Cutting thru Swaziland on the way back to J’berg was something I wasn’t expecting at all, but turned out to be one of the highlights of this trip. Crossing over the border, the difference between the third world conditions of Mozambique and the 2nd world Swaziland was immediately apparent. The roads were in better condition, the street signs were in good repair, and there were modern irrigated fields of sugar cane, instead of scraggly patches of subsistence farms where one single family would try to grow their own food supply, supplemented by food aid.
Swaziland is a fairly small country, but it has a remarkably well developed parks system. They’ve done a great job of developing the park infrastructure for a wide range of tourist types; everything from grungy overlander (like us!) to luxury and family friendly places. Hlane National Park is the overlander one, so we stopped in for an overnight visit. This place was fantastic compared to some of the previous campsites we’d stayed in! Hot showers, electricity for charging our camera batteries, and even a very well put together cultural show in the evening, asking only tips at the end.
Hlane has their wildlife fenced into two areas. They’ve got one area that is for game driving where the big cats can wander around freely. It was at this area that we got our first up close lion sighting of the trip. We’d previously seen a lion or two way off in the distance, hiding under trees, but this was the first time we’d spotted one up close, and walking around.
The other half of the park has relocated all of the dangerous cats elsewhere, and guests are allowed to walk with a guide. The big attraction to this is the opportunity to get up close with rhinos. We were not disappointed! We found several groups of animals, one with a small baby that were happy to stand still and be photographed for a while. Our guide was great at teaching us to read the wind, and sneak up on the animals so they didn’t detect our scent. As long as they weren’t disturbed by our smell, their eyesight was so poor that we could get right up to them!