The Chubeka Trail – Swaziland
“Chubeka” is Swazi for “continue forward”
Swaziland is a kingdom, but not like ours: the Queen Mother is chosen from amongst high-ranking mothers by a council, following the death of the incumbent king. A king may never be succeeded by a blood brother, so only mothers with one son are eligible. Present-day Swaziland comes from an ancient dynasty of royal leadership, reflected in the status accorded to the King and Queen Mother who between them provide a unique dual monarchy. Interesting idea!
The Queen Mother is chosen for her moral integrity: her role is to be a mentor of the young King and, in his absence, lead the nation.
Swaziland is a country that is smaller than neighbouring Kruger National Park in South Africa, but with broad diversity within her borders: 4 geo-regions provide ever-changing scenery and a larger birding list than the Kruger’s. The ancient traditions and strong indigenous culture make Swaziland an exciting and warmly welcoming country to visit.
This ride leads through Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area, The Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, which is alive with history and signs of contemporary conservation. A variety of antelope, zebra and hippo will be seen during the ride and afterwards, when we visit Mkhaya Game Reserve (east of the riding trail in the Lowveld) we are virtually guaranteed to see white rhino, elephant, buffalo and possibly the elusive & highly endangered black rhino.
Fly London to Johannesburg overnight.
Private drive from Jo’burg on to Manzini, the largest town in Swaziland (3 ½ hrs). Met upon arrival at Sanctuary Camp. Welcome by the Chubeka Trails Manager and our Guide. Settle in to accommodation. Change into riding gear and enjoy a short evening ride on the plains. Overnight in an en-suite Beehive hut.
Distance ridden: 10 km Time in saddle: 1 hour. Meals: L & D.
Breakfast in the camp’s Hippo Haunt Restaurant which overlooks a natural pool where hippos live.
2-hr Morning ride on Mlilwane plains, a chance to change horses to match horse and rider. This ride will include a tour of Umphakatsi, the local chief’s homestead, which will give a glimpse into the local community’s way of life. Light lunch back at Camp.
Mlilwane is Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area and is a secluded wildlife sanctuary. The name means ‘Little Fire’ and is derived from the numerous fires started by lightning strikes. There is a broad range of plains game species and the birding list is over 180 species long; there are no Big Cats (so it’s safe to ride!).
13:00 Set off on a 4-night sleep-out trail ride, climbing up the southern slopes of Nyonyane Mountain (“The Rock of Execution”) with panoramic views of the surrounding valleys of Ezulwini, Malkerns and Mantenga.
Evening dinner around the fire. Camp in two-man tents on Nyonyane Mountain (This is known as a “fly-camp” which means it is temporary and once we move on we leave no trace of having been there.)
Distance ridden: 15 km Time in saddle: 5 hours. Meals: B, L & D.
Drop down into the Mantenga Valley, ride alongside the Usushwana River and dismount for the river crossing before climbing back into the mountains of Mlilwane North, an area with spectacular highveld and an atmosphere of freedom. The trail leads along the eastern mountain ridges, overlooking the bustling Ezulwini Valley. Packed lunches en-route.
Fly camp at Sala Kahle at the northern tip of Mlilwane.
Distance ridden: 10-15km Time in saddle: 4 hours Meals: B, L & D.
Following dirt roads and cattle tracks, Day 5 allows for faster paces, riding into friendly and welcoming rural community areas to the west of Mlilwane North, skirting the Luphohlo Dam. The trail winds amongst mud huts, homesteads and affords a glimpse of rural African life.
Picnic lunch alongside the dam.
The afternoon ride continues through the community lands, meeting the old railway track which ran along the western boundary of Mlilwane North with wonderful forest riding. The night is spent in a fly camp at Klipspringer, on the banks of the Usushwana River, Mlilwane North.
Distance ridden: 20Km Time in saddle: 6 hrs. Meals: B.L.D
A circular route explores the inner mountain trail of Mlilwane North, climbing out the valley along steep zig-zag paths to the elevated ridges. Packed lunches are carried for a picnic by the river. A second night will be spent at Klipspringer.
Distance ridden: 15-20Km Time in saddle: 5-6 hrs. Meals: B.L.D
A leisurely breakfast on the banks of Usushwana River and it is time to return to semi-civilization! Return to Base Camp via a different route along the river and across the game-studded plains, enjoying open trots and canters. The afternoon is free to relax in Camp, at the warm spring, around the pool or relaxing on the Hippo Haunt deck, overlooking the Bird Pool. Overnight in en-suite beehives.
Distance ridden: 16Km Time in saddle: 5 hrs. Meals: B.L.D
Leisurely morning with breakfast in the Hippo Haunt Restaurant; ensure all camera batteries are fully charged. Late-morning set off for a 3-day safari at Mkhaya Game Reserve (smaller overnight bags required) via Swazi Candles & craft centre. Lunch at Sambane Coffee Shoppe.
16:00 hrs arrive Mkhaya Game Reserve and continue to Stone Camp.
Please note the accommodation at Mkhaya is semi-open thatched cottages, with no electricity!
Early morning Game Drive, return to Stone Camp for breakfast. Midday quiet time, birding walk or spent in Kirky’s Hide near Stone Camp. Lunch at Stone Camp.
Evening game drive or walk. Dinner around the open fire. Night two at Stone Camp.
Early morning Game Drive, return to Stone Camp for breakfast 09:00. Depart Stone Camp, return to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Get back in the saddle for a gentle afternoon ride, returning to a dinner under the stars; overnight in en-suite beehives.
Distance ridden: 7-10Km Time in saddle: 1-2 hrs. Meals: B.L.D
Morning ride through the game areas and out of the Sanctuary heading south to Malandela’s Restaurant and Craft Centre through the neighbouring farm lands. Spend time looking around the center before settling down to a country-style lunch.
Return trail to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and swap saddles for a 4×4 and drive up Nyonyane Mountain for a Last Night Sundowner with views to die for. Return to the colonial comfort of Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge for overnight.
Distance ridden: 15-20Km Time in saddle: 4 hrs. Meals: B.L.D
This morning we say goodbye to Swaziland and drive back to Jo’burg. But before we leave there is time to explore the botanical gardens that surround Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge.
Depart from Jo’burg bound for London.
Country: Wildlife and wilderness trail ride, with strong ethnic cultural element.
Getting there: London via Johannesburg to Mbabane (the capital of Swaziland)
Terrain: grass plains with wooded zones; steep terrain with some sharp ascents and descents. Rivers and valleys; some level sections with smooth trails for a faster pace. Riders should be happy to get over natural obstacles such as rivers, gullies and dips.
Pace: walk 60%; trot 25%; canter/gallop 15%.
Horse Breed: Warmblood; Arab cross Warmblood; and some indigenous Boerperd.
Tack: Snaffle bits, trail saddles – comfortable and comparable to English riding.
Rider’s involvement: groom and tack your horse; untack during breaks. Guides available to advise and assist if necessary. Note – horses need to be held or tethered during breaks because they are not trained to stand for “dropped reins”.
Rider’s weight: (max) 95 Kg
Swaziland’s seasons: April to October is the dry season so river-crossings are easier and there is a reduced chance of encountering mountain thunderstorms. Most herbivores are born in November just after the rains start and the new grass begins to grow. Lambing season lasts throughout the summer, with different species lambing at different times: impala and blesbuck (which is a mid-sized antelope) lamb in February/March; warthog, wildebeest, zebra and roan antelope babies will be seen in April. In Mkhaya we may see young rhino, giraffe and buffalo along with other plains species.
Accommodation: (Based on twin share; no single occupancy option is available.) Beehive huts 3 nights; tents 4 nights; safari lodge which is in semi-open stone and thatch cottages 2 nights; traditional farmhouse lodge 1 night (plus two nights in-flight)..
Distance from urban areas: Nearest town is Ezulwini, 10 km and medi-clinic facilities available there. Mbabane, the capital is 25km, with good medical facilities; if any evacuation is needed state of the art facilities can be found in Nelspruit, South Africa, 250 km.
Cross-cultural awareness: most Swazi’s are Christian, with the majority being of Zionist persuasion. However, superstition combined with Swazi culture and traditions still play a crucial role in Swazi society.
Guides: Max ratio = 1 guide to 5 riders. Max group = 14 riders. Larger groups can be accommodated in back-to-back departures.