Swaziland’s oldest protected region is Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, which is owned and managed by a non-profit trust. It is situated between Mbabane and Manzini, and acts as the headquarters for the Big Game Parks, which includes Mlilwane’s sister parks of Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve. The Sanctuary spreads over approximately 4,600 hectares in the Ezulwini Valley (also known as ‘Valley of Heaven’).
The area was once a farming and tin mining destination, but has since been transformed into Swaziland’s most popular tourist reserve. The Milwanw Wildlife Sanctuary offers an incredible abundance of wildlife, with the southern portion covered in mostly vast grasslands and middleveld plant life that reaches up to Nyonyane Mountain, with its exposed granite summit that is known as the ‘Rock of Execution’.
Nyonyane Mountain is where ancient San or Bushmen folk once resided, and where Swazi Royal graves are located, giving the site great historical importance. Behind the mountains is the beautiful Mantenga waterfall and the stunning Usushwana Valley which creates the divide before extending up to the northern section.
There are plenty of tourist activities available in this area, and are conducted mostly in the southern section which can be explored in a variety of ways, including on foot, horseback, mountain bikes or by motor vehicle. The northern part of the Sanctuary contains one of the highest points in the region at Lupholo. Only guided trails enter this section of the reserve.
Mlilwane means ‘little fire’ in siSwati, referencing the numerous fires that were started by lightning strikes on Mlilwane Hill. Currently, though, the name holds greater importance and refers to the small fire that begun a huge conservation effort throughout the country, resulting in the saving of more than 22 species from extinction over three different reserves.
The founders of the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary were Ted and Liz Reilly. Ted decided to turn his 460 acre farm into the Sanctuary after having observed the disappearance of wildlife over many years. He intended for it to be a safe and protective haven for Swaziland’s animals. Ted planted indigenous trees, created a wetland environment and restocked Mlilwane with fauna and flora. The Reilly family then donated the Sanctuary to a non-profit trust in 1969, which has since grown ten times its initial size.
There is a wide array of accommodation available in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, including camping, beehive villages, rest camp huts, self-catering cottages, Sondzela Backpackers and the luxury Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge. If you feel like a bit of relaxation, simply lie back and enjoy observing the resident game that wanders by, or take a dip in the rest camp’s gorgeous swimming pool.
Be sure to try one of the delicious meals available at the well-known Hippo Haunt Restaurant, which overlooks an exquisitely scenic pool that is abundant with fantastic bird life. This restaurant can host a variety of private functions, such as weddings or graduation parties, and is frequently used by members of the Royal Family. It is comprised of a reed and semi-tin roof, river sand floor, railway sleeper benches, a bar area and has an ablution block nearby. There are also other dining options available around the Park, should you feel like trying something different.