Introduction to Swaziland Safari:
At 17 364 square kilometers Swaziland is smaller than South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It’s an absolute monarchy, ruled by King Mswati lll, known as Ngwenyama, or Lion, though he shares power with the Queen Mother, who is known as Ndlovukazi, or the she-Elephant. Despite its small size it’s a fairly diverse country, due to the range of altitudes and varied topography, and it actually has a bird list greater than that of the Kruger National Park. The western half comprises a spine of mountains and rolling hills and outcrops, descending as one travels eastwards, with the eastern margin being distinctly sub-tropical. While Swaziland is not known for its wilderness, as much of it is covered by traditional villages, it’s an interesting country and certainly worth a night or two as part of an eastern South Africa tour.
Swaziland shares most of its border with South Africa, though the north-eastern border is shared with Mozambique. The topography generally drops off from the heights of Malolotja and Pigg’s Peak in the north-west at around 1500 – 1700 meters above sea level to 300 meters and under at the foot of the Lebombo Escarpment along the eastern border. Much of the west comprises high and medium altitude grassland while in the east lowland savannah takes hold. Due to the altitude the country is wetter in the west, drying out somewhat with the drop in altitude as one moves eastwards. Swaziland falls into a summer rainfall regime, though strong cold fronts in winter can bring precipitation.
Historically, the region has been occupied for a long period of time, following the regional pattern of historical occupation by Khoisan hunter gatherers who were then displaced by Nguni peoples moving south over time. Regional conflicts with other Nguni groups pushed the Nkosi Dlamini, or the people of the Dlamini clan, into what is now Swaziland. The Dlaminis became a lineage of Kings, culminating in today’s King Msawati the 3rd. During the 1800’s there was an influx of European hunters, miners, traders, vagabonds and other fortune-seekers, some of whom settled in the region. In 1877 the British annexed the region, and for the next 66 years it basically remained under British control until it was granted independence. It was briefly administered by a Cabinet and Prime Minister until King Sobhuza II decided that this Eurocentric system of governance didn’t reflect the Swazi culture, and in 1973 the constitution was suspended and Sobhuza was made King. He passed away in 1982 and was then succeeded by the current King, Mswati III.
Swaziland is easily accessible through a number of border control points with South Africa. The internal road network is relatively good, and it’s generally a safe and easy travel destination. Swaziland is a popular cultural destination, though there are a handful of parks and reserves worth visiting. Cultural attractions include Swazi Candles, Ngwenya Glass and various craft markets, while those with a natural history orientation may want to visit Malolotja Nature Reserve and / or Mkhaya Game Reserve.
Summer: September to April
- Swaziland falls under a summer rainfall region.
- It can get hot to very hot in the north and east, but is slightly milder on the higher ground in the west.
- Thunderstorms are common, though cool, overcast weather can also be expected. The rainy season coincides with the summer.
Winter: May to August
- Winters on the high ground to the west can be cold to very cold overnight and in the early morning while days are usually cool to mild, though occasional cold fronts can make it cold all day. Minimal chances of rain.
- The eastern coastal regions and Lowveld (savannah) has cool to mild nights and warm to hot days. Minimal chances of rain.
In birding terms, Swaziland represents a microcosm of eastern South Africa. Falling at the convergence zone of three slightly different bird communities, it actually offers some good birding venues within a relatively small area. The road network is relatively good, and the main birding sites are easily accessible, making it great for a short visit as part of an extended Eastern South Africa trip, or as a stop on a self-drive tour. Read more under ‘Swaziland Birding‘…
The tiny Kingdom of Swaziland is too small to have any really authentic wildlife destinations. Hlane Royal National Park, their flagship wildlife destination, does have the Big Five, but not under authentic free-roaming conditions, while the Mbuluzi / Mlawula Conservancy is probably the ‘wildest’ of the country’s destinations. Swaziland is however best appreciated for its birding, general nature, scenery and cultural attractions, and the southern Kruger National Park is not far away in any case so the Kingdom can easily be part of a tour incorporating some authentic wildlife. Read more under ‘Swaziland Wildlife‘…