Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary – Swaziland
After our adventures in Kruger National Park and the Manyeleti Game Reserve, we headed south to Swaziland. We planned to finish our African family safari with a bit of luxury and some Swaziland sightseeing. However, we still had one more wildlife safari experience to go, the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
To help offset our expensive accommodation costs in the South African game parks, we decided to stay at Sondzela Backpackers. This is a very unique place, being a backpackers hostel inside a game reserve. However, we didn’t go so far as to stay in a dorm room, they have private rooms in a classic African rondavel style.
These private rooms are located up the hill from the main hostel building, with a nice view into the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
We could even see some wildlife from our room.
We did have a bit of trouble finding our accommodation. We ended up having to ask at the main Mlilwane gate, where a ranger offered to show us the way. It was a win/win situation as we were able to give him a ride to somewhere close to his home, saving him a long walk. The way he casually slung his rifle into the back seat next to Lachlan was a bit disconcerting, but he was very helpful in getting us to Sondzela.
Unfortunately, the advantage of Sondzela Backpackers being in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary was negated somewhat while we were there by the fact that a bridge was under construction. This meant that we had to drive outside the sanctuary and enter via the main gate instead of being able to drive directly into the park from Sondzela.
Following a good night’s sleep we were up bright and early the next day. After breakfast cooked over an open fire we were ready for our day’s adventures.
Self-driving Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
There are a number of activities you can do in the park. Because there are no lions, rhino or elephant it can be explored by bicycle or on foot. There are crocodiles, so swimming is not on the agenda (except for the pool at Sondzela Backpackers). However, because we only had one full day in the park we decided to drive. The weather was beautiful, and due to the lack of dangerous animals we could drive with the windows down, which was pleasant.
The first animal we came across was a warthog. It interesting to see that his coloring was different to those that we had seen in South Africa – more brown.
We soon came across a lake, formed by a weir on the Mhlangeni River. Getting out of the car to stretch our legs and we saw a nice view. There didn’t seem to be anything dangerous lurking in the water, but later we would see why there wasn’t anybody swimming.
There were a few zebras in the park. Without any predators they were fairly relaxed and we could get closer to them than we had been in any of the South African reserves.
There was quite a lot of birdlife in the park, with the most plentiful bird being the white-fronted bee eater.
As well as seeing lots of these little guys out and about, we came across a creek bed where they made their homes. We were surprised to see they lived in holes, not nests.
We followed the road up to a viewpoint that looked out over the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Ezulwini Valley that surrounds it.
A feature of the park is the variety of antelope species that can be seen. We saw quite a few here that we hadn’t seen in South Africa.
Interestingly, it was in Swaziland that we saw springboks, not South Africa.
The sanctuary has a program helping to preserve the roan antelope. Although not endangered yet, habitat loss and poaching are threats to this species, and population is declining. They are one of the largest antelope, and are quite an impressive sight.
Hippos and Crocs
Towards the end of our day’s adventures, we came across a series of viewpoints that overlooked the water. This was on the opposite side of the lake from where we had been early in our drive. This is where the hippos and crocodiles were lurking (or maybe just lounging in the sun).
Is Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary Worth a Visit?
We enjoyed our day in Mlilwane. It was definitely a different experience to the private game reserves we visited in South Africa (the Entabeni Safari Conservancy and the Manyeleti Game Reserve), and also quite different to Kruger National Park. Without the “superstar” animals like lion and elephant it was a more low-key experience, but it was nice to get close to the animals. If we had more time there than one day, walking or cycling through the animals would have been a unique experience.
I wouldn’t recommend this place as the only safari experience on your trip to Africa, but it is a good addition to an itinerary where you are covering the Big Five and other predators in other places like Kruger National Park or a private reserve. The lack of dangerous predators and options for activities beyond riding in vehicles also makes it a great place for kids.
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