Exploring Tourism in Swaziland
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Malolotja Nature Reserve

Mbabane, Swaziland

Malolotja is one of the very best highland reserves in southern Africa, its 18,000ha wilderness of high rolling hills and deep forested river gorges offering a genuine wilderness in which hikers can lose themselves for days. The Malolotja river rises in the reserve, plunging over the 95m Malolotja Falls on its way to the Nkomati river, which cuts east towards the Indian Ocean. The rocks beneath Malolotja are among the oldest in the world – some, known as the Swaziland Supergroup, having being laid down as ocean sediment over 3.5 billion years ago, before metamorphosing under heat and pressure into the shales and quartzites we see today. The reserve entrance is just a 30-minute drive from either Mbabane or Piggs Peak. Visitors can stay at the campsite or in self-catering log cabins. Alternatively they can stay in traditional beehive chalets – complete with modern interiors – at nearby Hawane resort, which runs activities into and around the reserve, including horse-riding. A small dam at Hawane is good for bird watching and fishing.

The Malolotja wildlife experience is more about quality than quantity. You won’t see as many species as on the lowveld reserves, but you might see one or two more unusual ones. Among the larger mammals are grazers such as blesbok, zebra, blue wildebeest and the rare black wildebeest. Smaller antelope include grey rhebok, mountain reedbuck and oribi. A few shy leopard roam the hills and gorges, while serval and aardwolf stalk the grasslands and baboons patrol the ridges. Look out for aardvark diggings and the scattered quills of porcupines. Malolotja has many treats for birders. The main drawcard is the endangered blue swallow. Other specials include Gurney’s sugarbird, ground woodpecker, Denham’s bustard and southern bald ibis – the last of these breeding on the cliffs above the falls. Malolotja is also home to localised reptiles, such as the Swazi thick-tailed rock gecko.

Fabulous displays of wild flowers thrive during the spring months (October & November), with lilies, orchids and red-hot pokers, while the valley floors support two threatened species of cycad.

Malolotja’s 200km of trails offer some of the finest hiking in southern Africa, from gentle morning walks to multi-day wilderness hikes. Malolotja’s climate is highly variable, and hikers should come prepared for all weather. A limited network of rough roads is not really designed for game viewing but serves to reach the trailheads. Mountain bikes can be hired at the entrance gate. For a more adrenaline-charged experience, the Malolotja Canopy Tour comprises a 50m suspension bridge and 11 wooden platforms ingeniously affixed to the steep sides of Silotshwane Gorge. Participants zip-line from platform to platform on a steel cable high above the forest canopy and Majolomba river.

While visiting Malolotja, don’t miss the stone-carver stalls near the entrance. Their products are among the best of their kind in Swaziland. Made mostly of soapstone, an easily workable local rock, their natural grey-green colour is enhanced by oiling or darkened with shoe polish.

Without doubt, Malolotja should be on the itinerary of every adventure-seeker or scenery-lover visiting southern Africa.

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