Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary Eswatini
Mlilwane is Eswatini’s (Swaziland’s) best-known nature reserve. It was here in 1961 that Ted Reilly – whose father had settled at the property in 1906 – first took action to save what remained of the kingdom’s wildlife, converting it into a sanctuary and rounding up animals from elsewhere around the country before they were hunted out. Although Big Game Parks – the independent conservation trust that Reilly subsequently founded – has since acquired the management of the larger reserves of Hlane and Mkhaya, Mlilwane remains its spiritual home.
Mlilwane is just a 15-minute drive from the Ezulwini Valley and its landscape is dominated by Nyonyane Mountain, visible from afar. This dramatic peak is known as Execution Rock, taking its name from the grisly fate that once befell the condemned folk who were led to its summit. The reserve is not ‘Big Five’ country, and indeed the proximity of busy Ezulwini Valley, together with the stands of alien gum trees and old tin mine workings, means that it cannot be considered a pristine wilderness. Nonetheless, it is a beautifully scenic and wonderful oasis for wildlife, with a lovely relaxed ambiance.
Size of Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary
The Sanctuary covers 4,600 Ha spanning the transition zone between the highveld and Lowveld, dissected by the Usushwana River forming a southern and northern section.
Location of Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is in the Ezulwini Valley of central Swaziland, south of the city of Mbabane. Its grassy southern plains are home to animals such as antelopes and zebras, as well as many birds. Several trails and tracks suitable for horses run up Nyonyane Mountain to the craggy summit known as Execution Rock. The Nyakato viewpoint overlooks Mantenga waterfall and the Usushwana Valley below.
How to get to Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary
fly from Johannesburg to King Mswati III International Airport (SHO) in Manzini and hire a car to Mlilwane. The distance is about 60km/37mi and the drive takes about an hour.
Things to do in Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary
Activities are based in the reserve’s southern sector, with the northern sector set aside as a wilderness area. Wildlife is easy to find: zebra, blesbok, impala, blue wildebeest and warthog graze the open grasslands, while kudu and nyala browse the thickets. Rare antelope, such as roan and oribi, are protected in an enclosed area and can be viewed on a guided tour, and a pod of hippos frequents the main dam, sometimes visiting the waterhole at Rest Camp. Vervet monkeys and baboons are common, while the rich birdlife includes a noisy heron colony at Rest Camp and both black and crowned eagles in the hills. Crocodiles lurk in the Dam.
The reserve’s public roads are perfect for self-drive wildlife safaris – or you can book a guided game drive in an open Land Rover. Other activities include walking trails, mountain biking, and horse-riding. The last of these cater to all levels and offer an excellent way to approach wildlife and explore the mountains on hourly and multi-day trails. Longer riding trails feature a night spent in a hidden cave beneath Nyonyane, complete with a traditional open fire dinner.
When to visit Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary
Mlilwane is not a prime wildlife-viewing destination, but animals can be seen year-round. The reserve is small with some of the more interesting species kept in enclosures, making them easy to find. The dry months of June to September might be best for seeing some of the smaller creatures. August to September is recommended as wildlife watching is excellent at this time and temperatures are higher than in mid-winter.
Where to stay in Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary
Mlilwane offers a variety of accommodation, from self-catering cottages to beehive huts and a backpacker’s lodge – or you can splash out on the colonial comforts of Reilly’s Rock, the old family home, where bushbabies visit the verandah every evening. Many visitors, however, come just for a family day-out in the mellow environs of Rest Camp, where you can fire up the barbeque take a dip in the pool, and commune with the wandering warthogs.
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