In this guest post from Jenny Bowen of tailor-made safari company Sense Africa, Jenny suggests an idyllic itinerary for the perfect safari and beach holiday.
I personally think the best way to experience Africa is to do a combination of safari and beach. Immerse yourself in the serenity of the African bush and experience incredible wildlife sightings with the relaxation and laid-back set up of staying at a luxury beach lodge.
Swaziland and Mozambique Combo
My ideal choice would be to safari in Swaziland and to beach in Mozambique. The reason for this is that firstly this is really affordable as Swaziland’s currency is tied to the Rand and the Rand to Pound rate is exceptionally good at the moment, and secondly because driving distances are small so that you get more value for your time. You can experience everything up close; whether it be elephants in Hlane, rhino in Mkhaya or whales in Mozambique.
The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small country situated in the south east of southern Africa, bordering with South Africa and Mozambique. The reason I choose Swaziland is because it is a really friendly place which is not on the main tourist route and not only offers incredible safaris but also has a lot of adventure opportunities. You don’t have to spend all your time sitting in safari vehicles to see wildlife, you can do it on foot, by mountain bike and on horseback. Imagine walking through a ‘dazzle’ of zebra.
Getting to Swaziland
Getting to Swaziland is really easy, fly to Johannesburg and then you have a choice of either taking a short international flight to Swaziland, which takes about 50 minutes, or taking a road transfer which is about 4 1/2 hours. Either way, you arrive in Swaziland roughly at the same time, as there is normally a few hours wait in Johannesburg for your connecting flight. If there are four of you travelling together then the transfer option works out more cost-effective.
Self Drive in Swaziland
I would suggest a self drive on the Swaziland section because you can do things at your own discretion and feel like you are having your own mini adventure. It gives you the opportunity to move around the kingdom at your own pace and not be dictated by group timings.
Driving in Swaziland is really easy, the roads are well signposted, they drive on the same side as we do in the UK and the speed restrictions are very strict, so not too many crazy drivers! But be warned, you may get caught speeding by a camera trap, but do not worry, the police are really friendly and they will pull you over and probably have a very long chat with about what you are doing in Swaziland before kindly taking your money for your fine! It is a whole new experience.
First stop is Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary for 3 nights. As you drive through the reserve passing grazing zebra and warthogs rooting through the ground you will realise you are staying in a really special place. As you cross the dam towards main camp make sure you look at the small island on the right-hand side, hippo and crocodiles often bask in the sun here.
Mlilwane is an outdoor lovers’ paradise and here you can explore the reserve on foot, by mountain bike and on horseback. There are no Big 5 in the reserve which means you can walk in the Bush without even needing a guide. There are not many places in Africa that you can do this and I thoroughly recommend it.
The accommodation in Main Camp is varied but I would recommend the beehive huts. These are authentic styled rooms created in the traditional way with the added benefit of ensuite bathrooms. Make sure you mind your head when you enter as the doorways are quite low.
The whole camp has this rustic, friendly and tranquil air about it and as the camp has no fence wildlife happily wander through. I've woken up in the morning to find for the warthog hoglets lying in a row, a bit like pigs in a blanket, just outside my bedroom.
Next stop is Mbuluzi Game Reserve which is about an hour and a half drive from Mlilwane, and I recommend two nights here. I have to say that Mbuluzi is one of my favourite reserves because of its large population of giraffe. Again you can walk here and quite often I have been in the reserve and felt as if I was the only one there. Imagine waking up in the morning and looking out of your lodge window to see a giraffe sauntering past - magical!
You can spend time walking through the reserve seeing all the wildlife on foot and you can also do your own self drive safaris around the reserve as well. It is far too large to cover just on foot and there is a great bird hide that you can spend time at.
Mbuluzi only has self catering lodges which is why I only recommend those on self drives to stay there. All lodges have electricity with really good facilities for cooking and also lovely lounge areas for relaxing at the end of the day. Some even have plunge pools as well. The lodges also have beautiful sitting areas on decking overlooking the Mbuluzi river that meanders its way through the reserve. The lodges range from tented to individual lodges, some of which can sleep up to 8 people. So there is a lot of variety within the reserve catering for everyone.
Hlane Royal National Park is the place to stay for three nights as it gives you the opportunity to go on a different safaris as well as simply relax by the main waterhole and watch rhino and elephant drink. There is something really charming about Hlane as it has that feeling of the old traditional camps of Kruger Park where there is no electricity and the main reason for staying here is to experience the African bush.
Safaris normally last about 2.5 hours so you have the opportunity to see the wildlife and yet also do things and under your own steam. If you have your own vehicle you can also do a self drive around the reserve and even spent time at Mahlindza waterhole.
Hlane’s Big 5 are in fenced areas, as the kingdom is so small that allowing elephants, rhino and lion to roam free would be very detrimental to the surrounding communities. Instead these animals are in vast enclosures. The lion enclosure has two prides of lion and is so large that I have been there and not seen a lion at all, but this is very rare. I love the safaris here because it is very relaxed. The guides are exceptionally knowledgeable by imparting traditional information but the best thing is that you will probably see big game, usually up close and very personal!
The accommodation here is delightful, traditional rondavels (round huts) set in the African bush with your own veranda where you can sit and watch the impala walk by. The main restaurant has wonderful decking overlooking Ndlovu waterhole. At night lanterns are lit for you to guide you back to your accommodation where you can be gently lulled to sleep to the distant roar of lion.
Mkhaya Game Reserve was initially set up in response to the need for breeding programs for the endangered and beleaguered wildlife of Swaziland, the flagship species being the black rhino.
Arriving at the entrance point I wouldn’t blame you if you wondered what you had let yourself in for; there are rusty cars, a small scrapyard and two rather dodgy looking long drops. The reason is the high security access to this reserve which is closely monitored and entrance into the reserve is only at 10am and 4pm and only with prior booking.
Once inside the reserve you can really appreciate that this is a gem of a place and worth the wait. I recommend two nights here so you get the full benefit of staying in this idyllic reserve where you are totally immersed into the wildlife and African bush life. Exclusivity at its finest.
Let the local guides transport you around the reserve in open topped Land Rover’s tracking the elusive black rhino as well as seeing other wildlife such as white rhino, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and a plethora of other plains game. The road system winds through the reserve from African savannah to riverine vegetation, and you never know what you going to see round the corner. The birdlife is also incredible and rare species such as the Narina Trogon can be seen.
Stone Camp is in the heart of the reserve and is beautifully situated along a dry riverbed. Each room is a stone cottage which is open to the surrounding bush and most people normally comment on their loo with a view! The bed has a cascade of mosquito netting that is drawn down at night for you so that you can see the African bush from your bed. Dine out under the stars under the giant sausage trees and become at one with nature.
Mozambique is famous for its azure blue seas, white sandy beaches and delicious garlic prawns. However there is a lot more to this country such as its vibrant culture, its bustling markets and its incredible architecture in the form of forts dotted along the coastline. Having said this most people do visit Mozambique to experience an island hideaway or stay in an exotic beach location.
Getting to Mozambique
Getting to Mozambique can be really easy, if you are not coming from Swaziland then a simple flight into Maputo and then connecting flights onto any of the islands is really easy. If you are coming from Swaziland it is only a three hour journey from Mkhaya to Maputo marina. A private transfer is definitely recommended because driving yourself across the border and through Mozambique can be quite stressful with police roadblocks being rather unfriendly and quite aggressive and the driving of the Mozambicans is certainly leaves something to be desired! So leave your hire car in Swaziland and enjoy a hassle free transfer across to Maputo.
Machangulo Lodge for 5 nights
Machangulo Lodge, in my mind, is the only lodge that is affordably accessible from Maputo which also ticks all the boxes of being idyllic, eco-friendly, secluded and luxurious. It is exactly how you would imagine a beach lodge in Mozambique to be.
Getting to Machangulo
Machangulo is reached by a boat transfer and this needs to be organised in advance from the marina. It takes about 1 hour 15 mins to get to Machangulo and the first hour is across the open sea away from Maputo. During the last 15mins you will gently sweep past a small bay filled with brightly coloured wooden fishing boats, flamingos and palm trees bending over white beaches in the sunshine. It is at this point that everything seems to slow down and before you even reach the shores of Machangulo, you have already relaxed.
Location and Activities at Machangulo
Machangulo is situated at the end of a promontory with the Indian Ocean on one side and sheltered areas on the other. This makes it perfect for all sorts of activities ranging from fishing to snorkelling and scuba diving to whale watching. There are also opportunities to visit the local village (where a lot of the staff are employed from), as well as being taken to a remote beach and left there for the day with a sumptuous lunch to dine on. Alternatively you can spend the day on one of their boats snorkelling in the national park and diving on the coral reefs. The last time I was there I spent most of my time looking in rock pools for small fish. Machangulo thinks of everything for everyone.
The Lodge is situated above the beach on the promontory and the views from the dining and bar area are spectacular. Be warned, there are a lot of steps to climb to get around the Lodge although small electric carts are provided for the less able. There are plenty of areas to simply relax in hammocks, lounge by the pool or sit in sofas on private decking overlooking the sea.
The rooms are divine and each one has views out over the surrounding area and some of them even have outdoor showers, as well as indoor showers, so you can wash as the sun sets. The rooms are beautifully designed in keeping with the environment yet have that luxury quality about them for the more discerning visitor. The serenity of the place simply allows you to relax from all those exhausting safaris that you have been on!
End the day with a sumptuous meal probably caught by one of the guests, fresh fish is the order of the day although there are plenty of other options available as well. I always dine out on seafood when I stay there, it is divine. The beauty of the food here is that it is all very fresh and more often than not it will have been bought from a local fisherman. Not only will the fish be fresh that day the lodge is also supporting the local community as well. Fresh fruit and vegetables are bought from the nearby village and everything is in keeping with the environment. And after an exhausting day of relaxing go to sleep to the sound of the gentle lapping of waves on the beach knowing that it will be a yet another beautiful day at Machangulo.
You can follow her blog, Sense Africa Blog, for more African Safari stories and information, and keep up-to-date on the wonders of Africa by following her on Twitter (@senseafrica) and Facebook.