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AFRICA!  Mlilwane, Swaziland
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland's pioneer conservation area, has traditional beehive huts, wildlife and a hike to Execution Rock.

June 17 continued ...

When we first crossed into the Kingdom of Swaziland, it seemed that the poverty we had witnessed in Mozambique continued, but the image did not last long. The roads and buildings were more modern; for example, lunch was had at a shopping mall which held a Woolworth’s, Pick ‘n Pay grocery store, a couple of fast food outlets, a coffee shop and a Chinese Restaurant ... we might have been in California.

After lunch we stopped to do some craft shopping ... well, for us craft looking. The row of about 140 roughly constructed shops, topped with corrugated metal roofs stretched on for 400 +/- metres. At the entrance to each shop the salesperson would greet us in a friendly manner and invite us to look deeper into their 2 x 6 metre space (not counting the additional space they used in front). As soon as we stepped out of their zone they stopped talking and the next salesperson greeted us and invited us to view their crafts. Many of the crafts were similar ... enough to be mass produced ... while a few showed evidence of their being made on site. It was a pleasant experience and had we not been looking forward to weeks of backpacking travel ahead, there were a couple of items which caught our attention.

In the early evening, we arrived at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Mlilwane, Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area, is a beautifully secluded 4,560 hectares in the "Valley of Heaven" [Ezulwini Valley] overlooked by a granite peak known as the "Rock of Execution". This is where the San [bush people] once lived and where Swazi Royals were buried.

For the next two nights we would be staying within the sanctuary ... along with hippo, crocodile, warthog, giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest, kudu, impala and other antelope plus an abundance of bird life ... no fences ... the wildlife roam free within the sanctuary.

We would sleep in traditional Swazi dwellings ... grass dome-shaped, windowless "beehive huts", arranged in a circle around central log fires and seating areas. Crouching through the short doorway the huts were simply furnished with pole beds, a small table, a fan suspended from the high domed ceiling, a wardrobe and our own ensuite.

A short G.A.P Adventures group meeting was held and our activities for tomorrow booked . Terry wanted to take a self directed hike up to Execution Rock and we both booked horseback riding for the afternoon.

The main lodge is a beautiful upscale-rustic African building. Lots of pole beams, high ceilings and open sides. The buffet dinner was outstanding and we finished off the evening with a drink and good conversation around the big fire pit.

It was late when we made our way back to our beehive hut. We could hear animals close by ... our eyes searched the moonlit darkness ... and our pace quickened.



June 18

We woke to a drizzly day ... the first such day we have had since arriving in Africa. If we are to have such a day, Mlilwane lodge is an ideal place to spend it.

We enjoyed a substantial and tasty breakfast in the open air dining area (it has a roof) overlooking a small lake which they affectionately call "the pool". A sign on a chair near the railing warned not to lean over the railing as "crocodiles can leap 2 metres".

In the same way as one hectare of grazing land can sustain only a given number of cattle or other grazing animal, a body of water can only sustain so many fish.

If we were to suppose the little lake here could sustain 100 kilograms of fish; one would either have 100 fish of 1kg each or 10 fish of 10kg each or a mix of weight totalling 100 kg. The barbie, or African catfish, is a successful species in most African warm waters and attains weights of 20kg or more. Beyond 10kg the barbie has only two predators ... man and crocodile. Predators of lesser size, such as otter, fish eagles, other fish, birds and mongoose are too small to cope with large barbies.

Therefore, if Nile crocodiles were absent from "the pool", it is conceivable that 10 big barbies could monopolize the pool, displacing all other fish. Since barbies are extremely successful predators and well adapted at sucking up fish eggs, a virtual state of stagnancy could follow eliminating the diversity so necessary to sustain a variety of natural wildlife. The presence of crocodiles ensures that not all of the big barbie survive and therefore makes it possible for other wildlife to sustain a living from this pool.

Crocodiles are endangered in Swaziland. The public image of the crocodile is not an attractive one. Many people are repulsed by its "evil eye" and threat to human life. There is more chance of dying in a car accident than being taken by a croc. Seen in perspective crocodiles contribute environmental and ecological benefits.

A croc glided by with only its eyes and part of its snout causing a shallow ripple on the rain speckled surface. A heron was watchful.

While Sherrie stayed in this pleasant spot and added to the journal, Terry, Andrea, Jess and Jack hiked to the top of Execution Rock.

As they crossed open fields and began their climb, warthogs, blesbok, impala and a variety of birds watched their progress.


Execution Rock is so named because according to history it was here that the King’s enemies were marched up to a scenic point overlooking the valley and encouraged ... at the tip of a spear ... to make their last jump.

The panoramic view from the peak was worth the climb even though rain clouds threatened a downpour ... which did not happen other than in small bursts.

Not only did the climb get the heart pumping but the walk back around the Hippo Pond was also a major contributor to their elevated pulse rate. They could hear hippos in the water and along the edge of the pond but couldn’t see them in the dense brush being passed through. At one point they stopped on a small cliff overlooking the pond but no hippos were sighted. A little further along the trail they could look back at the small cliff and were more than a little rattled to see a large crocodile on a small ledge not more than four metres below where they had been standing only minutes earlier. YIKES!

The trail crossed a narrow land-bridge dam at the end of the pond and two crocodiles were spotted on a small island just off shore ... the question was ... where were the others? Single file ... when the first one got across without incident it only made the last one in line more nervous. All four made it back to the lodge with all body parts intact and joined the others for lunch while watching crocodile and bird happenings in "the pool".


The rain was enough that the lodge deemed it too slippery to ride horses so the afternoon’s activity was cancelled and we used the rest of the afternoon for quiet down time.

Another delicious buffet dinner and another chat around the evening fire.




June 19

The skies were still overcast and the air a little cold when we left our beehive hut and walked passed impala to the main lodge.

The long logs from last nights fire were still burning. Three warthogs stood with their sides to the fire’s warming glow. Once that side was warm each would slowly turn so its other side would catch some of the heat ... the move would be repeated and then repeated again. Self-rotisserie pigs!


The hippopotamus were already back in the water, where they spend their days after grazing on land through the night. Hippos are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than by any other wild animal or reptile. Such lethal attacks usually occur along the banks of rivers or lakes near dawn, dusk or at night when people inadvertently cut off its path to the water. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive animals in the world, very territorial of their water space and, despite their blocky build and short legs, they can easily outrun a human ... reaching up to 48 km/h (30 mph) for short distances.

As much as we could have easily settled in at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary for a few more days, other African sights and experiences were farther down the road.


We drove through Manzini, Swaziland’s largest city and it’s industrial hub. In the "suburbs" we passed the home of one of the king’s wives.

At the time of becoming king the man chosen by the Royal Council must be unmarried. The monarchy is a dual one with the balance of power lying with the King (lion) and the Queen Mother (she elephant).


The King never marries within his own tribe (Dlamini) but is expected to choose wives from various clans to ensure national unity. He selects a new wife from the yearly Umhlanga or "Reed Dance" which takes place in late August or early September and is a ceremony which attracts young maidens from all over the Kingdom. Over 20,000 maidens gather reeds from selected areas and on the day of the Umhlanga, after much bathing and grooming, they appear before the King and Queen Mother. The girls wear short beaded skirts with anklets, bracelets and jewellery and colourful sashes.

Swaziland’s social structure is based on a clan system and through marriage, these clans have intermingled, although there is a class system which regulates marriage. Within the aristocracy the first wife is never the senior wife and a second wife of higher status will take precedence. A preferential marriage arranged by the parents bestows a higher status on the union, forming a permanent bond between the two families. The bridegroom’s family pays "lobola" (a dowry) in the form of cattle ... the number in keeping with the bride’s family status. The rights of fatherhood are acquired through lobola and if no cattle have been given, any child born of the union remains within the mother’s family.

Children are taught to share both the good things and problems of life with other family members. Discipline and share of family responsibility are imparted from an early age and the authority of the father respected and obeyed. Boys are taught by male members of the family to assume male roles and skills, while girls similarly learn from their mothers and female relatives. Grandparents teach the young to respect their parents and old age is treated with reverence within the culture.

Boys enter regiments in which they train with their peers, developing with the same group throughout life, and members of the regiments are expected to support each other. Only when a young man achieves mature warrior status may he consider courtship as his earlier responsibilities involved participation in national projects and rituals.


We moved across the border from Swaziland into South Africa’s province of KwaZulu Natal.

continue to South Africa part 2 ...

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