A day among friendly wildlife in Swaziland
Mlilwane is eSwatini’s (formerly Swaziland) oldest nature reserve situated between the Capital Mbabane and Manzini in the stunning Ezulwini Valley.
Established in the 1960s, when trophy hunting was on the rise, Mlilwane became a sanctuary for many animal species. Because the protected area is relatively small, it cannot support large herds of the big game. However, the smaller, friendly animals contribute to the reserve’s unique atmosphere.
The different wildlife experience
As the park’s inhabitants are mainly tolerant herbivores, visitors can choose from several self-guided outdoor activities.
You can explore the reserve from the back of a horse, the saddle of a mountain bike, or hike different trails. If your legs are tired, you can just self-drive on the park’s well-maintained dirt roads.
The feeling of freedom while exploring the park on your own is a rare experience in safari terms. You can end up in the middle of a zebra herd, or stumble upon a cute warthog family while walking on bright red soil.
Since there are no predators, you can observe usually shy antelope species such as nyala, blesbuck, kudu, and impala from close proximity.
Bird fans won’t be disappointed either. Although we are not particularly keen on birding, watching bright yellow weavers weaving their nests using just a few grass stalks and their beaks was astonishing.
Besides, Mlilwane is set in spectacular African scenery. Open, bright green grassland in the south meets dramatic granite mountains in the north.
Good to know: For all activities (guided and self-guided), visitors must register at the park’s reception at the rest camp and sign out upon return. Hiking trails are well marked. Although most of the wildlife is friendly, riverbanks are home to crocodiles, so always stay on marked trails.
Accommodation & Rest Camp
Mlilwane rest camp offers simple but clean accommodation either in huts, rondavels, cottages, or beehive huts. Visitors can choose from self-catering to full board options. There is a fully equipped restaurant in the main camp serving mainly grilled dishes.
We spent one night in a traditional windowless beehive cottage with a thatch roof. Our hut was equipped with an en-suite bathroom, lights, and a couple of power plugs. Inside the hut, it was pitch black, but the sounds of the bush around us acted as a natural alarm clock.
The rest camp itself is a paradise for every nature lover. Warthogs, impalas and vervet monkeys literally walk calmly among visitors. Warthogs have even learned to fall asleep in front of the manmade fireplace to keep themselves warm. They do it every evening regardless of the humans gathering around it.
This is the legacy of the park’s founders, Ted and Liz Reilly, who wished humans and animals would live in a natural symbiosis. Let’s hope this extraordinary co-existence can be preserved for future generations.
Itinerary tips & booking
Mlilwane is located approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the Oshoek border post to South Africa. We visited the sanctuary as an extension to our 24-hour, 4pm to 4pm Mkhaya Game Reserve tour. From Mkhaya, it’s a 1,5- to 2-hour drive to Mlilwane. The park’s gates are open for check-in from sunrise to sunset. After sunset, there’s a separate night entrance area for overnight guests.
Good to know: Credit cards & South African Rand are accepted in the restaurant and souvenir shop. Very slow and extra charged wifi (~6 USD for 50 MB) is available in the reception area.