Exploring Tourism in Swaziland
icon Worldwideicon
Places to Visit Details

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Manzini, Swaziland

In the lovely Ezulwini Valley, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Swaziland's first conservation areas and its most popular game reserve. It was established by Ted and Elizabeth Reilly, who turned their farm at Mlilwane into a game reserve with the support of King Sobhuza II. The non-profit Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, has now grown to 4,560 hectares of wilderness surrounded by the Nyonyane ("Place of the Little Bird") Mountains. Originally animals and plants were introduced to the reserve from far afield, but today, the Mlilwane Sanctuary is home to more than 400 species of birds and many animals, including zebras, vervet monkeys, crocodiles, warthogs, caracals, hippos, and antelopes. The sanctuary offers plenty of activities. The lineup includes game drives, nature walks, mountain biking, horseback rides, a village cultural experience, and swimming in the rest camp's pool. Accommodation caters to campers and backpackers as well as those seeking a little more comfort with self-contained cottages, traditional Swazi-style beehive huts, and a luxury hilltop lodge.

Mlilwane is Eswatini’s (Swaziland’s) best-known nature reserve. It was here in 1961 that Ted Reilly – whose father had settled at the property in 1906 – first took action to save what remained of the kingdom’s wildlife, converting it into a sanctuary and rounding up animals from elsewhere around the country before they were hunted out. Although Big Game Parks – the independent conservation trust that Reilly subsequently founded – has since acquired the management of the larger reserves of Hlane and Mkhaya, Mlilwane remains its spiritual home.

Mlilwane is just a 15-minute drive from the Ezulwini Valley and its landscape is dominated by Nyonyane mountain, visible from afar. This dramatic peak is known as Execution Rock, taking its name from the grisly fate that once befell the condemned folk who were led to its summit. The reserve is not ‘Big Five’ country, and indeed the proximity of busy Ezulwini Valley, together with the stands of alien gum trees and old tin mine workings, mean that it cannot be considered a pristine wilderness. Nonetheless, it is a beautifully scenic and wonderful oasis for wildlife, with a lovely relaxed ambience.

Accommodation and activities are based in the reserve’s southern sector, with the northern sector set aside as a wilderness area. Wildlife is easy to find: zebra, blesbok, impala, blue wildebeest and warthog graze the open grasslands, while kudu and nyala browse the thickets. Rare antelope, such as roan and oribi, are protected in an enclosed area and can be viewed on a guided tour, and a pod of hippos frequents the main dam, sometimes visiting the waterhole at Rest Camp. Vervet monkeys and baboons are common, while the rich birdlife includes a noisy heron colony at Rest Camp, and both black and crowned eagles in the hills. Crocodiles lurk in the Dam.

Mlilwane offers a variety of accommodation, from self-catering cottages to beehive huts and a backpackers lodge – or you can splash out on the colonial comforts of Reilly’s Rock, the old family home, where bushbabies visit the verandah every evening. Many visitors, however, come just for a family day-out in the mellow environs of Rest Camp, where you can fire up the barbeque take a dip in the pool and commune with the wandering warthogs. The reserve’s public roads are perfect for self-drive wildlife safaris – or you can book a guided game drive in an open Land Rover. Other activities include walking trails, mountain-biking and horse-riding. The last of these caters for all levels and offers an excellent way to approach wildlife and explore the mountains on hourly and multi-day trails. Longer riding trails feature a night spent in a hidden cave beneath Nyonyane, complete with traditional open fire dinner.

Check out more Places to Visit