Self-drive safaris, shakedowns and Swaziland

A 700km stint took us from Lesotho back into South Africa and on to St Lucia, on the coast a few hours north-east of Durban. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the Caribbean island of the same name but it did feel pretty darn tropical after the chill of the mountains; wth pineapples for sale on the roadside, a torrential downpour as we entered the town and a humid hostel with an inviting pool.

Just round the corner from the town was the entrance to the iSimangaliso Westland Park, a 3,000 sq km coastal area full of wildlife and stunning scenery.

It was our first time doing a self-driving safari which, until I arrived in Africa, I didn’t realise existed. It seems crazy that you are allowed to drive yourself around in areas full of dangerous wildlife.

And pretty soon after we entered The park we came across a herd of elephants under some trees. We were only a few metres away. It was actually pretty scary as they are so huge and could easily turn the car over. We later read you should stay at least 50 metres away to be safe. Especially if they have young with them. Which they did. Oops.

Later in the day there was another close encounter. This time with buffaloes who were crossing the road just in front of us. We waited nervously for them to finish crossing and then sped along with them staring us down.

We headed further north to an area of the park with beaches and went for a walk along the scenic sand. 

We made sure we were back before night fell as there were signs all around town warning you to stay indoors as hippos wander the streets when it get’s dark…

The next day we headed an hour away to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. This was inland and hillier than iSim. Another really good day saw us viewing kudu, monkeys and zebras.

But the highlight was a huge white rhino with a big horn just beside the road right in front of us. He was all muddy and covered in flies.

Animals in Africa are incredible.

The next day we were heading to Swaziland when we noticed a police car behind us flashing his lights. We pulled over and he told us we’d apparently been going 96km in an 80km zone. 

We weren’t sure whether to believe him so asked to see the footage but were conveniently told that it had been overwritten by the images of the cars after us…

He told us the fine was R750 (£45) and we would need to go pay it at the magistrate in the next town. We didn’t want to faff around so he said we could reduce it to R500 if we paid him direct! If we had any doubts whether it was a shakedown, they were now and truly extinguished. A bit of gentle haggling and we all agreed on R200 (£12) which he slipped away and we sped off. 

As our first experience of corruption (although I think we probably were speeding), it was quite efficient and relatively stress-free.

We soon reached Swaziland (population 1.3m) which is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique and, like Lesotho is ruled by a king. We only had a few days here as we were using it as a stopover on the way to the Kruger National Park back in South Africa.

We stayed in a nice bungalow in a hostel set in sunny gardens in the Ezulwini Valley. Just around the corner was the parliament and the King’s royal palace. 

To get to know a little about traditional Swazi life we visited a cultural village. First up was an amazing performance of energetic dancing and singing. I even got roped in…

Then we were taken around a village (where some of the performers live) and learnt some interesting facts about Swazi life circa 1850 such as men were allowed multiple wives but a dowry (usually in cattle) would be paid for each one.

We saw inside one of the huts which was circular and made of dried grass and saplings.

Nearby waterfall

On our drive north towards the South African border we passed through spectacular scenery… and thankfully had no more interactions with the law.

Next stop: (hopefully) spotting some big cats in the Kruger National Park

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