Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Swaziland
Swaziland (known to the Swazis as Ngwane) lies in the southeast of the African continent, bounded on the north, west and south by South Africa and on the east by Mozambique.
With an area of 17,364sq.km/ 6704sq.mi, it is the second smallest state in Africa (after Gambia).Swaziland is a monarchy, with a parliament whose main function is to advise the king. The head of government is appointed by the king. Political parties are banned.The official language is Swazi (SiSwati). English is also used to some extent in administration and education.The most used route from Johannesburg to Mbabane, capital of Swaziland, is on N 4 to Machadodorp and then R 541. Mbabane can also be reached on R 29 to Ermelo and then R 39. The best route from KwaZulu/Natal is on N 2 via Nsoko and Big Bend to Manzini and Mbabane.The hilly region in the west of the country (Mt Mlembe, 1862m/6109ft) is part of the Great Escarpment on the edge of South Africa's central plateau (the highveld). Well watered by rain and rivers and densely wooded as a result of deforestation, this is the economic heartland of Swaziland (iron and asbestos working). East of this is a fertile upland region, the middle- veld, which in turn gives place to the flat and also fertile lowveld (200-300m/650-1000ft). A natural frontier with Mozambique in the east is formed for 150km/95mi by the Lebombo Mountains, a basaltic range of hills (around 600m/2,000ft) geologically related to the Drakensberg of South Africa which extends northward from northern Zululand for 600km/370mi to the Limpopo. Swaziland's principal river is the Usutu, which flows into the Pongola River beyond the eastern frontier. The Usutu valley is the most populous part of the country.ClimateIn the hilly part of the country the subtropical climate is relatively temperate, with a good deal of rain. The middleveld, with an average annual rainfall of around 1000mm/40in., is Swaziland's main agricultural region. The lowveld is hot and dry, with extensive irrigated areas in which the main crop is sugar-cane.VegetationSwaziland's eucalyptus and pine forests, mostly the result of deforestation programs, lie mainly on the highveld, which is otherwise a grassland region. In the rainy middleveld the umbrella acacia is common, while the lowveld with its scanty rainfall is a region of savanna with thorny shrubs.PopulationSwaziland has an average population density of 49 to the sq. kilometer (127 to the sq.mi), the western and eastern regions being more densely populated, with steadily increasing numbers of people moving into these areas from the rest of the country. More than two-thirds of the population live on the land.95% of the population are Swazis. In addition there are a few thousand of mixed race, some 2000 Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis and 46,000 refugees from Mozambique. The annual rate of population growth, at over 3%, is very high.The predominant religions are various Bantu faiths and Protestantism (African Apostolic Church).The economy of Swaziland is heavily dependent on that of South Africa. The most important branch of the economy is the services sector. Many thousand Swazis work in South Africa.Although two-thirds of the population work on the land, agriculture makes only a minor contribution to the gross domestic product. Most of the country's agricultural land is devoted to subsistence agriculture, on land granted on lease by the king through the local authorities; the rest is owned by Europeans or by companies. In Swazi eyes stock-farming has more prestige than arable farming, and as a result there are very large numbers of livestock, leading to over-grazing and erosion of the soil. The government seeks by promoting the development of cooperatives to encourage the growing of more basic foodstuffs and produce for the market. In the lowveld, with the help of irrigation, citrus fruits, rice and sugar-cane are grown. The most important agricultural export product is sugar. Other important products are cotton and citrus fruits and, for meeting domestic needs, maize and millet, the traditional staple foods.Forestry, particularly on the highveld, is of considerable economic importance as a result of large-scale redeforestation projects from the 1950s onwards. Most of the timber felled consists of conifers, mainly pines.Industry contributes just under a third of the gross domestic product. The processing industries deal mainly with the products of agriculture and forestry, and accordingly a dominant place is occupied by the foodstuffs industries (particularly sugar), timber-working and papermaking. Textiles, metalworking and chemicals are also of some importance. Plans for the further development of industry are hampered by the country's land-locked situation and by the small domestic market. The government seeks to attract investment by offering various incentives such as tax concessions and favorable prices for land.Mining also makes a contribution to Swaziland's economy. The asbestos plant at Havelock is one of the largest in the world. Coal is worked at Mpaka and on the eastern borders of the country. Other minerals are kaolin, diamonds, gold and tin.Swaziland's imports, mainly from South Africa, include machinery, transport equipment, fuel and foodstuffs; its principal exports, mainly to South Africa and the European Union, are foodstuffs, animals and timber.Almost half of Swaziland's electric power is imported from South Africa. It has a number of small coal-fired power stations and hydro-electric stations, and it is planned to develop these sources of energy still further. In the field of tourism the country's main attractions are its game reserves and the mountain scenery of the highveld; most foreign visitors come from South Africa.There are twelve frontier crossings, usually open only during the day, between South Africa and Swaziland. European and other visitors require a visa, which can be obtained at the frontier. With Mbabane, which has comfortable hotels, as a base, the country can be explored by car. The most important main roads are asphalted, but even the unsurfaced tracks are usually negotiable by an ordinary car. In the remoter parts of the country, particularly during the months of high rainfall (October to March), it is essential to inquire locally about road conditions.
Swaziland began in 1750 and became independent from Britain in 1968. Many political changes have been experienced by the Swazis and this has brought about greater accountability by the government.
The Incwala is an impressive religious festival celebrated in December and January, lasting three weeks. It is a kind of fertility ceremony designed to prepare for the new year and as a symbolic renewal of the monarchy.At the beginning of the celebrations representatives of the Bemanti people bring water from all the main rivers of Swaziland and foam from the sea, gathered at the new moon. Young men then build a royal kraal at Lobamba from branches of the lusekwana tree and other plants. The central ceremonies begin on the first night of full moon and last six days. On the "day of the bull" a bull is killed and offered as a sacrifice. The climax is reached on the following day, the "great day", when the king, clad in his finest robes, symbolically tastes the first fruits of the harvest and there is singing and dancing. On the last day all the ceremonial objects are burned as offerings to the rain gods.Visitors are welcome at these celebrations except for certain parts of the ceremonies. Photography is not permitted.
Mbabane, South Africa
Mbabane (pop. 52,000), Swaziland's capital, was founded by white pioneers. In 1888 Michael Walls set up a shop here, round which a small village soon grew up. The development of the place received a boost after Swaziland became a British protectorate in 1903, when the center of colonial administration was transferred from Bremersdorp (now Manzini) to Mbabane with its more agreeable climate.Mbabane has developed rapidly in recent years, and building activity is continuing. It is now a town of widely separated districts, beautiful gardens and tree-shaded streets.The only feature of tourist interest is the Swazi Market at the south end of Allister Miller Street, the town's main shopping street. The wares offered for sale include not only agricultural produce but all the various craft products of Swaziland, including masks, basketwork and pottery.A pleasant excursion from Mbabane is a trip up beautiful Pine Valley to the north of the town. The route follows the Umbeluzi River, passing a number of waterfalls. This is good walking and riding country, with agreeable temperatures even in summer.
Ezulwini, South Africa
Ezulwini ("Place of the Sky"), to the south of Mbabane, is a tourist center with a large number of hotels. There are also tennis courts, riding arenas and a thermal spring, as well as numerous shops selling craft products.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Ezulwini is surrounded on the north, west and south by Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, established by Ted and Elizabeth Reilly, who turned their farm at Mlilwane, with the support of King Sobhuza II, into a game reserve and presented it to the state in 1964. The Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, which has now grown to 4,500 ha/11,100ac as a result of further donations of land, is an area of scrub and grassland surrounded by the Nyonyane ("Place of the Little Bird") Mountains. Originally animals had to be brought to the reserve from far afield, and particular species of plants had to be introduced for them to feed on. The Mlilwane Sanctuary is now home to 470 species of birds and many indigenous mammals, including zebras, rhinoceros, crocodiles, giraffes, hippopotamuses and antelopes. The chance of a visit to the Mantenga Falls should not be missed.There is accommodation for visitors in chalets and on a camping site. Conducted tours on horseback or by car are available.
Lobamba, South Africa
To the south of Ezulwini, in the beautiful Ezulwini valley, is Lobamba Royal Village, with the Royal Kraal, the Parliament Building, the National Museum and other government buildings.In the large Embo State Palace the king holds audiences, and the magnificent State House, built in 1978, is used mainly for ceremonial and other state occasions; neither of these buildings is open to the public. The Parliament Building (1979) can be visited. The Somhlolo Stadium is the venue of major cultural and sporting events, state celebrations, concerts, dance performances and speeches by the king.
The National Museum set in beautiful gardens, has interesting archaeological and historical exhibits on the culture and history of Swaziland, including examples of traditional dress with explanations of their significance and function. Outside the Museum is a Swazi kraal.
Manzini, South Africa
15km/9mi east of Lobamba is Manzini, on the Mzimneni River. The town grew up round a shop and hotel established towards the end of the 19th C and in 1890, under the name of Bremersdorp, became the administrative center of Swaziland under British and Boer rule - a role which it lost to Mbabane a few years later. It was given its present name ("Place on the Water") in 1960.Manzini (pop. 52,000) is the country's main economic center, with cotton- and meat-processing factories and an electronics factory. In spring its streets are gay with the blossom of jacarandas and flame-trees. It has no features of tourist interest apart from a market selling local craft products.The main road to the South African province of KwaZulu/Natal, runs southeast over the lower middleveld to Siphofaneni ("Yellowish-Brown Place"), where there are hot chloride springs.
Siteki, South Africa
The little town of Siteki (pop. 1,500), set in a park-like landscape with jacarandas and tulip-trees, is the commercial and administrative center of the Lebombo district. The origins of the town are unknown, but its name ("Place of Many Marriages") suggests interesting possibilities.
Hlane Game Sanctuary
The Hlane ("Wilderness") Game Sanctuary is the largest in the country (30,000 ha/75,000ac), and belongs to the king, who hunts here annually. Most of the area is therefore closed to the public.The reserve is a paradise for nature-lovers, with fine bush vegetation and large numbers of animals, including elephants, giraffes, water buffaloes, zebras and crocodiles.
Simunye, South Africa
The little town of Simunye (pop. 4,500), on the northeastern edge of the game sanctuary, was established some years ago for workers in the sugar industry. It has a large new sugar factory.
Mlawula Nature Reserve
The Mlawula Nature Reserve (area 18,000 ha/45,000ac), extends from the lowveld up into the Lebombo Mountains.
Mhlume, South Africa
From the junction at the bridge over the Mbuluzi River a road runs west through large plantations of sugar-cane and citrus fruits, passing Mhlume, which has the largest sugar factory in the country, to Tshaneni ("Place of the Small Stone"). In this area dams have been built to provide water for irrigating the fields.
With an area of 65,000 ha/160,500ac, mainly pines, Usutu Forest is one of the largest planted forests in the world. The road south from Mbabane via Mhlambanyatsi to Bunya runs through the forest, affording magnificent views of the richly wooded country.The forest is surrounded by game reserves including Mlilwane Nature Reserve and Hlane Game Sanctuary.
Bunya, South Africa
Bunya has a paper factory which produces 180,000 tons of paper annually.
Mankayane, South Africa
The area around Mankayane is a countryside of unspoiled natural beauty. After passing the Ngabeni mission and Mtimani Forest a road comes to Mankayane, where there are a few shops.
Nhlangano, South Africa
Nhlangano is set in the beautiful and well cultivated Grand Valley, from which there are fine views. The Swazis moved into this area in the mid 18th C.The name of Nhlangano ("Meeting-Place") the chief place in the valley, refers to a meeting here in 1947 between Sobhuza II and King George VI.
Hlatsikhulu, South Africa
From Hlatsikhulu, 27km/17mi north of Nhlangano, there is a magnificent view of the Grand Valley.
Motshane, South Africa
15km/9mi northwest of Mbabane is Motshane, from which a road runs northeast through some of the most beautiful upland country in Africa. The first part of the road is through an area of grassland and rocky hills, with the Ngwenya and Silotwane Mountains to the west.
Malolotja Nature Reserve
The Malolotja Nature Reserve has an area of 18,000 ha/45,000ac. The name means "river with many rapids and waterfalls". In this area are some of the oldest rock formations in the world. The fauna is particularly notable for the many species of reptiles and of birds, and the flora is rich and varied.In the southern part of the reserve is the Ngwenya Mine, probably the oldest mine in the world, in which hematite and smectite were already being worked 45,000 years ago. In more recent times iron ore was worked here, but the mine closed down in the 1970s. There are hiking trails through the reserve, and accommodation is available in numerous camps. In the Komati valley are some interesting Bushman paintings.
Nkaba, South Africa
The little market town of Nkaba leads to the valley of the rapidly flowing Komati River, an area of outstanding natural beauty in both form and color. A road climbs up the north side of the valley, passing the plantations of the Swaziland Plantation Company, with a sawmill.
Pigg's Peak, South Africa
The little town of Pigg's Peak grew up after the discovery of gold here in 1881. Three years later William Pigg struck a gold-mine which, for 80 years, was the largest in the country.Pigg's Peak is now a timber-working town, with shops, government offices and a craft market.
13km/8mi northeast of Pigg's Peak are the imposing Phophonyane Falls. This beautiful area, with its lush vegetation and rich bird life, has been used as the setting for films. It can be explored on a number of hiking trails.Nearby is the very attractive Phophonyane Lodge, which accommodates visitors in cottages and tents and organizes tours of the surrounding area.
At Bulembo, 21km/13mi west of Pigg's Peak, is the Havelock Mine (named after Sir Arthur Havelock, a former Governor of Natal), one of the five largest asbestos mines in the world. Gold was also found here in 1836, drawing prospectors from far and wide for the next 30 years. After the rediscovery of the asbestos deposits, in 1930, a Canadian firm bought shares in the mine at a horrendous price and began to work the asbestos, which is transported to Baberton on a 20km/12.5mi long cableway running 5m/16ft above the ground.
Mkhaya Nature Reserve
The Mkhaya Nature Reserve (area 6,250ha/15,450ac) belongs to Ted Reilly and can be visited only by appointment; there is accommodation for visitors in a tented camp. The reserve was established to protect endangered species. Among the animals to be seen here are elephants and rhinos.
Big Bend, South Africa
At Big Bend, a center of sugar production, the road skirting the Lebombo Mountains is particularly beautiful.
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