After checking out the available activities at Mlilwane, including guided horse riding tours, mountain biking trails, and guided land rover tours, we settled on a quiet, easy hike to the area where the hippos hang out. We were assured by the camp staff that the trail was well marked, mostly level, and would take just over an hour.
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.