaziland. This area also has a resort complex and casino.
South of Mbabane is a circular drive through the Usutu Forest project and the Malkerns. There are a number of excellent craft manufacturers along this route, as well as guest houses and lodges. The Usutu Forest offers some of the best fly-fishing venues in Swaziland.
The eastern half of Swaziland is covered with rolling sugar-cane plantations, cattle ranches, and the open woodland savannah of three of the county’s game reserves – Hlane, Mlawula and Mkhaya. It is the area where the rivers of Swaziland reach maturity, crossing open ground on their way to Mozambique and the Indian Ocean.
Swaziland’s game reserves exist thanks to the efforts of two men – King Sobhuza II and Ted Reilly. Between 1930 and 1960 the wildlife populations were decimated by hunting, poaching and rapid development. Ted Reilly turned his family farm in the Ezulwini Valley into a game reserve in 1959. Today Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary covers 4 450 hectares between Mbabane and Manzini.
Hlane Royal National Park is protected under the instruction of the late King Sobhuza II, and held in trust for the nation by the present King Mswati III. It features the big five, since lion were introduced to the park in 1994. Along with Mkhaya Game Reserve, these areas are managed by Big Game Parks, under the eagle eye of Ted Reilly.
Mlawula and Malolotja Nature Reserves are protected by the National Trust Commission, and offer unique opportunities to see rare antelope, plants and birds.
SPORT AND RECREATION
Swaziland offers excellent sports facilities. The Ezulwini valley is famous for its superb golf courses, the fly fishing in the Usutu forest is unparalled, and the Great Usutu River offers some of the most hair-raising whitewater one is likely to experience in a two-man raft.
Swaziland is perfect for hiking, mountain-biking and horseback trails, a number of which are available to the visitor. The country has a well established gaming industry, originating in the days when casinos were illegal in South Africa and visitors flocked to independent Swaziland to try their luck.
The Swazi people are very attached to their cultural tradition, which is centered around a powerful monarchy. Most of the prominent ceremonies are important in the affirmation of kingship, especially the Incwala or festival of the first fruits. Other colorful ceremonies are the Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, where the young girls of the nation symbolically offer themselves to the King as brides, and the Tingoma Temabhaca, danced by the young men. Visitors at these events are welcomed.
The cultural richness of Swaziland is one of its greatest attractions. Don’t miss a visit to the cultural village at Mantenga, where the visitor is introduced to some the Swazi way of life and a feast of traditional dancing. The Swazi are a nation of people who move comfortably between two worlds – proud of their past and positive about their future.