A June 2005 trip
to Swaziland by Linda Kaye
Quote: Swaziland is one of three remaining kingdoms in Africa to be actually ruled by a king. These proud people have a rich history that dates back thousands of years. They carry their badge of courage in their hearts and offer no excuses for seeking out peace.
Crossing the border between South Africa and Swaziland and returning again is a relatively simple process. When we arrived at the border, we parked the car and were directed into a small office to complete some forms. We needed our passports, vehicle license number, and (if known) where we would be staying. After completing the paperwork, we were given a paper to give to the guard as we passed through the border gates. Directly on the other side of the gate, we stopped again, entered another office, and registered for the country we were entering. This process took only about 15 minutes, as there were no lines at the border this day.
We spent 2 days at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, living among a myriad of animals, took an unexpectedly long hike, and enjoyed delicious local cuisine at the Hippo Haunt Restaurant. Sleeping in a traditional Swazi grass hut was an experience of a lifetime.
A visit to the King Sobhuza Memorial Park was well worth the time and the small fee we were charged. Our excellent guide took us around the grounds and educated us in the history of their beloved king and his people. We also visited the Swaziland National Museum.
Our final stop in Swaziland was at the Piggs Peak Casino, an unexpected oasis on our way to Mpulalanga. We stopped for lunch and took a few minutes to test our luck at the games of chance.
The Ministry of Tourism has a great website to learn more about the history, culture, and peoples of Swaziland.
LANGUAGE: The Swazi language, also called Siswati and Swati, is spoken by over 90% of the population. Here are just a few easy to learn phases:
Learning to pronounce the names of the places we visit and people we meet is important to me. Swaziland names starting with an "M" and followed by a consonant sound like when you say "mmm, that is good". Mpulalanga would be pronounced mmm-pum-a-lan-ga. Same for Mbabane (mmm-ba-bane) and Mtubabtuba (mmm-tuba-tuba).
As with so many places in Africa, there are always people walking on the highways, which is the most common form of transportation. Although some buses and taxis are available, mass transportation is nonexistent.
In order to make our dollars stretch as far as possible, we chose the beehives, the traditional Swazi grass hut. These beehives, even though somewhat primitive, were comfortable and not at all an imposition. These particular beehives do not have bathroom facilities, but they are available just a short distance away in a common structure call an ablution. There were toilets, sinks with mirrors, and showers with plenty of hot water. Inside the beehive were two single beds and a small table. The floor was concrete. Although there was no place to hang clothes, there was an area near the door to store luggage.
Probably the strangest feature of the beehive was the entrance door. It was only 3 feet high, which required us to squat and duck-walk inside. Believe me, it was great for a laugh. Not a single ray of light could penetrate the thatched outside covering. There was a single electric light bulb in the center of the hut and another at the entrance. To our surprise, there was no odor inside the hut.
At Mlilwane, there are accommodations for every taste and budget. In the Main Rest Camp there were more beehive huts with en suite ablution, meaning an attached bathroom. (R170 per person, US$26). The Shonalonga Cottage is a fully equipped self-catering family cottage (R190 per person, US$29), and the Sondzela is a backpacker’s and traveler’s hostel. (R45-90, US$7 to US$14).
In the center of the compound is the Hippo Haunt Restaurant, a large outdoor area seating area with fire pit, called a boma, a supply and curio shop, and the main reception building, complete with Internet facilities.
Animals roam freely throughout the camp. Impala, warthog, ostrich, and nyala appeared to be comfortable with us invading their territory. Image for a moment waking up in the early morning in Swaziland and crawling out of your hut, the sun just peaking over the mountains. The silence of the night gives way to the sound of morning birds and one by one, the animals make their way from the low wooded area into the camp. Many of the impala have nursing calves tagging close behind, and their main objective is grazing on the lush grass in the compound. This is my best memory of Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 13, 2005
Restaurant | "Hippo Haunt Restaurant & Bar"
The Hippo Haunt offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as bar drinks. Breakfast consisted of a buffet of fresh fruit, cereals, yogurt, juices, and toast. For an additional charge, eggs and ham can be ordered. Instant coffee and tea are always available. Full breakfast was R45 (US$7).
Lunch consisted mainly of toasted sandwiches, such as ham and cheese, and as most places we had been so far, came with chips (French fries). The cost of a sandwich with chips was R20 (US$3.25).
Dinner was our favorite. A choice of a full meal (soup, entrée, and dessert) or just the entrée was offered. Since the weather is chilly, we usually started with a large piping-hot bowl of delicious cream vegetable soup. Choices of entrée were offered, such as impala stew, kudu roast, chicken, and beef with potato and vegetable. Dessert was usually cake with a sweet sauce. A full dinner was R80 (US$13).
Entertainment at Hippo Haunt was the visit from the hippos. The restaurant is open on three sides, with one side jetting out over a small lake. To our delight, the hippos made their appearance one morning while we were having breakfast. Cameras in hand, we were all at the railing, watching and photographing these huge and noisy visitors, and no one seemed to mind that the eggs and toast were getting cold.
There was an extension to the dining area that was entirely enclosed, perhaps used when the weather was very cold. We found this a perfect place to play card games and Scrabble after dinner. It was warm and well lit, and no one else was using this space.
The bar remained open most of the day and early evening; hot coffee and tea were always available. During high season, in the boma area (fire pit surrounded by seating areas) just outside the restaurant, you can enjoy Swazi Sibhaca Dancing and drum music.
One evening, after a rousing game of Uno and Scrabble, we realized that everyone had left the restaurant, the bar was closed, and we were the only ones around. The fire in the boma was still burning. We approached and warmed ourselves for a few minutes. We noticed a large statue, or what we thought it was a statue, until he started talking. It was actually the night guard standing on a low wall because the warthogs had invaded the space around the fire. We looked down, and right at our feet were two large warthogs, apparently sleeping. We backed away slowly, and the guard offered to walk us back to our beehive huts. We were glad to take him up on his offer.
Hippo Haunt Restaurant & Bar
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
(+268) 528 3943
Attraction | "Piggs Peak Casino & Restaurant"
The difference in Piggs Peak is the Orion Piggs Peak Casino, Hotel and Restaurant. Here in the middle of Swaziland, where the majority of people are black, poor, and barely eking out a living, is this beautiful, lush oasis, surrounded by rich green mountain forests.
Originally a gold mining center, the town was named for an English prospector and miner, William Pigg (1831–1902).
Our first objective was lunch. We entered the restaurant area and were amazed by the elegance of the liquor bar, the sparkling glasses, and distinctive tableware. We arrived just after noon on a weekday and to no surprise, there were only a few other guests there.
Believe it or not, in this elegant restaurant, the menu item that stood out most to all five of us was hamburger with fries chased by a cold Coke. We were ready for a good ole’ American meal. However, Swazi burger are served with "sauces"- garlic, mushroom, or monkey gland (barbeque sauce), to name only a few. I asked many times why they call barbeque sauce "monkey gland", and not a single person could answer that question.
Following our classic lunch, it was off to the casino, just down the hall and around the corner from the restaurant. It was small with only 80 of slot machines, many of which I recognized. However, I felt like a first-time gambler when I tried to use the machines. The main difference was that the machines did not accept coins or bills. After trying several, I finally inquired at the cashier why I couldn’t get the one-armed bandits to accept my money. She explained the system to me. Here is how it works. I wanted to start with R50 (about USD$8). She sold me a card, resembling a credit card to be used in the slot machines. However, there was only R40 credit because no matter how much is bought on the card, there is a R10 security deposit, to make sure they get the cards back.
Armed with my R40 gambling card, off I went to find that machine that was "calling my name". I chose a nickel slot machine and played for about 15 minutes and left with R150 credit on my card. Harry had about the same luck- so without further adieu, we cashed in our cards, retrieved winnings and our R10 deposit, and headed back to South Africa again.
In addition to the casino and restaurant, there are 102 air-conditioned rooms, a gym, tennis and squash courts, sauna and swimming pool. Average cost of accommodations is USD$75 per night.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 13, 2005
Attraction | "King Sobhuza II Memorial Park and National Museum"
As we entered the main building, two women behind a large counter greeted us. We asked what we might see and what the entrance fee was. We purchased a combination ticket for the Memorial Park and the National Museum for R25 (US$4). One of the women offered to take us through the park as our guide. We gratefully accepted her offer.
Our guide told us that we were welcome to take pictures throughout the park, except of the Mausoleum, where their beloved monarch’s body laid in state before the traditional burial in 1982. We were asked not only to reframe from taking pictures at the Mausoleum, but also not to even point the camera in that direction. This is done out of respect for their king. The Mausoleum is guarded on a 24-hour basis by the Swazi military.
The most predominant feature is a 10-foot bronze statue of King Sohhuza II, with the inscription I Have No Enemy around the top canopy, housing this magnificent figure.
In 1899, a child was born to the royal family, and months later, his father, who would have been king, died. Immediately, the Royal Council selected this child to be their king. He was given the name Sobhuza II. He was only 4 months old. He was educated in a school that his grandmother insisted be built especially for him. In 1916, he left the area for the Cape Province to complete his education. Until King Sobhuza was 22 years old, his grandmother, Queen Labotsibeni, continued to rule her country.
King Sobhuza II was a fierce believer in peace. He skillfully negotiated Swaziland’s independence from Britain. On September 6, 1968, Swaziland became an independent country and not one drop of blood was shed. His dream was for a non-racial society, and he advocated unity among African leaders.
In 1981, thousands of Swazis celebrated 60 years under King Sobhuza rule, and also his 83rd birthday in 1982. He died 1month later and became the longest-reigning monarch in the world. Upon his death, his 18-year-old son was crowned as King Mswati III.
We saw pictures of King Sobhuza II in tribal dress and in a formal suit and top cat. He appeared comfortable in both. He loved automobiles and insisted in driving his Buick himself. Three of his royal vehicles are on display at the Swaziland National Museum.
The National Museum is located across the highway from the Memorial Park. It is a first-class facility that is, although small, quite informative. Allow 1 hour for a visit to the National Museum. It contains information on the Swazi people, King Sobhuza II, and wildlife in the area.
King Sobhuza II Memorial Park
P. O. Box 100
Lobamba , Swaziland
+268 416 1481
Choosing a walking stick from the barrel at the Reception Building made us feel like real hikers. Map in hand and cameras ready, we set out on our short trek. We hiked through of open grasslands leading up to the Nyonyane Mountains and in front of us was an exposed granite peak known as the Execution Rock. Along the way, we saw impalas and zebras that only briefly acknowledged our presence before returning to grazing.
Following the marked path, we make our way through the grasslands and into a swamp area where we thought the hippos would be. We continued on an uphill path, through a more forested area. Three young people we had met in camp who were also on the same trail soon joined us. We came to a clearing where a road that had been freshly cut and suddenly the trail ended. We walked up and down the dirt road looking for the next marker- a clue which way to go- but found none. Our new friends made the comment- "we only been with you guys for 5 minutes and we’re already lost". Were we lost is Swaziland?
After much deliberation and searching, we finally found what looked like a path. It took us up higher and higher toward Execution Rock. Our level trail was gone. We traversed ravines deep enough to look down on full-grown trees, through streams and across what I swear looked like quicksand. The walking sticks came in handy, making our way down a steep trail, or forming a chain between us to get through muddy areas.
Then we saw it. A TRAIL MARKER. What a relief. It led us through a burned section of trees, probably damaged by lightening strikes and then on to a large lake. Here is where the hippos were. On an island in the center of the lake was a huge crocodile sunning itself. We were quite happy to just observe these potentially dangerous animals from a high bluff above the lake.
The only other wildlife we crossed paths with was a family of warthogs that we had to chase off the path so we could pass. Once we found the lake, we knew we were close to the camp and almost four hours after we had left, we returned to our starting point.
We were exhausted but exhilarated and didn’t want to say goodbye to our new friends and hiking companions. We all ended up at Hippo Haunt Restaurant for a couple of drinks and a lot of good conversation.
San Antonio, Texas