Swaziland is often called Africa’s Switzerland, and rightly so. It is a small, relatively peaceful country and a favourite destination for many tourists. It is safer than South Africa: the Swazis are mostly friendly, and many of them speak English.
It is essentially a third world country, but Western influence is recognisable all along the main routes. Mbabane, the capital city, and Manzini, the industrial centre, are both quite modern. Once off the beaten track, it’s a different story: pure Africa. Some of the roads are in a very bad condition with huge potholes to look out for. Donkeys and pedestrians on the road are also hazards to reckon with, in true African style. The scenery in general is pretty, while many of the more remote areas, where paddlers take to the rivers, are awesome.
Swaziland, small as it is, is comprised of high, middle and low veld. The high veld can become very cold in the winter, while the low veld is extremely hot and dry during the summer. Most of the towns are built in the middle and high veld, to escape malaria. ‘Towns’ is actually a bit of a misnomer; many of these are merely villages consisting of a couple of stores.
The high and middle veld are also the areas that interest paddlers most, as the rivers become pretty flat once out of the mountainous western part of the country. The sections to paddle are mostly of a creeky nature. The major river is the Usutu, providing different sections to paddle. It has three major tributaries that also offer some excitement: the Little Usutu, Ngwempisi and Mkhondvo. These rivers have been explored by local paddlers Shane and Darron Raw, who have done first descents of most of the stretches.
There are heaps of other rivers and creeks in Swaziland, which remain unexplored. The potential is there for many more top runs to be discovered. The only negative aspect is the total dependency on, and the unpredictable nature of, the rainfall. Also keep in mind that crocodiles and hippos inhabit the lower, flatter stretches of the rivers.
The country is gearing up for adventure activities, with hiking trails, horse riding, mountain biking, abseiling and of course whitewater rafting on the menu. Small game reserves abound in Swaziland. The most popular reserve for paddlers to visit is Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, as it is central to most of the paddleable river stretches.