A 3 day mission to Hlane National (Royal) Park in Swaziland turned into amazing respite from the daily Joburg grind.
A not so bad drive up the N12, becoming N14, towards Carolina, brings a super chilled road to drive on, which really compliments the nature of getting away from the chaos.
Onhoek border was pretty relaxed and the cops were super friendly - beats coming through immigration at the airport.
Head through Manzini, a one road kind of town that is kind of western, and then onto Hlane National Park.
Met at the entrance by a ominous Elephant skull and a weird hostel setting that reminds me of something from Tank Girl (or Mad Max for the millenials), we walked in and were greeted by possibly one of the friendliest park employees I have ever met - anyone who has gone to Hluhluwe / Umfolozi can testify as to how bad these guys can get - she bowled us over with her smile, friendliness and all round good vibe demeanour and ushered us into the Ndlovu camp with absolute happiness.
Was perfect. Great ablutions, nice spacious areas and very low-brow fences to keep the hippos, eles and rhinos out. There is a restaurant which we frequented for buffet breakfast, a bar for some water (etc.. ;) ) and a herd of Nylala roamed freely, coming up to everyone in the camp.
At the edge, beyond the bar, there is a dam and viewing deck chairs so you can watch the hippos grunting and yawning, while other wildlife came to drink throughout the day.
You can do drives to see lions in the park that shares borders with ours (you can hear them calling all through the night), but we were there to chill so we pretty much sat in camp with our beers and binos.
We met the most incredible two guys who were essentially our neighbours for the stay - Nick and Olaf. Nick, an Aussie, met Olaf on this, his 5th year, of travelling around the world on his bike (BMW...sorry KTM, you should've just sponsored Boorman and McGreggor), in Mauritania and they connected with eachother at certain points across Africa.
Nick had just done the entire Western side and was going back up the East, only spotting around 35 bikes along the way - tourism needs a boost - claiming that he'd only experienced real danger in north Pakistan where the police had to guard him overnight; a week later 13 European hikers were executed in the same town.
Incredible stories from these two guys, who were now heading off to Mozambique (we gave them Carlos Carvalho's number from DriveMoz because..you know, Mozambique with a pinch of traffic cops, add one main road, motorbikes and a 60 speed limit for a bad time) and then up, deciding each day where to go whilst alerting friends and family at hope with a GPS pulse that pings an email list and Facebook friends about your location.
Most of the time we just relaxed in the camp, because that's why we were there - there were 4 of us; My dad, stepmom, girlfriend Emma and myself - which was absolutely fine because the bird life was pretty awesome and you didn't really have to move.
Here's some of what we saw by just lazing around... (Count 50).
Lilac breasted roller, Blue waxbill, Fork tailed drongo, Kurrichane thrush, Burchells starling, Fairy flycatcher, African hoopoe, Village weaver, Yellow fronted canary, Helmeted guinea fowl, Hammerkop, Three banded plover, Grey headed bush shrike, Scarlet chested sunbird, Bearded wood pecker, Brown crowned tchagra, Red billed oxpecker, Emerald spotted wood dove, Rattling cisticola, White backed vulture, Black headed oriole, Bennetts woodpecker, Paradise flycatcher, Chin spot batis, Yellow billed kite, Marico sunbird, Go away bird, Maribou stork, Southern grey sparrow, Swee waxbill, Southern black tit, Black shouldered kite.
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All in all a great weekend away from the Joburg hustle.