Established in 1964, the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is eSwatini’s (previously Swaziland) oldest protected area offering rehabilitation of wildlife. Although not a Big Five destination, the sanctuary does provide a haven for a wealth of species such as hippos, crocodiles, kudu, aardvark and honey badger.
The picturesque wildlife refuge sits on the edge of the emerald Ezulwini Valley and flanked by the scenic Nyonyane mountain and its treacherous peak. Covering 4,500 hectares of soft grassy plains and dense Afro-montane forest, Mlilwane is one of the most scenic regions for a wildlife and wilderness experience.
The gate to the sanctuary is accessible throughout the day and night, making it easily accessible to visitors. A host of unique activities are available in the southern section and include everything from horse riding to mountain biking, walking trails and game drives. The sanctuary truly is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is easily accessible from the tourist hub of the Ezulwini Valley, which is situated southeast of the capital, Mbabane. Visitors can fly into the international airport and arrange ongoing transport to their lodge, or self-drive to the sanctuary.
Mlilwane is a small tract of bushy landscape comprising forested regions with mountains as a backdrop. The many dams on the terrain provide the water sources for wildlife, and this is where visitors can spot hippos, crocodiles, water mongoose and a host of water-dwelling reptiles.
The sanctuary supports several species of antelope, which includes impala, oribi, duiker, blesbuck, nyala and wildebeest. There are also abundant herds of zebra and sounder of warthog. Smaller mammals to spot are genet, porcupine, civet and honey badger. The ever-elusive leopard does dwell within this habitat but is rarely spotted.
The Kingdom boasts an impressive 500 bird species, making birding is a popular past-time in the area. It’s here that birders can spot typical bushveld birds such as the brown-hooded kingfisher, Golden-breasted Bunting and the purple-crested turaco. Waders and raptors are also prolific, and birders can expect to see the Verreaux’s eagle soaring through the skies.
The winter period is always best for safaris, as this is when the landscape becomes drier and wildlife flocks to available water sources, making their whereabouts predictable. The wintertime in eSwatini is from June - September. Summer is marked by rain and hot, humid weather. The landscapes shift into spectacular emerald hues, but the heat can and rain can interfere with any outdoor pursuits.
The southern portion of the reserve is where the safari activities take place. The northern reaches of the sanctuary are only accessible with a private guide. The north section is where the tallest peak is, and plenty of experience is required to hike this challenging route.
The sanctuary is ideal for self-drive activities. Experienced safari-goers can explore independently. However, hiring the services of a local guide also comes with its rewards. Privately guided game drives in 4WD vehicles provide ample opportunity to explore hidden pockets otherwise inaccessible by self-drivers. There is an array of game drives available, and include anything from sunrise and sunset game drives to specialized game drives dedicated to finding specific species.
Professionally guided walks to learn about the flora and fauna of the area is another option safari activity option. There is a network of nine trails just waiting to be explored. Mountain bikes can be hired for adventures across the dirt roads and single tracks. There are easy and technical trails, and avid bikers also have the option of hiring a guide. Biking covers plenty of ground and offers plenty of scope for seeing wildlife.
Other safari activities in the sanctuary include horse riding and gentle nature trails.
The main types of accommodation within the park include camping and self-catering. There are backpackers and budget accommodation options close to the sanctuary, and a luxury lodge just steps away from the wildlife sanctuary.