Advantages Small, friendly, inexpensive, nothing too dangerous
Disadvantages No big cats
Note: all prices based on exchange rate of E10 = £1This is a delightful little reserve centrally located in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Easy to get to but all to often overlooked by travellers seeking big, exciting animals.
Entrance is ridiculously cheap at £2.50 and accomodation is extremely varied. You can pay £70 a night per person for en suite accomodation in a pretty tidy lodge with an excellent breakfast, or pay £4 a night for use of the campsite in the main camp. There are also round and 'traditional' beehive style huts and cottages available for £15-20.
The main camp sells all the provisions you might need and is the focal point for the activities on offer. It's a short walk (20 mins if you're young and fit) from Sondzela, and that really is one of the strong points of the whole park - you can walk anywhere you want. The lack of big cats means that there are no restrictions on movement by foot. You really can explore any little corner you want, although it's a good idea to avoid the water's edge at night - there are plenty of crocodiles and hippos about.
Seeing the park by mountain bike or on horseback are by far the best ways to get up close and personal with the wildlife. A human on a horse can get much closer and it's not that unusual to find yourself cantering along in the middle of a small herd of buck.
The rest camp is a lovely place to spend an evening. If enough people are about a warthog can be roasted over a log fire which is delicious. The restaurant has a large veranda where you can eat some excellent food (including most types of game) only yards away from the lake containing hippo and crocs. A goodly number of buck and warthog also seem to hang around the camp, especially in the evenings, probably for the scraps they can get from the campers.
Depending on the number of visitors the Park rangers and staff often put on a traditional dancing display after dinner. This is a hugely entertaining experience and the dancers are obviously having a giggle as well. It's similar to zulu dancing (the Swazis and Zulus are very closely related tribes) although less complex.
The lack of big game is certain to turn some people off, but it does have benefits as discussed above. What it also means is that the reserve is rarely crowded. It gets a little busy during South African school holidays, but at least the people you bump into tend to be South African rather than other English people.
If you're in South Africa \ Swaziland then go. It's too good to pass up. By all means go and stare at Rhino and Lions in Hlane or Umfolozi, but go to Mlilwane afterwards for a really personal and relaxing experience.
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