Mlilwane is Eswatini’s best-known nature reserve. It was here in 1961 that Ted Reilly – whose father had settled at the property in 1906 – first took action to save what remained of the kingdom’s wildlife, converting it into a sanctuary and rounding up animals from elsewhere around the country before they were hunted out. Although Big Game Parks – the independent conservation trust that Reilly subsequently founded – has since acquired the management of the more substantial reserves of Hlane and Mkhaya, Mlilwane remains its spiritual home.
Mlilwane is just a 15-minute drive from the Ezulwini Valley, and its landscape is dominated by Nyonyane mountain, visible from afar. This dramatic peak is known as Execution Rock, taking its name from the horrible fate that once befell the condemned folk who were led to its summit. The reserve is not ‘Big Five’ country, and indeed the proximity of busy Ezulwini Valley, together with the stands of exotic gum trees and old tin mine workings, mean that it cannot be considered a pristine wilderness. Nonetheless, it is a beautifully scenic and beautiful oasis for wildlife, with a lovely relaxed ambience.
Accommodation and activities are based in the reserve’s southern sector, with the northern sector set aside as a wilderness area. Wildlife is easy to find: zebra, blesbok, impala, blue wildebeest and warthog graze the open grasslands, while kudu and nyala browse the thickets. Rare antelope, such as roan and oribi, are protected in an enclosed area and can be viewed on a guided tour, and a pod of hippos frequents the main dam, sometimes visiting the waterhole at Rest Camp. Vervet monkeys and baboons are common, while the rich birdlife includes a noisy heron colony at Rest Camp and both black and crowned eagles in the hills. Crocodiles lurk in the Dam.