Have you ever imagined to get so close to the most ancient mammal in the world? Yes, only you and the huge white rhino in the wild. That’s will be the second activity of the day, as once we start the Hlane National Park Tour (in one of most important reserves in Eswatini) we will jump into an open vehicle through this dry savanna which hosts, amongst its cemetery of trees, 3 of the big 5: elephants, rhinos and lions. Are you assuming the risk of creating a super cool memory for your life?
What to bring
new day begins together with new experiences. Are you ready for our Hlane National Park Tour?
We will pick you up at your place at 5 a.m. It’s early, isn’t it? We know, but it will be worthy.
Please, ask your hotel for a packed breakfast and have coffee there as in our way we will not find places for that. When we say we go to wild areas, we go to wild areas. 😉
It will take us around 2 hours and half (or maybe 3) to reach our final destination, but always depending on traffic and borders.
We will use the road to Namaacha (famous in Mozambique for its water spring), and will cross Lebombo Mountains to enter Eswatini. The road is in good conditions and everything around is nature and nature, so you will enjoy landscapes and also sunrise during winter time.
Around 8 we will be entering at Hlane National Park, where some giraffes appear up to say good morning to us. This place reminds us a cemetery of trees. You will see many dead trees; elephants are responsible for them, and are perfect to birds like marabu to spot their preys.
Hlane means desert and you will understand why once here, at this beautiful desert full of life.
Our first activity, after stretching our legs, is a morning safari inside the park at 8.30 AM, visiting one of the areas looking for elephants and lions (2 of the big five). Around 11 we are finishing our morning safari and will jump for the second one, taking you so close the magnificent rhinos, getting as close to them as rangers consider safe. Sooooo close!!! We can even hear you heart bumping right now.
Then, we will seat in the restaurant of the visitor center for our lunch overlooking the lagoon, where hippos usually chill around and marabous can to drink. You will breathe peace and calmness, strange feeling nowadays in our hectic world. So keep in silence and enjoy the rest of your day!
Hlane National park is well known for its rhinos, which can be seen from the deck of the restaurant, or we will take you for a drive where we drive closer to them, so what are you waiting for? Come and book with us and see the 3 of the big 5, including elephants and lions.
At the starting point of Hlane National Park Tour, we will pick you at 5.00 am at your place of choice. We know this sounds too early, but in the wild the earlier the better to view animals. Please you can ask your hotel for a packed breakfast or some coffee to take with you, as on the way the is no place to stop for a coffee.
We will drive straight to Hlane National Park, after filling all the necessary documents at Namaacha border, that we will reach after 1 hour and a half. Without wasting much time, we will go and stamp our passports on Mozambican side and get in our car and drive a few meters and stop at Swazi side and do the same process. Please make sure your passport has a double or multiple entry visa, otherwise, you will need to apply for another visa on your way back; that’s easy, anyway.
Please bring your camera, extra batteries, hat, sun-screen, comfortable shoes, we offer binoculars but if you have your special ones, feel free to bring them. This tour includes breakfast, picnic lunch, tolls, transportation to and back from Maputo, 2 safaris, entrance fees to Hlane National Park, snacks, water and drinks, but if you want to bring your own extra drinks and food you can; we always carry a portable fridge with lots ice that you can use.
Now let us say, welcome to the Kingdom Eswatini!
Eswatini is a landlocked country: bordered by Mozambique to its northeast and South Africa to its northwest and south, and it’s one of the smallest countries in Africa.
On 19 April 2018, the king of Swaziland King Swati III announced that the Kingdom of Swaziland had renamed itself as the Kingdom of Eswatini, and this was to reflect the extant Swazi name for the state eSwatini, to mark the country’s 50th Independence. The King of Eswatini currently had 15 wives and 23 children. King Mswati selects his wives on the week-long annual traditional dance (reed dance), selecting his new wife from thousands of bare-breasted maidens who dance for him. The King’s first 2 wives are chosen for him by the national councillors.
The National and official languages of the Swati people are Swazi and English. Swazi is a Southern Bantu language and is spoken by approximately 95 percent of the Swazis, and English was introduced during the protection the British Crown offered to this tiny kingdom one century ago.
There are a few national parks in Eswatini, but today we are visiting Hlane. Hlane Royal National Park was proclaimed as a National Park in 1967 and is the siSwati name for wilderness, meaning in zulu “desert”. This park is managed by a private owned body called Big name Parks, which is responsible for managing all the Eswatini National Parks. The park with its neighbouring parks makes up the vast bushveld expanse known as the Lubombo Conservancy Area.
Hlane National Park is Eswatini’s largest protected area and park, the park and its adjacent areas covers up to 30, 000 hectares. It is a flat lowland area, covered by hardwood trees like knob thorn acacia, leadwood, and tamboti, with some grassland and shallow water pans. It is home to lion, elephant, giraffe, white rhinoceros, wildebeest, zebras, warthogs, nyalas and impala herds attracted to the waterholes during the dry winter months. It has an abundant and diverse birdlife, including the highest density of nesting white-backed vultures, big birds found here including martial eagles, bateleur and long crested eagle, as well as several species of vultures including white-headed vultures, lappet-faced vulture and cape vulture. It is the southernmost nesting site of the marabou stork.
Around 8 am we will be at Hlane National Park and will have breakfast. Once again, the earlier we arrive to the park the better, as our safari vehicle for the first game drive in search of 2 of the big 5 (elephant and lion) starts at 8.30, so if we arrive there around 7.30 we will have more time for a relaxing breakfast.
Our adventure starts now, although we will be specifically in search of the lions and elephant it doesn’t mean that we will not stop and see other species of animals on the way, this is a game drive so there are many things the Mother Nature has for us. As soon as you start your game drive a lot of elephant signs are seen on the road which are piles of the elephant dung on the road, branches of broken trees; as soon you start seeing this then you know our friends are close.
During our drive you will notice a lot of dry huge trees, this trees are called leadwood trees. Normally the vultures and the marabou storks likes to rest in their branches. The leadwood has a dense and heavy wood, impenetrable to termites and is one of the only wood species that sinks when thrown in water. Its hardness also explains why after dying they can still live for almost 80 years, but can even live for more than 100 years. This is also a reason why they were mainly used as a material of choice for railway sleepers as the wood can burn very slowly, it can even burn for few days, and ashes can be used as a toothpaste when mixed into a paste with water. The wood is good for making furniture.
Other trees that you see around, are the thorn trees called the knob thorn acacias. They are slowly growing medium to tall trees and found growing from the wooded grasslands of the Lowveld (huge valley where Kruger Park in South Africa is), surviving in many different soil types. The bark is dark and forming knobs several millimeters apart equipped with small black hooked thorns, these thorns are found in newer branches of mature trees and on the trunks of young trees, offering some protection against browsing animals such as elephants. Although the knob thorn is very thorn, it is very highly nutritious tree, with the thorns merely limiting the amount of time animals feed on it.
Animals such as kudu, elephant, giraffe browse from the leaves, baboons and vervet monkeys eat the flowers and pods, besides the leaves, elephants like to eat the roots and the inner bark. It is also known that sometimes that elephants feed on the bark for its natural healing properties in fighting tooth decay, it is believed that giraffes have a unique relationship with the knob thorn acacia of pollinating the tree.
A lot of birds use the Knob-thorn for nesting. Vultures use them as well as a lot of birds that use a hole-nest –they make holes in dead knob thorn. The hard wood were preferred used as railway sleepers. Nowadays, in local communities, the trees are carved into “knobkerries” (traditional clubs) and walking sticks, and long poles of the Knob-thorn wood are also planted next to the village homes as lighting conductors. Traditional healers grind the knobs into a powder which is used as a pain-killer and to cure eye infections.
Besides plants, we would like to talk about lions. Lion is the largest of African cats and has won the jungle because of his strength, pride and courage. Cats lions live and hunt in groups called prides and they spend between 18 to 20 hours of the day lying down and sleeping. Males are the only ones with mane, and females (no mane) do most of the hunting, being the males the ones feeding first (females after and lastly the cubs). For the lions to take down a giraffe or a buffalo they should hunt in a pride, mainly that’s when the males come and help, because of their weight, they help to take the animal down. They live up to 15 years and can have up to 5 cubs at a time.
You will see them around Tamboti trees and they look similar to the Leadwood. Tamboti trees will grow in most soil types, they flourish along rivers and drainage lines with brackish clay soils. Young Tamboti trees have grey branches, while older trees have a dark grey to almost black bark, this is the only tree where the male and female flowers grow separately on the same tree. The Tamboti is well known for its milky latex which is poisonous to humans, but not to animals, it is a very popular food source for many animals, lots of antelopes, monkeys, elephants, rhinos. Porcupines do enjoy to bark up the Tamboti tree to a point that they sometimes ring bark the trees causing them to die. In summer months when the fruits are ripe, birds like the guinea fowl and the francolins are seen perching the dropped seeds under the Tamboti. The Tamboti tree has a lot of medicinal uses, and this includes: the sap from the tree used as a relief of toothache, smoke from the wood is used in keeping away insects as it is poisonous. The milky latex from the tree has been used for centuries by local tribes for poisoning fish to make for an easier catch, and for applying to the tops of spears when hunting.
As you drive you will see some eagles, like Bateleur. They are a true bird of prey and its name Terathopius Ecaudatus, was derived from Latin and Greek meaning “marvellous face, no tail”. This eagle is beautiful, with glossy black feathers, a red face and red legs and a black beak. The Bateleur is a more like a snake eagle, it is both a hunter and a scavenger, it preys on birds and reptiles, it can fly for as much as 8 hours at a time searching for live food. Bateleur eagles pair for life, and uses the same nest for many years. And the female, larger than male by the way, lays a single egg.
Now let’s search for the giant of the African bush, elephants. Elephants can weigh up to six tonnes and live for 60–70 years and are the world’s largest land animal. Males live solitary lives either in bachelor herds or alone, whereas females spend their whole lives in a herd of related females normally in a breeding herd, with sisters, aunts, daughters and cousins. The breeding herds headed by an elder female called the matriarch.
Both males and female African elephants have tusks and elephant calves are born after a gestation period of 22 months.
Vultures are often seen in the big dead trees of Leadwood or Tamboti. Vultures are often thought of as dirty birds, and they are not blessed with good looks, their job as the cleaners of the bush means they can consume even rotting flesh without doing themselves any harm. Most vultures have antibacterial agents in their stomachs which can deal with rancid flesh. Vultures can smell some dead meat from very far and wide; most of the time they will sit and wait for the predators to finish feeding before they get their chance at the dinner table.
Around 11 am we finish the morning safari and will go and do the second one, taking you to the magnificent rhinos, and as close as the opportunity allows us. 😀
The white rhino is the largest of the rhinos, they have a distinctive broad straight mouth which is used for grazing. The white rhino has the widest set of nostrils of any land based animal, they are found in the grassland and the savannah, they are herbivores and grazers (meaning they eat grass), they drink twice a day if water is available, but if conditions are dry, they can live for four to five days without water. They spent half of the day eating and half of the day resting. They love wallowing in mud holes to cool down. They can run to up to 50 km/h, they live in crashes or herds of up to 14 animals, mostly females, most adult bulls live in solitary, the gestation period is 16 months, and they give birth to a single calf; when threatened the calf will run in front of the mother. Adult rhinos have no natural predators (only humans) and due to their size and even young rhinos are rarely attacked due to the mother presence and their rough skin. Rhinos live up to 40–50 years.
Finally, you will see the big tall storks, which are called Marabou storks. Marabou stork is a large wading bird in the stork family, they live in wet areas and often near human habitations. Sometimes they are called the “undertaker bird” due to their shape from behind; they have cloak-like wings and back, skinny white legs and sometimes a large mass of hair. Like most storks, marabou is a gregarious bird meaning they live in groups. They lay 2 to 3 eggs at a time and they live for 25 years. They are referred to as scavengers and the naked head and long neck are adaptations to this livelihood, as it is with the vultures with which the stock often feeds. They eat carrion, as almost any animal matter that they can swallow. They eat frogs, fish, lizards, insects, eggs, small mammals, lizards, snakes. They usually follow vultures because vultures have better equipped beaks to rear out the skin of the dead animals.
After the second drive we will seat at the restaurant and enjoy our lunch overlooking the lagoon, where hippos usually chill around.
After lunch, you can take a walk closer to the lagoon or just feel and breathe the peace and fresh air.
Later afternoon, we will start to drive back to Maputo, exiting through the same border.
We hope you have taken lots of photos and memories to take back home and enjoyed this wild day with Mussiro’s Hlane National Park Tour.
We booked for a customized 2-day trip to Eswatini with Mussiro tours in February 2020. Jose was a thoughtful and insightful guide all along. He planned everything from transport, to park fees, to custom entry (you still have to obtain our own visa before of course – if you need one). He adapted to our needs and was very flexible, even when we requested to slide in an extra Jeep tour to see lions (and we did!). He also had planned for food (picnic) and coffee (which made up nicely for the early wake up !). We visited 2 of the main parks in Eswatini (Hlane and Mlilwane) which are very different from each other. We went to a waterfall, a cultural village, a candle factory. We overnight in a very nice cozy lodge with excellent traditional food.
Aside from the smoothly organized travel, the real plus of Mussiro was our guide, Jose, who managed to be present every time we needed to be. He was considerate of our wishes and last minute changes. He communicated any changes or adaptation of the time ahead of time. He was accompanying without being directive. he was knowledgeable about the country, without being “know-it-all”. he was super friendly but also left us some couple-time at the lodge… It is hard to strike the right balance on all of those, but Jose did it ! We would gladly go back with him to any of the Mussiro destinations, really !
We warmly recommend Mussiro tour and their friendly staff…
Michael and Antine – From Haiti and France (based in Maputo)