It is somewhat of a tradition for my birthday (July 11th if anyone is taking notes) that instead of lavish gifts, we try and celebrate by taking a trip somewhere, long or short, whatever we can manage that year. When we lived in Europe, as my birthday was smack in the middle of summer, this usually meant some time spent on a beach. Greece, the Amalfi Coast, Croatia… just some of the fabulous places I have spent my birthday. This being the very first year I would be spending my birthday in Africa (and in winter now to boot!) I absolutely wanted to keep with our tradition and sneak in a little birthday excursion.
Hlane National Park Reception
We could only get away for 4 days but I knew exactly WHAT I wanted to do, we just had to figure out WHERE. There was no questioning that I wanted to spend my first African birthday doing what I enjoy most, that is, camping and safari in a wildlife reserve. The where proved to be a bit more difficult as we were late in planning and it was also the winter school holidays; most places were booked solid. We had never been to Swaziland and the more I read, the more it seemed like someplace we would really enjoy. At only around 5 hours or so from Joburg, we decided it would be perfect for a long weekend away.
Welcome to Hlane
There are 3 game reserves in Swaziland managed by a non-profit trust called Big Game Parks. Our initial plan was to spend all 3 nights camping at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary but there was a bit of a snag in that a VIP had booked out the entire camp for the first night (more about that in part 2). We were offered a Rondavel at Hlane Royal National Park’s Ndlovu Camp at a slightly reduced rate for the first night which we readily accepted instead of putting the tent up twice. We would then spend the last 2 nights camping at Mlilwane, about 1.5 hours from Hlane.
Waterhole as seen from the restaurant
Initially I wasn’t too keen on changing parks for only a 3 day trip but in the end I really enjoyed seeing both places, as they are quite different from each other. Ideally I would suggest staying 2 or 3 nights in each if you can. Hlane is a Big 4 park (no buffalo) and offers a whole host of activities such as safari drives, birding walks and bike rides. As we were short on time we decided to stick to self-driving around the reserve which we always enjoy. Note however that the lions (3 I believe) are kept separate and can only be seen on a guided safari drive.
Ndlovu Camp – Wisteria Village Rondavel
The rondavel was clean and spacious and there is an ensuite bathroom but no fridge or kitchen facilities. There is no electricity at the camp but in the evenings the housekeepers come around and light oil lamps which really add to the coziness of the place.
Rondavel with ensuite bathroom- there are actually 2 beds but I couldn’t fit everything in the photo
Crested Barbet in Camp
After a relaxing picnic lunch overlooking the camp waterhole, we set off in our Jeep for a short afternoon drive. Not all roads are accessible with a sedan so be sure to enquire about this if you don’t have a 4×4. While the wildlife is not as abundant as someplace like Kruger National Park, we still saw a nice variety on our drive including elephant, rhino, hippo, wildebeest, zebra, impala and several bird species.
Hippo snoozing in the watering hole
I’ve got my eye on you
Always Love Zebras
Impala patroling Hlane camp
After our drive we headed back to camp for a stroll around, watching some dainty impalas graze amongst the campers. We then picked up a couple sundowners (drinks) from the bar and went to enjoy the sunset down at the waterhole. My birthday dinner was buffet style at the camp restaurant and there was a sufficient choice of veggie items available. It was a lovely dinner and a fantastic day all around.
Almost Full Moon
Sunset over the camp watering hole
The following morning we had planned to head out to Mlilwane right after breakfast however after looking at the Hlane Park map again we realised we had pretty much missed the entire southern section of the park so we decided to do a short (self) drive first. The highlight here was definitely the Mahlindza Waterhole where there is a bird hide to watch all the goings-on. There was a amazing abundance of wildlife steadily coming and going, I could have sat there all day.
Brown-hooded Kingfisher in camp
Amazing bat colony under the reception roof
White-backed or Cape Vulture ?
Female Nyala Cuddles
Late Morning at Mahlindza Waterhole
Wildebeest and Impala
Not sure what spooked everyone
Woolly-Necked Storks showing off some dance moves
African Fish Eagle
Marabou Stork Doing a Jig for the Impalas
Nyala and Impala (males only)
Marabou Stork having a bad-head day
Mahlindza Waterhole Parting Shot
I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed Hlane and will absolutely stay longer next time in order to take part in some of the activities. The camp seems to be well-run and everyone is so friendly. The rondavel was really a great value at 505 ZAR (about 50 USD) and it was nice splurge from our usual tent. I highly recommend a stay at Hlane if you are the type of person that isn’t only concerned about seeing the Big 5 but also enjoys just spending time out in the bush, you won’t be disappointed. Stay tuned for Part 2, our time spent camping at Mlilwane.