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Published: June 18th 2010
Around 7am the next morning I was picked up out the front of the Durban Hostel by a couple in a van who delivered me to the backpacker centre in St Lucia - the trip was quite pleasant and St Lucia appeared to be a nice little holiday town with a fast food restaurant just down the street. I left my bag in the hostel and went and got some lunch before returning to use the internet while I waited for the bus. Around 3pm we were on our way - soon after crossing the Swazi border we caught a glimpse of giraffe through the trees so the driver stopped to allow us to take some photos.
Late in the day the Baz Bus delivered me to a drop off point just a few kilometres from the Mlilwane National Park entrance gate, the shuttle bus was waiting and delivered me to Sondzela backpackers, my accommodation located on a hill right in the middle of Swaziland’s first National Park. Mlilwane was created in the 1950’s to protect the few remaining wild animals left in Swaziland. The hostel has seen better days but it is a friendly and hospitable place, I have
a nice room and they prepare big meals, have cold beer and a games room with a TV for the World Cup.
One of the good things about Mlilwane is that the lack of predators allows travellers to walk around the park viewing a variety of species of antelope (some endangered), wildebeest, zebra, hippo, crocodile and warthog, all of which I was able to see close up during my two or three hour walk. When I returned I met a volunteer in the games room who offered to take me in his Land Rover to see some of the parks endangered Roan Antelope, the Roan is one of the larger antelope species. I also had the opportunity to see some Hippo as well which was exciting as I have only seen sleeping ones half submerged to date.
The next morning after breakfast I began the journey to Mkhaya National Park, first the shuttle dropped me at the bus stop outside the park entrance, and I climbed on the next bus travelling to the main bus station in Mbabane. These sort of places are always colourful, crazy and a little dodgy no matter where you are in the world
and Swaziland is no different, after much confusion the Slovakian chap I was with and I managed to get on the right bus.
The trip would take roughly an hour although the driver who agreed to tell us when to get off did not do so, if it wasn’t for a helpful local we would probably still be on that bus now. Still the driver missed the stop at Phuzumoya, and we had to walk back about a kilometre to the pick up point, the ranger, seeing no one get off the bus left, so by the time we arrived at the small roadside shop we were alone. We tried to call the park but couldn’t get through to anyone, fortunately the ranger came back about thirty minutes later and picked us up and drove us to the National Park.
Mkhaya was the battleground for the Rhino Wars in the early 1990’s when more than 70 percent of the rangers and nearly all the Rhinoceros were slaughtered by poachers. Mkhaya’s rangers now operate under a shoot to kill order when dealing with poachers and as a result Rhinos are making a slow recovery.
Mkhaya is one of the
highlights of the trip so far and the best park I have visited to date, I was able to get extremely close to so many animals; I was particularly amazed at the numbers of hippo, rhino, giraffe and elephant our guides managed to locate. A huge highlight was the huddle of hippo and the big male that was getting really angry with us for being so close, I had this feeling he was going to charge me. Lunch at the lodge was pleasant, we were outside and there were many animals & birds wandering amongst the tables.
After lunch we had a private tour of the park discovering more wildlife before being dropped back at the bus stop in the late afternoon. The return trip was uneventful; it was pleasant to spend the evening drinking a few beers and watching the Soccer.
The next morning I was on the road again having arranged a Baz Bus pickup just outside the park. I was soon on my way to Pretoria via Nelspruit and Johannesburg, I am staying at Kia-Ora Backpackers, a centrally located hostel with nice rooms, and they also have a small bar that is open to locals
so it is quite interesting in the evenings. I went for a walk in the afternoon to check out some of the historical buildings but found Pretoria to be a bit run down and I never feel comfortable or completely safe walking the streets here, I understand most of the white population live in suburbs outside the city centre.
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