Giraffe Encounters in the Kingdom of Eswatini
Eswatini is a welcoming kingdom with wonderfully stunning landscapes, friendly people, and up close and personal wildlife sightings. The Kingdom offers an array of potential wildlife encounters. You can walk within the reserves, learn to track animals, and truly immerse yourself in the African bush where your senses come alive.
The Kingdom is bound tightly with its culture, where you can see traditional dancing and hear beautifully harmonised singing. In the communities, you will be welcomed into local homes and hearts. It’s Africa in a nutshell.
Kingdom of Eswatini
Eswatini (Swaziland) is a rare blend of big game viewing opportunities and ancient customs woven into everyday life. There are a plethora of things to see and do in Eswatini. These range from your expected African safaris and cultural excursions to much more adventurous activities, unique experiences and national events.
The Kingdom offers close up and personal wildlife encounters. It is considered one of the best places to see white rhino in the world, you can even track them on foot. In fact, you can see a lot of different species of wildlife on foot. There are a number of reserves where you can walk independently around, places where there are none of the Big Five, so you don’t have to be in a constant state of high alert. Simply walking with impala, zebra, and warthog, is a delightful and humbling experience.
Walking trails of Mbuluzi
Mbuluzi is one of the best places to see giraffes. I started my hike in Mbuluzi at around 7.30am, the sun was up and it was very humid. Clouds hurried across the sky and the shade from some scrawny trees was most welcome. Mbuluzi is divided into 2 sections, northern and southern, both are equally inspiring, in different ways.
I decided to check out the hiking trails of Mbuluzi in the northern section first. The wildlife is not as great there, yet the scenery is lovely. This section is less managed in bush clearing so there are more thickets for birds and smaller mammals. It feels wilder.
The trail meandered through the bush, I smiled. I was back in my element, hiking in the bush in Mbuluzi. I walked quietly, so much so that I spooked a herd of waterbuck. They leapt across the path in front of me, their white rings on their rumps flashing as they disappeared into the bush. As I rested at Mohlo bird hide I watched dragonflies flit across the water. Two woodland kingfishers had a bit of a shock as they swerved away from the hide when they saw me at the last minute. They had been using the hide railings as a perch and finding me there was unexpected!
Heat and dehydration
As I was back off to finish the northern section, I also spotted a ‘tower’ of giraffes as well as some nyala antelopes. During that walk of 2.5 hours, I had drunk 2.5 litres of water, and it was only 11.00am. I then (rather stupidly) decided to check out the southern section which added another 2 hours of walking. I filled up my water from reception and set off for the southern section, which has a lot more of the bush cleared, opening it up for plains game like zebra and wildebeest. It is also much easier to navigate.
To begin with, everything was fine and I felt good, although it was heating up nicely. I saw more giraffes as they galloped through the bush. I froze on the road - they were running towards me, not away. What on earth had spooked them? Seven giraffes crashed by and then abruptly stopped. They looked at me, their eyelashes fluttering. Woman and giraffe locked in a staring match, which the giraffe won. I did try to outdo a female giraffe but a young calf caught my attention with his big dark brown eyes. I am a sucker for a young giraffe, and so I easily lost the contest with his mum.
Then the real excitement began. I came across two male giraffes circling each other and trying to beat the other into submission, with their own heads. These two giraffes were sizing each other up, constantly walking around each other before unleashing their in-built mallet. These were two males vying for dominance. I was amazed at the force that each of them mustered and the accuracy of the blows. At times the impact lifted the other giraffe off its feet.
The longer the neck and the heavier the head, the more damage the blow can inflict. This may be one of the reasons for giraffes to grow a long neck - natural selection in action; the other being able to reach the top leaves that no other animal can reach. Some of these battles can be fatal but more often or not one of the giraffes will surrender before anything serious happens.
Despite the fact that these battles can be bloody, they often look graceful and choreographed, more like a dance than a duel. But then appearances can be deceptive. I watched, mesmerized for 20 mins before leaving them to it, none the wiser as to who was the winner.
I was now feeling rather hot. The sun beat down on me and I took a shortcut back to reception. This route was shorter but there was little shade to hide under. I was looking rather hot, sporting a very red face and pink arms.
As I got to reception, I saw Tal arrive on his quad bike. He waved at me, stopped his bike and shouted, “Jenny, mad dog is an Englishman, out in the midday sun.”
I thoroughly agreed with him, and was happy with it.
Eswatini is a small Kingdom, the size of Wales, and is easy to navigate around. The short driving distances make it ideal for families, so you can spend more time by waterholes or on activities.
It is ideal for:
- First-time visitors to Africa
- Those who want to travel independently
- Adventurous families
- Water is generally safe to drink in Eswatini. Mains water in Eswatini's main towns and in the country's main hotels and restaurants is safe to consume. If travelling in rural areas, bottled water is recommended.
- Currency in Eswatini is the Lilangeni, plural Emalangeni (E), which is fixed to the rand (1 Rand = 1 Lilangeni). South African Rands are accepted everywhere.
- Eswatini is at GMT+2 hours. The United Kingdom is one or two hours behind Eswatini, depending on UK ‘summertime’.
- Electric current is supplied at 220 volts AC 50Hz, and 15-amp three round-pin wall sockets are used. These are the same as the South African adapters.
- In Mbabane and other larger towns, there are chemists, supermarkets, and a variety of shops to buy necessities.
- siSwati and English are the official languages.
- A British driving license is recognised in Eswatini.
Tips to avoid dehydration
- Drink little and often
- Protect your head with a wide-brimmed hat
- Avoid drinking excess alcohol
- Pace yourself, take it easy and enjoy the walk
- Walk in the cooler times of day - early morning and late afternoon
- Snacks and boiled sweets are good to regulate your salts and sugars
- Rest often in the shade
- Keep drinking water even after your walk
Jenny Bowen runs Sense Earth, a travel company that provides unique and personalised holidays.
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