As we crossed the Mozambique border into Swaziland, the landscape turned to rolling verdant hills and lush valleys, dotted with small communities and subsistence farmers.
We drove approximately 1.5 hours on excellent roads into the central west area into the Mhilane National Park. We checked into the park’s rest camp ($46/night, private bath, fan, kitchen facilities) and relaxed on our porch which overlooked a valley of grazing zebra.
We enjoyed our lunch at the restaurant on a wooden deck overlooking a large pond. Within a couple of minutes, two eyes emerged from the water and started coming directly towards us. Fred and I ended up eating our meal with a 10′ crocodile lying in wait only a few feet away, below us on the deck. There were also several small fish at the water’s edge and to create some excitement, I threw my bread crusts into the water to attract the fish. In turn, the crocodile would whip open his mouth to eat the fish.
We then spent the next few hours riding along the park’s trails on horseback. We rode Swazi horses alongside herds of wildebeest, zebra, greysbok, kudu, and warthogs. The wildlife were not particularly frightened by the horses but they were aware of their presence. Our ride finished with a wild gallop through the bush and back to camp.
The next morning, we headed out early to drive to the Drakensburg Mountain region in South Africa. Once again, we crossed the border back into South Africa and drove for about 6 hours to the Royal Natal National Park area. Here, we stayed at a fantastic lodge in a two story cottage, complete with a kitchen, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room, and satellite tv (all for only $46/night). We had a delicious meal at the restaurant, with drinks, for only $18.
The Drakensburg Mountain region is one of the most impressive areas in South Africa. Jagged mountain peaks, green valleys, rolling hills, steep cliffs, high plateaus, and the Orange River make up most of the terrain. Once again, we were on the road again and the paved roads were excellent.. We headed south towards our 7th African country: Lesotho.
We crossed the border without hassle at Ficksburg and drove for about 2 hours along more great roads to the Malalea Mountain Lodge and “Pony” trekking centre (they are not actually ponies). Lesotho has spectacular scenery similar to what I imagine Utah would look like. It reminded me of the Cederberg Wilderness Area with sandstone mountains, semi-desert, and interesting rock formations.
Our accommodation at the lodge ($46/night, private bath) had a great view overlooking the valleys below. A few resident peacocks strutted their stuff around the property by day, and on top of our room by night. Each night at 6 p.m., guests congregate to enjoy tribal music performed by local men with their very rudimentary instruments. They even had some dance moves to rival those of Michael Jackson.
Early the next morning, I was off for a 5-6 hour ride ($18 US for the full-time, along with a $5 tip to the guide) with a friendly German couple. Since Fred was suffering from a cold, he unfortunately missed out on a spectacular ride. I have never ridden on such challenging terrain including steep climbs up rocky embankments and down narrow, rocky gorges. The “Basotho” horses were remarkably sure-footed and very careful where they placed their hooves. I didn’t realize a horse could even lift its hooves that high (it was as if we were climbing stairs).
After an hour into the ride, we dismounted and tied the reins to one stirrup and let the horses graze freely while we did a half hour hike down into a cave to see thousand(s)year old bushman paintings.
We also stopped midway on the ride for a hike down to a beautiful waterfall where we munched on our snacks from our saddlebags. It was then back to the lodge via a different route over small streams and more rocky surfaces.
The next morning, we were off early to begin our long journey back towards Cape Town, South Africa.
Lisa n Fred