“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
Hlane Royal National Park is the largest protected reserve in Swaziland and was inaugurated as a national park in 1967 by King Sohbuza II. Prior to 1967, the 22 000 hectares was the private hunting grounds of the king, today it is held in trust for the nation. The name Hlane comes from the siswati word for wilderness.
We drove from Richards Bay to Hlane Royal National Parks to spend three days in the reserve. Hlane is one of the few reserves where it is self drive and you don’t need a 4wd, however we hadn’t anticipated the rain that left the roads waterlogged and impassable by ordinary sedans. So the trip became infinitely more expensive when we had to pay for game drives for everyone.
We did three game drives during our stay and were fortunate to see lions and their cubs each time. Our first game drive was very exciting as the lions had made a kill and had very full, distended bellies having just had a big feed. Our vehicle actually got quite close to the lions. Our guide thought they may have killed a baby elephant.
On our morning game drive we once again saw lions, having made another kill overnight which our guide thought was buffalo. The cubs were quite happy to watch us from the shade of the trees, while the vultures hovered, circling and waiting in anticipation for their turn at the carcass, once the lions relinquished control.
Hlane is famous for its white rhinos, which we didn’t see any until our final morning game drive. Our first sighting was while walking past the waterhole for our game drive where we saw a couple of rhinos leaving it. At the end of our game drive we saw a group of ten or so white rhinos grazing. The guide couldn’t tell us the numbers, as the conservation society keeps it quiet to try to protect them from poaching. The rhinos are kept in a separate enclosure with patrolled security to protect them from poaching. Our guide told us stories of the some of the lengths poachers will go to, to get the rhino horns.
A further visual reminder of the danger that rhinos and other animals face from poaching,, can be seen at the restaurant at the National Park, where skulls of some of the animals that have died at Hlane from poaching are displayed.
Hlane has a range of accommodation from camping to rondovols to cabins. We booked our trip last minute and so we stayed in a cabin the first night and rondovols the second night. The cabins are located around the lake and the rondovols behind them. There is no electricity and the staff come around in the evenings to light the paraffin lanterns. There were impala and nyla grazing around the accommodation and we think we heard the grunting of leopards in the night.
Something to keep in mind is that there are scorpions, when we returned from dinner on the first night Max spotted one in our cabin which had Ava freaked out for the rest of the night.
The park is privately operated by Big Game Parks and further information can be found on their website: https://biggameparks.org/properties/hlane-royal-national-park-1
The game park is relatively small and like in South Africa due to the bush it is harder to spot the animals, having a guide definitely made a difference as they know where the latest kills were and where to locate the various animals. Being a smaller park there are much fewer tourists which is good, in fact I think we only passed one other vehicle during our game drives. We went to eastern Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda a long time ago, where I think the open plains and the sheer number of animals makes it hard for anywhere else to measure up. But this game park was a good weekend break.