by George Vernon Hunt

I’m sure very few people could locate Swaziland on a world map. It may be one of the smallest countries in Africa, but this hidden gem certainly packs a punch!

From the moment I set foot in Swaziland, I knew I was embarking on an extraordinary adventure. We drove from Johannesburg, SA to get to the Swazi border town of Ngwenya, but within minutes of crossing the border the entire landscape and atmosphere around us become startlingly different from that of South Africa.

I knew embarrassingly little about Swaziland. Africa, right? But, it soon became obvious that this was a diverse country, and home to a very proud set of people – a pride that was utterly infectious. Sandile would tell us fascinating stories of the king and how he met his wives, the national parks and how they became home to some of the rarest animal species in the world, and quite regularly of his family back home, working the land that had been left by his father.

The shear number of activities and adventures that are on offer was overwhelming! From hikes through national parks, with stops in community run lodges, the high adrenaline canopy tour zip wiring in Maloltja national park to simply relaxing in the paradise of Phophonyane falls ecolodge – Swaziland really has it all. But to me this felt like a play ground, not an entire country. So small, every corner offers something new, and within just the seven days we had to visit, we covered almost the entirety of the country.

For me the standout features of Swaziland had to be the three wildlife reserves. Mlilwane, Hlane & Mkhaya. Collectively they are home to all five of the ‘Big 5’ game (Lions, Rhino, Wildebeest, Leopards and Elephant). They each offered a unique perspective to get up close and personal with the extraordinary wildlife.

At Mlilwane we could roam free around the park – on foot or by bike, it gave a sense of freedom which is seldom seen in a game park (just watch out for the crocs!). Allowing you to take in the sights at your own pace and feel in awe at the incredible wildlife.

Hlane offered an up-close look at Lions and Elephants just a short distance from luxury accommodation and a chance to see rhinos having a snooze in the morning sun whilst we enjoyed a hearty breakfast.

Mkhaya was perhaps my favourite ever safari experience. The completely open top jeeps and river crossing to enter the park made it feel truly rustic and authentic like we were stepping into a world of Jumanji. The park was well managed but had a wild edginess that meant you could never tell what would be around the next corner. The guides were incredibly passionate and knowledgable and could seemingly spot a rhino from miles away!

The only story I knew about Swaziland before I came was that my grandad was nearly eaten by a crocodile when he worked here during the 1960s. But I’ve left with so many amazing memories and stories – as well as a strong craving to explore this country more. The country is undiscovered enough that every experience feels genuine and ‘off the beaten track’, but without being a nightmare to travel around.

Swaziland is a country that is jam-packed with adventure and opportunity, and for those who are keen to ‘break the mould’ and experience an alternative African idyll – it is definitely the place to go.