Monday 19 March 2018

Swaziland: Wild for African adventure

Swaziland: Wild for African adventure
(Others 09/11/17)

I pine for a jaunt along the N17, but unlike the emigrant in the Saw Doctors' classic my road is thousands of miles from the one through the west of Ireland.
About two hours outside Johannesburg we merged with South Africa's N17 en route to the Kingdom of Swaziland. Here, there is much more than the stone walls and green grass the Saw Doctors' character craved. Swaziland is about daytime explorations and nighttime campfires. Your soundtrack is filled with epic wild animal noises or locals singing around a cosy campfire after dinner.
Mobile phone reception on Irish handsets is patchy at best with no dependable internet access. Wi-fi is unreliable and hard to find but it's a joy to be without technology once in a while.

Travellers are forced to get back to basics, cut the umbilical cord to the outside world and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the country's warm embrace.
Swaziland is home to Africa's last true monarchy, and is ruled by King Mswati III. He is renowned for his vibrant traditional African dress sense and having more wives than you can count on two hands.

Swaziland offers travellers the chance to get to the heart of what Africa is about, enhanced further by being forced 'off the grid'.
The landlocked country, nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, is action-packed with adventure and awash with wonderful wildlife, colourful culture and stunning scenery. Up in the Highveld, after crossing the border from South Africa with our trusty tour guide, Bob, we make our way to a nearby glass-blowing factory for rest and refuelling. Swaziland is a four-hour drive east of Johannesburg. Flights from Ireland take about 11 hours via Heathrow so pit stops on the road are essential.

At the factory we are greeted by roaming peacocks and peahens before we retreat to an upstairs restaurant and a quiet sun-kissed balcony for lunch. After eating we go downstairs for a factory tour.
"Like most of what you are going to see in Swaziland, it is very sustainable," explains Chas Prettejohn, the factory's owner, as his colleagues work recycled glass using cooking oil that was discarded by an international fast food chain.

The glass is manipulated into sculptures of hippos, rhinos and giraffes, all native to Swaziland and awaiting our arrival in wildlife sanctuaries and game reserves. The country is not without its problems. HIV is a long-standing issue, resources are limited and foreign aid is important.
Nonetheless, the country has been a leading light in conservation in Southern Africa, helped in no small way by the Irish. The name Reilly is synonymous here with preserving various species of wildlife - rehoming them in the country's biggest game parks.

But before visiting Reilly's 'Big Game Parks' we make our way to Malolotja Nature Reserve and past the various zebra, impala and warthogs that loiter everywhere. After checking into our log cabins, Bob picks up a box of the local brew, Sibebe (a surprisingly good beer) and drives us to Logwadja - a nearby viewing point. There was nothing to see here for miles but rolling green hills as we watched the sunset and listened to two coyotes howling far away in the distance.
Impala is served for dinner with rice and veg (other meats and vegetarian options are also available). We eat impala regularly, ignoring any guilt fuelled by watching them roam in the wild every day. The meat is tender and delicious.

The following morning we climb into a safari jeep and are taken for a sconce of the area before an unforgettable canopy tour. Gliding above a forest on a series of ziplines looking out for birdlife while getting drunk on adrenaline would be the highlight of any other trip, but not this one. There is much more to come.
Things get even better when we go on to our first 'Big Game Park' and spend two nights sleeping in thatched beehive huts, all the while exploring the Reilly influence.

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is the birthplace of Swazi conservation. It was here Mickey Reilly, a former Irish soldier, settled early in the 1900s after falling in love with the country.
His son Ted grew up there and with the help of his dependable Land Rover, christened Jezebel, he populated the sanctuary during its formative years in the 1960s.

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