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I want to visit the mountain kingdom of Swaziland and public transport just won't work so I rent a car and head North from Kwazulu-Natal. It takes a few minutes to get used to driving on the left, and a few more to get used to shifting with my left hand.
The first day I drive through Swaziland's vast cane fields and spend the night at a remote truck stop. The next morning I continue North through stunning scenery with cane fields around and the mist shrouded Lumbombo mountains in Mozambique to the East. There is little traffic and I get the sense I'm a bit off the beaten track.
That feeling is reinforced when I reach the Royal Hlane game park. I'm the only visitor and I have to wait until a small group of missionaries shows up so I can go on a game drive. In terms of game volume the drive is a bit disappointing compared to iSimangeliso.
But what I get is definitely worth it. We come upon a pride of lions - three females and a large male. We're close enough so that when the lioness looks our way she is clearly assessing me as lunch. I've never enjoyed zoos. The contrast with animals in the wild is striking.
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Fortunately the pride has already eaten. Seeing big game in person and close up is special. The animals are so vital in the wild. Powerful and aware.
My road leads through the former capital to the Ezulwini Valley where the Kings of Swaziland have their palaces. They need a lot to house their hundred or so wives.
Up a nearby valley is Malandela's, a Lonely Planet pick as a place to stay. Unfortunately they're booked up but I end up at a comfortable place with a great view further up the valley.
Malandela's is actually a complex with lodge, the House on Fire venue for various productions, Gone Rural (a women's co-op selling some attractive batiks and weavings) and a rather eclectic sculpture garden.
Check out Malandela's and Gone Rural at -
After a good breakfast at Malendela's outdoor cafe I quickly drive through the current Swazi capital and North to the Malolotja Game Preserve. Not much game to see as I drive around but magnificent views. A nearby mine is one of the earliest ever discovered. It operated around 40,000 years ago. Early man came in search of iron for tools and minerals for cosmetics.
I've read about a town called Bulembu that sounds interesting so I decide to take the road out of Pigg's Peak and check it out on the way to the South Africa border post. True - the guide books do suggest that this might not be such a good idea, but how bad could the road be? It's not raining and a slick road seems to be the major concern.
Wrong. It's like driving through a streambed and my car doesn't have much clearance. I keep doing this to myself. Why can't I just take the beaten path? But I make the grade and drive in before dark.
Bulembu was an asbestos mining town. When the mine closed the town quickly became a ghost town. Then a group of investors funded a project to repopulate the town, this time as a refuge for orphans. Today there are around 350 orphans being housed and educated. The town supports itself through selling water, honey, and crafts. They are gradually restoring the town. The Mine Manager's house is now the lodge. And they hope to restore the old art-deco cinema as well as other historic buildings.
For more information and to donate, see -
Driving on to the South African border after the trials of the previous day was easy and the mountain landscape was spectacular. This was a remote area and there were few people about to share the views. Perhaps just the ghosts of what is known as the Genesis Trail, site of man's early movements from Kenya into South Africa.
By contrast, as I dropped onto the plains and drove North into the well-known Kruger/Blyde Canyon area, the tackiness and crowds overshadowed the natural beauty of the area. Part of me still wants to be the only one there.