Swaziland Overview

Published by Swazi Review of Commerce & Industry (Pty) Ltd

Tourism
Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

White rhino and week-old calf after mud bath at Mkhaya Game Reserve © Anne Wade

 

Government declared in its Programme of Action to 2018 that a focus will be placed on new product development that more precisely matches what Swaziland offers with the demands of discerning regional and international tourists. To this end the Minister of Finance, Martin Dlamini, allocated E20.7-million towards tourism development during the 2014/15 fiscal year.

The Minister disclosed in his Budget Speech that the number of visitors to Swaziland had grown from about 1.2 million in 2012/13 to an estimated 1.4 million in 2013/14. This, he said, demonstrated that the kingdom is a growing attraction and should invest in two key aspects - making improvements to existing tourist circuits that are already proven, and developing new sites identified by market research as sought after by returning and potential visitors.

Within a couple of months the 2014 Easter holidays and long-weekend showed a continuation of the upswing in tourist numbers: according to the Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Jabulani Mabuza, over 60 000 people visited Swaziland during that period, a year-on-year increase of 3.5 percent. Most of those interviewed by the local media proved to be first-time visitors and expressed admiration for the kingdom’s beauty and friendly citizens. Minister Mabuza thanked the entire nation for ensuring that these visitors enjoyed a memorable stay in the country, and similarly all partners in the tourism value-chain for ensuring that the hospitality industry extended the highest quality of service. He said that being good hosts can deliver nothing but positive effects and give Swaziland the leverage to attract more repeat visits.

Grand Display
The annual Umhlanga (Reed Dance) Ceremony which sees hundreds of un-betrothed maidens pay homage to HM King Mswati III and the Queen Mother in a spectacular display continues to attract ever-greater numbers of visitors from abroad. For their benefit, in 2014 the Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) and the Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC) www.sntc.org.sz jointly set up a Swazi cultural village within the royal grounds to serve as an information centre. The Tourism Minister said when officially opening the facility that Swaziland is renowned for its peacefulness and security, and he urged all citizens to stay true to those values. He pointed out that the kingdom is a country whose cultural practices attract thousands of international visitors because of their authenticity that preserve true African identity, hence these should also be safeguarded.

Within the cultural village that comprised grass-plaited beehive huts arranged in a traditional Swazi homestead style, the SNTC erected a ‘storyboard’ featuring captioned pictures that vividly detailed the activities in which the maidens participate from the first day of the ceremony to its grand finale. A number of exhibition stalls also dotted the village: while most belonged to private-sector retailers of ethnic artefacts, that of the Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation featured commemorative stamps, brochures and specially designed postcards adorned with encrypted historic messages and photos, including some of the Umhlanga dating back many decades. The limited-edition stamps, too, were said to be a collector’s dream, depicting as they did Swaziland’s natural attributes and array of cultural celebrations.

Natural Bounty
Swaziland’s annual Buganu (marula-fruit liquor) Festival is a tourist-magnet with the potential to match the famous harvest-related celebrations of Britain and Europe. So declared local newspaper editorials in late-February 2014 after more than 5 000 revellers converged on the Buhleni Royal Residence in Hhohho for HM King Mswati III’s blessing to begin making merry. The festival is a party-like sequel to the more sacred Ncwala (First Fruits) Festival which features not only feasting, song and dance, but also rituals and prayers for king and populace to enjoy renewed vigour during the year ahead.

Marula trees occur throughout much of southern and central Africa, but Swazis believe that their estimated one million are more revered than those elsewhere. Each year in early February when the ripe fruit begins falling, it is in accordance with ages-old tradition collected and brewed by womenfolk in the rural areas. Offerings to the royal family of the quite potent beverage are then collected from throughout the country and taken to Buhleni by male and female regiments: because of the predominant role played by women in its production, the buganu is ceremonially presented to the Queen Mother.

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Acacia nigrescens savanna/woodland, with wildebeest and impala,
Mlawula Nature Reserve © Kate Braun / SNTC

 

This takes place on a Friday, and on the following afternoon to evening she and the female regiments engage in traditional dancing, with the king and the male regiments joining in after dark. The festivities continue throughout the night, and on Sunday the regiments disperse and the nation has royal assent to begin celebrating. The entire procedure is repeated the following weekend, this time at the Hlane Royal Residence in the eastern Lubombo region. The Buganu Festival attracts people from all walks of life, and for the adventurous visitor with an interest in African culture this is an undiluted, un-commercialised event that is typical of centuries of African tradition.

18-hole Playgrounds
In March 2014 the STA facilitated the first-ever ‘Battle of the Kingdoms’ which saw 11-man teams from the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Swaziland face off in a tournament styled on the Ryder Cup and played on the Nkonyeni Golf Estate’s 18-hole championship course. The visiting golfers and their travelling companions spent a week sightseeing prior to the contest and also enjoyed a practise round at the Royal Swazi Spa Country Club www.suninternational.com all commented on the friendliness and hospitality they had encountered, said that Swaziland possessed genuinely world-class golf courses and suggested that the ‘Golf Safari’ was a tourism concept that should be exploited to the full.

Less than two months later, the annual Investec Royal Swazi Open attracted 72 professional golfers to the Royal Swazi Spa Country Club. The 2014 field comprised one local, Peter Dlamini, and the remainder hailed from England, Wales, Italy, Zimbabwe and South Africa, respectively. The four-day tournament operates under a modified Stableford scoring format and a luxury vehicle is the motivation for scoring a hole-in-one. September then saw the same championship course host the 10th edition of the annual King’s Cup: the three-day event attracted 200 entrants, including about two dozen from neighbouring and other SADC countries. As is customary, HM King Mswati III played nine holes to officially launch the event and guarantee a particularly large spectator-turnout.

Party-Time
The 2014, seventh edition of Swaziland’s annual three-day MTN Bushfire festival of music and creativity attracted a record 25 000-plus fans, many of whom came from points all around the globe: the numbers from Europe/UK, the Americas and the Far East continue to grow each year. A major draw-card of the most recent event was the appearance of South Africa’s iconic, multi-award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo, while other notable acts from that country included Bongo Maffin and Uhuru. Zimbabwe’s renowned jazz-funk group, Mokoomba, made their Bushfire debut and Swazi music-lovers were treated to American hip-hop star, Nomadic Wax, being joined onstage by local exponents of the genre for a collective performance.

The STA maintained a high profile at the festival by means of a mini cultural village that enabled throngs of overseas visitors in particular to get their first taste of typical ethnic Swazi lifestyle. It also included a performance stage where traditional dances were showcased courtesy of the Swaziland National Council of Arts and Culture. STA Marketing Manager, Bongani Dlamini, said that the ‘compound’ became a captivating focal point of attraction and he hoped that the many hundreds of photos taken would create lingering memories and fond anecdotes about Swaziland all around the world. Details of MTN Bushfire 2015 can be found at www.bush-fire.com

NEW ERA DAWNS

The country’s E3-billion, direct gateway to and from the world – King Mswati III International Airport (KMIII) – began operating on 30 September 2014: government, the STA and private sector stakeholders in the hospitality and tourism sector have all expressed faith in the facility’s potential to help elevate Swaziland’s status from that of a transit-stage for the majority of overseas visitors to a primary, stand-alone destination of choice.

STA CEO, Eric Maseko, said at the airport’s official launch that his organization had been eagerly awaiting the day when it could pass on the news to its partners in the promotion of tourism. He described the advent of KMIII as coming at the most opportune time, as the STA had just finalised its new marketing strategy. As the latter will include the targeting of specific tour operators to work together to promote tourism in Swaziland, KMIII will provide easy access to the kingdom and enable the creation of packages which can be sold directly to consumers who show an interest in visiting the kingdom. Maseko said that the calibre of the new airport – a truly international facility - will further act as a catalyst for long-haul travel as a result of reduced travelling costs. This, in turn, will also accelerate regional initiatives such as the East3Route as KMIII becomes a gateway to neighbouring countries, and vice versa.

SNTC Director, Business Development and Commercial Affairs, Julius Mkhatshwa, described as a very exciting prospect the role that KMIII could play as a major entry point to Southern Africa for the international market. He pointed out that the new airport’s location – Sikhuphe in the kingdom’s northeast quadrant – made it ideally close to two of the SNTC’s flagship attractions, Magadzavane Lodge and Mlawula Nature Reserve, which will now be even more appealing and easier to sell to eco-tourists and business people. The same reasoning applies to boosting visitor numbers to and from neighbouring countries: South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park is but 150 km from KMIII and the nearest crossing into Mozambique just 80 km, both distances significantly less than from the old international airport at Matsapha, near Manzini.

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Chubeka Trails, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary © Amanda Boonzaaier / Big Game Parks

 

Showcase Windows 
The STA and SNTC were two of the 20-plus components of Swaziland’s presence at the 2014 edition of the Tourism Indaba in Durban, South Africa, and where one of its three days was themed ‘King Mswati III International Airport now open for business’. The annual gathering is Africa’s largest tourism-marketing event and one of the top three expos of its kind on the global calendar, regularly attracting more than 1 800 exhibitors and 13 000 delegates from the travel and tourism sector worldwide. On the eve of the showcase, Swaziland’s Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Jabulani Mabuza, joined his SADC counterparts in the first ever ministerial roundtable and which was addressed by the African Union Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She said it was time to pursue marketing strategies that will accelerate growth in Africa’s tourism and make the continent a preferred destination by recognising that tourists are not interested in Africa’s administrative borders, but want to explore as many attractions as possible within their available time and resources. News of the opening of KMIII was also conveyed by the STA at ITB Berlin which, with 160 000 square metres of exhibition space, is the second-largest tourism expo in the world.  

New Network
In 2014 the STA became a member of the Southern African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) which is a member-driven, non-profit organization that offers the inbound tourism industry vital networking opportunities through its lobbying activities. SATSA represents private sector destination-management companies, tourism brokers, tour operators and providers of accommodation, transport and various other travel-related services, as well as specialists in niche-market tourism such as adventure, golf and business. Its CEO, David Frost, has been assisting the STA in developing a strategy to gain better access to the regional and international markets: he urged the Swazis to join SATSA and use membership thereof as a technical aid to strengthen the kingdom’s position as a destination of choice. STA Marketing Manager, Bongani Dlamini, said that belonging to such an important regional body will deliver many benefits to industry players in Swaziland. He described the development as exciting and destined to ensure that the local tourism landscape will be forever changed.

THE COMPASS

  • North: Two of the kingdom’s tallest mountains dominate a river-traversed range with spectacular waterfalls and commercial forests which are among Swaziland’s most extensive. Malolotsha Game Park is the country’s largest single reserve and Pigg’s Peak, with its ‘ghost town’ reminder of the kingdom’s Colonial-era gold rush, boasts in its surrounding hills Stone Age caves complete with well-preserved Bushman paintings. More contemporary are the interiors of the international-class casino, which is an established tourist attraction in its own right.
  • South: Bordering on the Zululand region of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, this landscape witnessed about two centuries ago some of the epic battles between factions of the Zulu nation following the death of King Shaka. Today’s thrill-seekers get their adrenaline-rush from white-water rafting on the Great Usuthu River. More sedate activities amid this typical Southern African bush setting are game-viewing excursions in the region’s carefully nurtured wildlife sanctuary and scenic-drive outings. The town of Nhlangano with its upmarket casino-hotel is an ideal base from which to explore.
  • East: The Lubombo Mountains that run parallel with the Indian Ocean rise between the easternmost length of Swaziland’s Lowveld and the coastal plain of Mozambique. The SNTC’s Mlawula Nature Reserve traverses both Lowveld and mountain terrain, thereby offering a rich diversity of flora and fauna as well as activities that range from game drives and hiking to mountain-biking and fishing. Its luxurious Magadzavane accommodation complex is detailed in the pages that follow. Mlawula, together with Hlane Royal National Park and Mbuluzi Nature Reserve, make up the Lubombo Conservancy. Add to these  the Mkhaya Game Reserve, which is one of the best places in Africa to see rhino, and the Nisela Game Reserve, and the result is Swaziland’s east having the greatest concentration of nature/wildlife reserves.
  • West: Midway between Mbabane and Manzini and nestled in the history-filled Ezulwini Valley, lies Swaziland’s traditional and spiritual capital, Lobamba. Its key attractions include the Houses of Parliament, National Museum, King Sobhuza II Memorial Park and Somhlolo National Stadium. There is a Royal Kraal at nearby Ludzidzini and Her Majesty the Queen Mother lives about 10 kilometres away in the Lozitha Palace. Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary offers horseback and hiking trails, guided tours, rustic camps and caves, along with opportunities to observe antelope, giraffe, zebras and many types of birds. It also hosts the annual Imvelo Classic mountain-biking event which attracts hundreds of local and visiting participants. Ezulwini has two casinos, a string of luxury hotels and several shopping malls, supplemented by more options along the adjacent Mbabane-Manzini strip.

AUTHENTIC HALLMARKS

Visitors are frequently heard to describe Swaziland as a tiny country with a big heart and warm, friendly people who vigorously embrace and uphold their time-honoured traditions. Both the monarchy and the nation at large actively maintain and preserve a unique cultural heritage that Swazis hold to be peerless anywhere on the continent. Tourists can glean genuine insights into ‘timeless Africa’ during a trip to Swaziland: the spectacular festivals and energetic dances are not staged simply for their benefit as examples of a bygone age, but are the authentic, living ‘real deal’. While the more famous ceremonies involve tens of thousands of Swazis and attract visitors from all over the world, traditional attire and activities can be witnessed throughout the country at all times of the year.

  • The Festival of the First Fruits (Ncwala) is regarded as the most sacred of celebrations and entails six days of feasting, song and dance, rituals and prayers for king and populace to enjoy renewed vigour during the coming year. Royal-appointed astrologers annually divine the festival’s most providential date – usually in December or January.
  • The Reed Dance (Umhlanga) dates back to the dawn of time for all Nguni-language peoples. In Swaziland the occasion usually takes place in August or September, when un-betrothed maidens pay homage to His Majesty King Mswati III and the Queen Mother with utmost reverence and devotion.
  • Buganu in mid-February is a homage to homebrewed marula-fruit liquor: already a tourist-magnet thanks to royal participation, with vigorous marketing campaigns it could rival the famous harvest-related celebrations of Britain and Europe.
  • Tinkomo Temadloti at the beginning of April is the annual homage to and propitiation of the nation’s ancestral lineage.
  • Kwetfwasa celebrates fledgling traditional healers and soothsayers reaching the end of the apprenticeship period under their mentors. These revelries of feast and dance attract many participants and take place throughout the country at various times.
  • Sibhaca is a vibrant, ‘all-purpose’ celebratory dance that sees troupes of traditionally-attired men vying to outdo one another for applause – much to the delight of audiences around the kingdom.
Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Traditional dancers at Swazi Cultural Village, Mantenga Nature Reserve © Kate Braun / SNTC

 

Tradition and Modernity
Lobamba is where the past and present meet in an area which has been playing host to Swaziland’s royalty for over 200 years. The Houses of Parliament with their eclectic mix of Western and traditional African influences epitomise the country’s system of governance - a distinctive monarchy in consultation with Cabinet and traditional leaders. King Sobhuza II Memorial Park was established as a tribute to the monarch who led the Swazi nation to independence from Britain. The site encompasses a small museum that houses an exhibition of the king’s life in photographs, along with three of his vintage cars. His mausoleum also lies within the park, but taking photographs thereof is prohibited.

The Swaziland National Museum plays an essential role in preserving past traditions and culture for future generations. Its mission is to collect all natural and manmade objects that reflect both the natural and cultural heritage of the Swazi and Southern African peoples. The Natural History Wing was built in 1991 with the objectives of educating the public about the diverse ecosystems of Swaziland, to illustrate by example how Swazi culture is influenced by nature and to highlight the importance of environmental issues. The displays include dioramas showing typical Highveld and Lowveld scenes, as well as one featuring nocturnal animals which, although common, are seldom seen.

Mantenga Cultural Village is an excellent working reconstruction of a traditional homestead from around the 1850s: it provides the visitor with an opportunity to experience all the complexities and nuances of traditional Swazi life. The venue’s schedule of events includes spectacular performances by a dance troupe which has gained international renown through tours around the world. Accommodation is available in the form of luxury chalets with all modern features such as high-speed Internet access and 3-D/HD-compatible television.

At Ludzidzini and among the clustered dwellings of the royal village is the Queen Mother’s royal kraal, the walls of which are symbolically reinforced with reeds during the annual Umhlanga festival. In front, with terraced seating for VIPs, is the parade ground where the concluding ceremonies of the Umhlanga take place. During that festival and Incwala, the surrounding plains swarm with crowds of people in traditional attire, either joining the festivities fulltime or commuting back and forth. With the Mdzimba Mountains as backdrop, it makes for a spectacular sight. Parking for spectators is available.

WILDLIFE HERITAGE

Swaziland’s rich variety of landscapes and habitats gives rise to a profusion of fauna and flora: the country boasts 17 protected areas which are home to a wide range of species, including the sought-after ‘Big Five’. Not a large enough country to avail many different opportunities for big-game viewing, Swaziland does enable encounters with many of the smaller but no less intriguing creatures often overlooked on safari elsewhere - and is a bird-watcher’s paradise.

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Lions at Hlane Royal National Park © Big Game Parks


 
Big Game Parks (BGP) www.biggameparks.org
July saw the kingdom and BGP jointly celebrate 50 years of conservation: a host of events and activities took place at the three nature reserves run by BGP. In November, with 50 days to the end of 2014, the organization launched its ‘Your 50’ campaign at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in the Ezulwini Valley. Under the banner, ‘Big Game Parks has contributed 50 years to Swazi conservation – what’s Your 50?’, BGP invited Swazis of all ages to contribute to Swaziland’s conservation through participation. It challenged the nation to get creative and choose 50 ways in which to make a difference to the environment before the advent of 2015. Participants were urged to pledge their intentions, challenge their neighbours and spread the message using social media platforms.

BGP comprises Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve: it is the life work of pioneering conservationist, Ted Reilly. Born in Mlilwane in 1938, he was profoundly affected by witnessing the kingdom’s wildlife reduced to the verge of extinction before his 21st birthday. Using limited personal resources and displaying absolute dedication, he consequently turned the family’s highly productive 460-ha farm into a sanctuary. Once Reilly’s fledgling operation was under way he approached King Sobhuza II for game and that was the beginning of a long and close personal association with the monarchy.

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary was opened to the public on 12 July 1964 and 14 years later proclaimed a Nature Reserve under the SNTC. Mkhaya Game Reserve was established in 1979 when Reilly decided it was the ideal place of refuge for endangered species, starting with the pure Nguni breed of cattle and expanding to include many wild animals. The area that is Hlane Royal National Park was historically a hunting ground enjoyed by the monarchy and named by King Sobhuza II. It was from here that he sourced game for Ted Reilly’s Mlilwane project. Hlane is today held in trust for the nation by His Majesty King Mswati III.

Every two years, BGP rangers and the Royal Swaziland Police join forces in a coordinated ‘audit’ of traditional medicine outlets across the kingdom. The ongoing campaign falls under Interpol – of which Swaziland is a signatory country - and is part of a continent-wide, International Wildlife Law Enforcement drive to stamp out illegal trade in ivory and rhino-horn, along with other wildlife-related crime.

  • Hlane Royal National Park in the country’s northeast is strategically ideal for visitors on the much frequented Kruger National Park (South Africa) – Swaziland – Maputo (Mozambique) tourist route. The vast, predominantly flat reserve is dotted with large, shallow pans and thousand-year-old hardwood conservancies, and has for the past three decades been the focal point of concerted species-reintroduction. Hlane today boasts the kingdom’s most extensive game herds and largest numbers of Southern Africa’s fabled birds of prey, all viewed in comfort and safety from well-maintained roads.
  • Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is the kingdom’s longest-established reserve and – as its 4 450 hectares are situated virtually alongside the Mbabane-to-Manzini highway – is the park most frequented by visitors on shorter stays. A blend of forested mountain slopes and open grasslands provides excellent photo-ops of giraffe, zebra, antelope, small predators and bird-life, including different species of wild fowl. Most-photographed, perhaps, are the enormous crocodiles that bask atop the small islands that dot Mlilwane’s watering-holes. Chubeka Trails is an opportunity to explore these delights on horseback, while guided walks are also on offer. The sanctuary’s restaurant and tavern straddle a hippo pool and are well patronised by locals and visitors alike. Accommodation is available at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge and Sondzela Backpackers.
  • Mkhaya Game Reserve is just a few hours’ drive due south and presents yet another of Swaziland’s success stories on the sustainable land use and protection of endangered species fronts. Initially the ecosphere that witnessed the country’s much lauded campaign to save from extinction the distinctive breed of cattle that accompanied Nguni-speaking tribes on their exodus from Central Africa, Mkhaya evolved into the centre of conservation for elephant, buffalo, black and white rhino plus several variants of antelope. Visitors are escorted by wildlife personnel aboard customised game-viewing vehicles.

GREAT OUTDOORS

Swaziland encompasses magnificent mountains, primordial rock formations, lush and fertile valleys, and typical African bush. From west to east, a distance of less than 200 km, altitudes vary between 21 and 1 800 metres above sea-level as the terrain moves from Highveld through Middleveld to Lowveld, then rises again to the Lubombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique.

The Highveld is a land of mountains, hills, waterfalls and great buttresses of rock - the country’s most dramatic and impressive landscapes. A temperate climate means some rainfall all year round and regular mists in summer, so the scenery is quite lush. While timber plantations have replaced much of the original montane grassland, Malolotja Nature Reserve protects a large area of what remains. The Middleveld is an area of undulating bush and moist savanna, lying at an average 700 metres above sea-level. The Lowveld is hot, bush country, some no more than 21 metres above sea-level. Although much drier than the other areas, it is home to vast, irrigated sugar estates: the remaining tracts of wild bush are home to renowned game reserves and offer easy access to genuine wilderness areas.

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Elephant at Mkhaya Game Reserve © Anne Wade

 

On Swaziland’s eastern flank the Lubombo range is a line of rugged, volcanic hills that rises abruptly from the Lowveld to some 600 metres and which extends beyond Swaziland, following the Mozambique border north through the Kruger National Park and south into KwaZulu-Natal. Although from below it appears as a single line, the hills comprise a number of parallel ridges broken by deep gorges carved by the Usutu, Ngwavuma and Mbuluzi rivers. In many respects the Lubombo region is a high extension of the Lowveld and with breathtaking views, but its wild and beautiful hills contain unusual habitats with flora and fauna found nowhere else in the country.

  • Mlawula Nature Reserve in the kingdom’s eastern reaches forms part of the Swaziland-Mozambique-South Africa Lubombo Trans-Frontier Conservation and Resource Area that was promulgated in June 2000. The reserve’s 16 500 ha encompass transitional landscapes between dry savannas and moist coastal thickets, thereby incorporating distinct ecological zones - mountain ridge, valley and plateau. Mlawula’s northern boundary is marked by the perennial Mbuluzi River which is fed by the steep forested ravines that dissect the Lubombo plateau. Locally unique and picturesque are the rain-filled seasonal pans that occur along the plateau’s higher reaches. Administered by the SNTC, Mlawula offers accommodation in the Magadzavane, which is a 40-bed lodge with furnished en-suite units, restaurant, bar, conference centre and pool. The complex was opened in March 2012 and is supplemented by a Sara tented camp and a spacious main camp for tents and caravans. Road access has been significantly improved, funded by the Republic of China-Taiwan.
  • Malolotja Nature Reserve on the kingdom’s northwest flank is another SNTC undertaking. It stretches from the historic iron ore mine at Ngwenya almost as far as Pigg’s Peak, and boasts the country’s highest waterfall among mountain scenery regarded by many as Southern Africa’s answer to the Alps. A vast array of habitats can be enjoyed via extensive trails – up to weeklong hikes – or joining a Treetop Canopy Tour and gliding though the forests’ upper reaches to catch sight of striking rock formations and towering cliff faces. Malolotja’s flora is widely varied – the wildflowers in spring are particularly famous – while the lists of birds and mammals each contain an impressive number of rarities. Accommodation in this, one of the kingdom’s most popular nature reserves, is a choice between log cabins and a campsite.
  • Phophonyane Nature Reserve is part of a 600 ha conservancy in the mountainous north-west and falls within the Barberton Centre of Endemism, which is an area of global biodiversity-significance. Its central feature is the Phophonyane Falls, a series of cascades and waterfalls that stretches for three kilometres along the boundary between two continental blocks of the Earth’s crust. Definitive geological finds have been made there. Other main features include granite cliffs and the Mbevane Falls and stream which are flanked by a riverine forest in which eight orchid species have been identified. In the reserve as a whole, more than 400 species of trees and 250 species of birds are to be found, along with numerous species of mammals and reptiles. A network of well-maintained trails leads to spectacular vantage points offering vistas that sweep to the Gobolondo and Makhonjwa mountain ranges.
  • Mantenga Nature Reserve is 725 ha of Middle- and Highveld habitat in a secluded corner of the Ezulwini Valley. Its southern boundary is formed by the bilharzia-free Little Usuthu River, and the 95-metres high Mantenga Falls are both Swaziland’s best-known and largest water-volume cascade. Swimming and picnicking are popular adjuncts to bird-watching and photographing the many variants of small and medium-sized animals that abound.
  • Hawane Nature Reserve lies between the southern sector of Malolotsha Game Park and the city of Mbabane, which is supplied with water from a dam within the reserve. The relatively small area includes part of the habitat of Swaziland’s endemic and rare ‘red-hot poker’ succulent plant.
  • Shewula Mountain Camp lies adjacent to the Mlawula Nature Reserve in the foothills of the northeast Lubombo range and is favourably mentioned in all publications geared towards the ever-burgeoning backpackers market.
  • Ngwempisi Gorge cuts through the southern region’s scenic drive area in the vicinity of Shiselweni. Accommodation choices amid the tall cliffs and deep gorges, cool rivers and hot springs include a fitted-out cave.

COMMUNITY TOURISM

Swaziland offers some of the best and most varied examples of community-based tourism to be found in the region: while the projects listed below were seed-funded by the European Commission through government, all are maintained by communities which are empowered through the development process to assume responsibility for sustainability.

  • Maguga Craft Outlet and Viewsite overlook the majestic Maguga Dam which is among the continent’s highest. At the Craft Outlet, talented community members can be seen at work and their unique mementos purchased at reasonable prices. 
    Maguga Lodge Hiking Trails give visitors the opportunity to see some of the country’s most fascinating and beautiful destinations, be fully immersed in Swazi culture and witness evidence of its awe-inspiring history. All three routes use local guides and profits are invested back into the community.
  • Nsangwini Rock Art Centre is situated high above the Komati River and is the best-preserved local site of rock art produced by the San people over 4 000 years ago. All profits are reinvested in community projects. 
  • Sibebe Rock is the world’s largest exposed granite dome - often compared to Australia’s Uluru (Ayers Rock) – and offers a breathtaking experience to those who venture along its trails which are regarded as among Swaziland’s most interesting. Walking tours are run by the local community and much of the vast array of wildlife to be seen is unique to the area.
  • Shewula Mountain Camp is a successful community venture that offers the opportunity to stay among Swazi people in hutted accommodation and experience the local life and culture. Guests are encouraged to explore the surroundings with local guides. 
  • Lonhlupheko Craft Market is one of the jewels in the crown of Siteki and where vendors compete good-naturedly in what has become a flagship project for joint community entrepreneurship. Lonhlupheko is also known as one of the best places to learn about Swazi culture, direct from the local community.
  • Ngwempisi Hiking Trail/Khelekhele Horse Trail: The 33-km Ngwempisi Trail delivers vistas of plateaux, woodlands, riverine forest and mountainous terrain, along with an opportunity to see many birds, interesting flora and fascinating geology. Khelekhele Horse Trail offers the opportunity to explore the area on horseback: both projects are run by the local community as part of the STA initiative to ensure that tourism benefits all sectors.
  • Mahamba Gorge Lodge: Perched on the edge of the Mkhondvo River gorge and offering a panoramic vista, the venue has strong links to the community: these include traditional Swazi breakfast prepared by a local chef and a selection of local crafts that specialise in handmade models of structures such as the area’s historic church and traditional beehive huts.
  • All Out Africa Walking Tour: This half-day excursion begins with an introduction to Swazi history at the National Museum, passes through one of the oldest and most famous villages in Swaziland - the Royal Residence - before exploring homes, small-scale ethnic businesses, an art gallery and concluding with a traditional Swazi barbeque. The tour is led by an experienced local guide steeped in indigenous folklore.

IMAGE BUILDERS

The Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) actualises via strategies and plans the National Tourism Policy’s specific and general aims as laid down by the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs. The latter additionally devises attractive incentives for potential private sector investment along with methods of inconvenience-free facilitation and implementation. Feedback from the STA ensures that policy-makers and disseminators of marketing material are in tune with the latest incentive-devices and tourism trends, and furthermore that optimum benefits are derived from the kingdom’s existing attractions and potential new developments. Additional STA responsibilities range from the monitoring of industry participants’ quality standards and the provision of relevant skills for new entrants, to the implementation of comprehensive market research plus the gathering and administering of levy- and registration-derived development revenue. STA Marketing Manager, Bongani Dlamini, is a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council that serves as the international body for promoting the increased knowledge, understanding and adoption of sustainable tourism practices: it represents a diverse membership including UN agencies, governments and tourism boards, along with key players in global travel and hospitality.

The Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC) is a parastatal mandated to conserve and develop both the natural and cultural heritage of the kingdom. It proclaims and manages national parks and reserves - along with national museums and monuments – and is responsible for the National Environmental Education Programme. Ecotourism is an important component of SNTC activities and through which it contributes significantly to the country’s overall tourism economy. The organization administers five diverse facilities – Mantenga Nature Reserve and Swazi Cultural Village, Malolotsha Nature Reserve, Mlawula Nature Reserve, the National Museum and King Sobhuza II Memorial Park. Furthermore, the SNTC partners with peer bodies in South Africa and Mozambique under the Lebombo Trans-frontier Conservation Areas in a spatial development initiative that promotes conservation and economic development across national boundaries.

The Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) is the destination marketing wing of the Southern African Development Community and serves to promote an intra-regional flow of visitors through cross-border promotional activities among member countries. This includes both internal travellers and the encouragement of visitors from further abroad to expand their horizons and itineraries. The latter refers in particular to South Africa, by far the most popular prime destination and from which other countries in the region glean piggy-back markets. RETOSA is fully integrated with the world’s leading travel and hospitality sectors via website interlinks and has an online Database of Southern Africa to avail free marketing opportunities to players in the tourism industry.