Adventure Articles

A visit to Hawana Park in the mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland

Article by Lynette Oxley

Photos by Lynette and Paul Oxley

We were recently invited to spend a weekend at Hawana Park in the mountainous western region of Swaziland. The word Hawana means "Little Shield" and comprises the area close to Mbabane - the capital, very close to the Oshoek border post.

First, more about Swaziland. Swaziland is an independent monarchy which is situated in southeastern Africa. This Kingdom, one of the smallest in the world is bordered in the east by Mozambique and in the southeast, south, west and north by South Africa. There are four distinct geographical regions in Swaziland which includes the western (Highveld), central (Middleveld), eastern (Lowveld) and the Lubombo regions. The mountainous western region at places reaches an altitude of 1200 metres (4000 feet) above sea level while the hilly, central region is mostly covered with grassland with an average elevation of 600 metres. The Highveld is forested with indigenous and exotic trees, endless peaks, beautiful waterfalls and cool, crisp, champagne air. Rolling hills characterise the eastern Lowveld and it is here where the dense bushes of the National Parks meet sugar cane plantations. Finally, one finds the mountainous Lubombo region which provides the dividing line between the Kingdom and Mozambique and the sea. The three great rivers the Usutu, the Ngwavuma and the Umbuluzi flow out of the Kingdom here on their way to the sea.

Traditions are still sacred in Swaziland and ceremonies have changed little over the years. Royal succession still takes place today according to the age-old tradition and several other customs have survived. King Mswati III, also known as Ngwenyama (the lion), is still today regarded by his subjects with adulation and reverence and his fertility and health are taken as a direct reflection on the fertility and prosperity of the country. One of the most well-known ceremonies in Swaziland, the Incwala, takes place during the first new moon of every year. This lengthy ceremony can be divided into the Little Incwala (which is held during the period preceding the new moon) and the Big Incwala which takes place over a period of 6 days. In the period preceding the new moon envoys are sent to specific rivers as well as the sea to collect water and special herbs which are then taken back to the Royal Kraal at Lubomba. The next morning the King samples the first fruit of the season in a ritual accompanied by dancing and singing. The little Incwala is followed by the big Incwala and reflects directly on the maturity of the King - the more mature the King the merrier the festivities get.

We arrived at Hawana Park on Friday evening and were welcomed by the owner, Julia Griffiths. Hawana Park is a newly opened rustic resort on the Piggs Peak Road and offers 5 fully equipped self-catering chalets with en-suite bathrooms as well as 15 traditional Honey Huts and a Restaurant/Coffee Shop/Bar. (Picture of building on the left)

The Swazi's live in traditional domed huts associated with peoples of Nguni origin. Saplings are woven together into a semicircular frame using plated grass ropes, eventually forming a beehive-shaped hut that is strong and weather resistant and from there the name Honey hut.

Julia introduced us to Robin from the nearby Hawana Stables and we had a lovely supper in the restaurant of lamb-on-the-spit with fresh salads and lovely South African wine. The evening passed quickly and we decided that we would go horse-riding at Hawana Stables first thing in the morning followed by a 4X4 drive in the surrounding areas, lunch would be at the Lugogo Sun in the Ezulwini Valley followed by a visit to the oldest known mine in the world and the Malolotja Nature Reserve.

On Saturday morning, after a scrumptious breakfast overlooking the valley in front of Hawana Park, we left for the stables where we met Eric Higgs the stable manager. We decided on a short hour outride in the hills surrounding the stables. I haven't ridden a horse in about 8 years, and before that not for 10 years - so I cannot be classified as a very competent rider. Eric decided that a horse called Seadancer (Right in the picture on the left> would be suitable for my riding skills while he took a horse called 'Timtam' (Left in the picture on the left). During our outride we saw several bird species including an Orangethrouted Longclaw (Macronyx capensis) as well as some Wattled (Senegal) Plovers (Vanellus senegallus). At the end of the ride I got brave and did some galloping which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found Eric very helpful and patient and was told that they cater for all types of riders - from the totally inexperienced to the very skilled. Hawana Stables provides a wide variety of outrides ranging from a half an hour to rides spanning over a couple of days.

Robin arrived at the stables to take us on a short 4X4 drive in the surrounding areas. Specific 4X4 trails do exist in the area, although we didn't have time to go through one of them and therefore just surveyed the area in general.

We met Julia in Mbabane after which we left for a lovely lunch at the close by Lugogo Sun. After lunch we got into Julia's 4X4 and made our way to the "Lions Cavern", the oldest known mine in the world situated in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. In approximately 41 000 BC, ancient man mined haematite, specularite and red ochre for cosmetic and ritual uses in these caves. Standing in this Cavern, one cannot help but speculate about prehistoric man and his reasons for mining the ochre. Did they see the red leeching down the mountainside as water ran over the red ochre from the valleys below? Did they send a holy man to fetch the ochre? How did he transport the ochre? How much ochre was taken back at a time? ...and so many other questions. What is known is that red ochre was used in the area for painting drums as well as in special rainmaking ceremonies. Lions Cavern has no sign of human occupation but one can clearly see where stone instruments were used to mine the ochre. There are cavities and holes in the rock wall, scratched out by some or other rock instrument. This is definitely a place worth visiting when in the area. A ranger is sent to accompany anyone wishing to visit the Lions Cavern and he has with him a tape-recording telling about the history of the Cavern. Ranger Emanual Vilani (Picture on the left: in the Lion Cavern) went with us to the Cavern, and one has to be prepared to take a short, but difficult walk (Picture on the right: On the way to the Lion Cavern) to reach the Cavern.

After leaving Lions Cavern we made our way to another entrance to the Malolotja Nature Reserve. The Malolotja Nature Reserve can be found a couple of kilometres from Hawana Park on the Piggs Peak Road. The Reserve is named after the Malolotja River which has its origins in the east of the Reserve at approximately 1500 metres above sea level and then tumbles over numerous waterfalls including the (nearly 100 metres high) Malolotja Falls. The river eventually reaches an altitude of approximately 900 metres when it joins the Nkomate river.

This Nature Reserve is not for those looking for the "Big Five", but for those people who enjoy the finer joys of nature including a prolific bird and plant life as well as a wide variety of smaller game. There are several game drives in the Reserve as well as picnic and braai sites and truly spectacular fauna and flora.

More than 250 bird species can be found in the Reserve, one of which is the nesting Blue Swallows (Hirundo atrocaerulea). This glossy, dark, metallic blue swallow is rare and highly localised and is endangered through wide loss of habitat. Other interesting birds that are found in the reserve are Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), the Secretarybird (Sagittarius sepentarius), Stanleys Bustard (Neotis denhami), Striped Fluftail (Sarothrura affinis), Blackrumped Buttonquail (Turnix hottentotta), Ground woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus), Buffstreaked chat (Oenanthe bifasciate), Southern anteating chat ((Myrmecocichla formicivora), Broadtailed warbler (Schoenicola brevirostris), Southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus), Knysna lourie (Tauraco corythaix) and the Narina Trogan (Apaloderma natrina).

The flora is probably the greatest attraction for Malolotja Nature Reserve because there is a profusion of wild flowers throughout the year. This includes the Barbeton and Kaapse Hoop Cycads as well as Kniphofia umbrina and Sheptocarpus dunnii.

A wide variety of game species can also be found including blue (Connocahetes taurinus) and black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou), Burchell's Zebra (Equus burchellii), red hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus), red duiker (Cephalopphus natalensis), blue duiker (Philantomba monticola), impala (Aepyceros melampus), Blesbok (Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi), mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula), common reedbuck (Reducna arundinum), warthog (Phacochoerus ethiopicus), bushpig (Potamochoerus porcus), leopard (Panthera pardus), serval (Felis serval), caracal (felis caracal), aardwolf (Family Protelidae), honey badger (Mellivora capensis), blackbacked jackal (Canis meomelas) and many more. We were lucky to see a warthog with tiny little piglets (?) coming out of their hole next to the road (see picture on the right) as well as several blesbok.

We did not have much time to spend in the Game Reserve, but enjoyed the hour or so that we spent there thoroughly. Afterwards we went back to Hawana Park where we had supper at the restaurant with Julia.

After breakfast the next morning we went for a walk in the area surrounding Hawana Park and also visited the Hawana Dam (Picture on the left: View of Hawana Park and part of the Hawana Dam) which is situated within and bordering the Hawana Nature Reserve. The Hawana Dam was constructed on the Black Umbuluzi River and was build on top of the Hawana Falls and subsequently flooded the Hawana vlei and falls under the auspices of the Malolotja Nature Reserve. Approximately 150 different bird species can be found here and at times the waterfowl population has been known to exceed 1000 birds. A bird sanctuary has also been proclaimed at the north western portion of the Hawana Dam, where the Black Umbuluzi River enters the dam and is an important breeding site for waterfowl and other waterbirds. This sanctuary is also part of the important African Waterfowl Census which started in 1991 and the waterfowls are enumerated twice a year namely in January (for the summer months) and July (for the winter months). It is interesting to note that bird records have been kept for the area since 1988 and over the years a wide variety of species have been recorded. Some interesting species recorded included birds like the African spoonbill (Platalea alba), the Marsh owl (Asio capensis), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Whitewinged tern (Chlidonias leucopterus) and the Cape Shoveller (Anas smithii). Several large water monitors can also be found in and around the dam as well as the beautifully coloured painted and yellow striped reed frogs. The Cape clawless otter and water mongoose are also found around the dam.

After we returned from the Dam we had a light lunch after which we made our way back to Johannesburg.

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