​Expert Reviews – Hlane Royal NP

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Mark Eveleigh   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: November

Mark is a travel writer who grew up in Africa and has written over 700 titles for CNN Traveller, Travel Africa, BBC Wildlife and others.

2 people found this review helpful.

Eswatini’s Royal flagship park
Overall rating

With 200km/124mi of game-driving tracks, Hlane Royal National Park is Eswatini’s (formerly Swaziland) biggest protected area and allows self-drive access as well as guided safaris either in vehicles, on-foot or by cycle. Since this is officially the royal park, Hlane provides the habitat for eSwatini’s only lions – a regal symbol – and (rare) cheetahs among its 44 large mammal species and 262 birds.

Just sitting around the huge Ndlovu Camp waterhole in the evening is sure to provide sightings of a lot of wildlife, including jostling herds of elephants. The lions are in a limited-access enclosure, which unfortunately detracts from the wilderness bush vibe (the quantity of prey skeletons makes it feel more like a velociraptor compound), but you are guaranteed close-up sightings and photo opportunities.

The guides are well-trained and knowledgeable and, as a front-line force in combating rhino-poaching, Hlane’s rangers have been selected from the local community and some are reformed ex-poachers themselves. Their traditional bush-skills provided the ideal foundation for the SAS training they received during induction.

As one Big Game Park’s guide points out, “There were probably times when the SAS boys were learning as much from some of our guys as we were from them.”

Lucy Corne   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: November 2017

Lucy is travel writer for a range of publications, including Lonely Planet's guides to Africa, Southern Africa and South Africa.

2 people found this review helpful.

Up close with rhinos
Overall rating

One of the most under-appreciated parks in southern Africa, Hlane Royal National Park is the place for rhino lovers. Not only are sightings practically guaranteed, you can also opt for a drive which allows you to exit the vehicle and walk within metres of these endangered giants. During our walk, we were only about five metres from a mother and calf, though that distance closed quickly when the young one took an interest in us. We slowly ambled back to the jeep, all the while followed by mom and her child. It was exhilarating and petrifying to be that close to a rhino, but the calm and experienced ranger made us all feel that we were not in (too much) danger. Hlane Royal National Park is also the only park with lions in Eswatini, though they are featured in a separate enclosure which takes the ‘safari feel’ away from the experience.

Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: April

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

2 people found this review helpful.

Swaziland’s biggest park
Overall rating

Hlane means ‘wilderness’ and the 30,000-hectare Hlane Royal National Park is Swaziland’s largest reserve and home to decent herbivore herds, along with four of the Big Five. With only buffalo absent from this Lowveld park, lovers of big beasties will feel right at home in Hlane.

Without electricity to distract safari-goers from their Hlane bush experience, Ndlovu Rest Camp comes alive at night. Nesting barn owls screech in the wooden eaves of the restaurant, epauletted fruit bats squawk in the surrounding trees, and a crash of white rhino sidle up to the camp’s low fence where they contentedly bed down for the night. Just three strands of electric fence separate you from the heavy-breathing rhino, as you watch them snooze peacefully by the light of the moon. You’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven.

An extensive network of game-viewing tracks criss-crosses the national park, allowing visitors to explore the area on guided open-top game drives or in their own vehicles. Early-morning game drives in search of lions in a surreal landscape of skeletal knob thorns can be followed by guided mid-morning mountain bike rides or bush walks to the hide at Mahlindza waterhole. Here you can munch on your packed brunch in the company of crocodiles, nyala, wildebeest, warthogs and woolly-necked storks. It is reassuring to know that these adventure activities are conducted in sectors of the park without lions.

Hlane Royal National Park belongs in the elite of Swaziland’s wildlife parks. Along with wonderfully low-key wildlife-watching experiences, there’s plenty more to keep you occupied, including wildlife drives, bushwalking, mountain biking and local cultural tours.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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