Part 1 of 3: On the Road to Swaziland

by | Nov 29, 2010 | Mpumalanga | 69 comments

Joe and I recently returned from a trip to Swaziland, where we worked on a story for World AIDS Day. It was an eventful trip so I’m dividing my account of it into three parts.

We left for Swaziland a day early so we could visit the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden, a nature reserve for rescued chimps near the town of Nelspruit, about four hours from Joburg. Joe wanted to investigate a potential story and I wanted to see the chimps. It was also a good opportunity to see another part of South Africa. Nelspruit is a popular jumping-off point for people visiting Kruger National Park. It’s in the Lowveld, which means it’s lower elevation than the Highveld, where Joburg is. It’s also much hotter and damper. The town is bordered by rainforest.

We got a late start (as usual) and didn’t arrive at Chimp Eden until about 3 o’clock. We’d missed the last tour but the guard at the gate said we could drive up to the lodge and make an appointment to speak with the director.

We drove a couple of miles up a dirt road and found the lodge, but there was not a human soul to be found there. It was odd. We wandered around and managed to see some chimps in an enclosure a few hundred yards away. (Sorry, I left my camera in the car so no pics.) Then we gave up and left.

But look what we saw on our way out!

The first of many fantastic wildlife sightings on this trip.

A rock had chipped Joe’s windshield earlier in the day, and a chipped windshield would never survive the roads in Swaziland. So we drove back into town to get it fixed. By the time that was done, it was obvious we’d be spending the night in Nelspruit. I opened my Rough Guide South Africa book and basically picked a guest house at random. It was called Utopia in Africa. Joe called them and they had a room available that we could afford (R900, or $128). Done.

There was about an hour of daylight left, so we decided to visit the Lowveld National Botanical Garden in Nelspruit. I know what you’re thinking: “Another botanical garden??” But yes. There are lots of gardens in South Africa because a lot grows here. Anyway, this particular garden is considered to be one of the best in the country.

In the garden.

Walking into the garden was like walking straight into a jungle. In fact it is a jungle. It was interesting to compare the vegetation there to the Highveld vegetation at the gardens I’ve been to in Joburg. There were also tons of vervet monkeys – the first monkeys I’ve seen since moving to South Africa – and a roaring waterfall.


Plated Lizard.

On our way from the garden to the guest house we witnessed a spectacular sunset. We pulled over on the side of the highway to take pictures of it.

Obviously this is Joe’s doing, not mine.

(I know, I know. Sunsets are also overused in this blog. But what are you gonna do.)

We arrived at Utopia in Africa, which was tucked away on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac, right as it got dark. We were greeted at the gate by Patricia, the proprietress, and Sam the dog. We immediately loved both of them. As we unpacked the car we saw a beautiful pair of spotted eagle owls calling to each other from opposite ends of the roof – I’ve never seen an owl before so I was very excited. Alas, it was too dark for pictures.

I don’t know how we keep finding these amazing places to stay. Utopia in Africa is true to its name. I don’t even know how to describe it – a lovely thatched house on the side of a hill, perched on the edge of a nature reserve. The balcony of our room looked out over endless green forest. There was an amazing vibe there – homey and relaxed, but sophisticated the same time. It definitely gives the Antbear a run for its money as my favorite place to stay in South Africa.

Here is a picture, although the Utopia website does a better job of showing what it looks like.

Utopia. If you ever go to Nelspruit, stay there. And don’t forget to request the Guinea Fowl Room.

There’s not much nightlife in Nelspruit, but Patricia recommended a restaurant called Zest in the new shopping mall up the road. The presentation of Joe’s bone-in fillet was very impressive so I’ve included a photo.

We really did not want to leave Utopia. And if we’d known what was in store for us at our lodge in Swaziland (plug for the next installment!), we might have stayed there forever.

We took the back way into Swaziland (Joe hates crowded border crossings). We passed through the town of Barberton and stopped by the side of the road for some avocados. Our last view of South Africa was this stunning section of the northern Drakensberg, where it felt like we were on the edge of the world.

Next up: Swaziland.


  1. Mikalee Byerman

    Hard to imagine a place where giraffes just wander around…

    Thank you for sharing! Beautiful! 🙂

  2. dingtonia

    I lived in Swaziland for many years and know this area so well. I am now in the UK and reading your blag brought tears to my eyes. I’m back in SA for three weeks in December, but I know it won’t be long enough.
    Thank you for this snapshot which brought back floods of memories of the most wonderful place on earth.

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much Candy! This is indeed the most beautiful place on earth. I’ll be writing more about Swaziland in my next couple of posts.

      • dingtonia

        I’m really looking forward to reading them….:)

  3. gpeace

    beautiful pictures, it looks like a gorgeous place!

  4. Kerry

    I am South African and have always wanted to visit Swaziland, but for some obscure reason it is one of the few places in the world I haven’t been to…yet. Can’t wait to see the “next episode”…

    • 2summers

      Hi Evil,

      That’s an interesting question – there were three different cameras used! The first four pics were taken with my old Canon Powershot S3 point-and-shoot. Even though I have an SLR now, I still use the point-and-shoot often because it’s easy to throw in my bag and it has a great zoom. The sunset photo was taken by my boyfriend with his Canon EOS-1D MkIV. He’s a professional, obviously. The photo of the guest house deck was taken with my Canon EOS 60D. The best thing about this camera is the 10-22 mm lens that I got to go with it. The food picture was also taken with the point-and-shoot, and the last photo of the mountains was the 60D.

      • evilcyber

        Thanks for the explanation! A Canon EOS-1D MkIV? *drools* 🙂
        But it clearly is worth its price, as especially the sunset picture is near perfect.


  5. Franco

    Great blog! Keep it up, I was in Tanzania in March. It was life-changing, to be cliche.

  6. jrivera4

    Keep the photos coming..I loved them all, and NO, a photo of a sunset can never be over used!

  7. lemon123

    The giraffes are beautiful. What a beautiful and lovely place to visit.

  8. rtcrita

    Stunningly beautiful! Can’t wait for the next two installments. The sunset was breathtaking in this photo–I can only imagine how much more so it must have been in person. I’ll be back!

    • chandra Tamang

      very very beautuiful i like ur smile n

  9. Bingo

    Reallynice blog, Thanks so much Candy! This is indeed the most beautiful place on earth.

  10. one poor woman

    Brilliantly photographed, gorgeously annotated, fun to read, and lacking only one thing: MORE! Can’t wait for your next installment.

  11. Cynical Queer

    Swaziland is gorgeous. I enjoyed my visit to the kingdom back in 2007.

    I stayed at Miliwane Game Reserve. None of the “major” animals people associate with Africa there, but there are nice grass huts to sleep in.

    • 2summers

      I also visited Mlilwane a couple of years ago and loved it. I saw one of my favorite sunsets of all time there. I didn’t get to stay in the lodge though – maybe next time.

  12. whenquiet

    Hats off to you for discovering you were living the wrong life in D.C. Now, look at your gifts! Merci!

  13. Heather CJ Atkins

    Stunning! I’m happy to have found a fellow admirer of South Africa. You’ve relayed some great information for my future trips.. If you have time, I invite you to visit my blog where you will find a few reviews of accommodations within Sabi Sands and Kruger:

    Also, here’s a link to an article I wrote about my appreciation of SA:

    Thanks for the great post and beautiful pictures 🙂

  14. electric spiel

    Staying in the Guinea Fowl Room at Utopia is my new dream. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Modern Funk

    Amazing. What a fantastic opportunity!

  16. Lushfun

    Cool they even have a human in captivity with a water bottle and authentic jeans wear.

  17. StarSpry

    What beautiful photos!! I’m looking forward to your next posts about Swaziland.

  18. AJ

    Lovely photos! Swaziland looks like a safari Switzerland. 🙂

  19. Joshi Mukard

    Superb. Waiting for the next part.

  20. Candice

    I am South African (Jo’burg), living in California. Looking at these pics makes me realise how much I took for granted. However, thankful for the journey I am on and thankful for your eye and thoughts of a land of nostalgia and humility. Beautiful pics.. thank you!

  21. Lakia

    Those giraffes are beautiful!

  22. elmer

    well all i can say is that i adore that sunset

  23. slamdunk

    Amazing shots–thanks for sharing.

  24. karster

    Wow this is some great stuff thanks for sharing

  25. happybearstory

    Love your photos, great giraffes picture!
    I’ll be back to read your next post, thanks for sharing your wonderful journey.

  26. Indian Pundit

    Hello Friend

    What a beautiful post. Loved it.
    Really amazing photos especially the giraffes.
    Very hard to imagine a place like this especially when one lives in a noisy ,chaotic city like Kolkata , India.

    Indian Pundit

  27. maralda

    VeRy nICe!!!!!!

  28. vincent

    All I want to say is: Well done Candy! Thanks! Waiting for your next episode 🙂

  29. Jule1

    Amazing pics. Looks like a wonderful trip. Look forward to your next installments.

  30. Tracy Z

    beautiful! Waiting on part 2…

  31. gomagoti

    its the picture of the giraffes that drew me to read your post as I have been to the nelspruit area 5 times now this year,and recognised that hill behind them 🙂 Theres caves 60km off the n4 west of nelspruit,well worth visiting.I too loved the botanical gardens (theres hippos there too did you not see them?) and have a lot of pictures of the flowers from there if you’d like a look

    • 2summers

      Your photos are beautiful! Thanks for sharing. Alas, we missed the hippos. We got there an hour before closing so we missed a lot 🙁

      • gomagoti

        you’re welcome,and i’d say with christmas coming,what better time to go visist nelspruit & its surrounds again! (did you know almost all the mangoes and avos and oranges and peaches and apricots you can get in the shops are from the farms around nels & barberton?)the mangoes in december are to DIE for.

  32. richannkur

    I don’t have words to express how much I have liked your article. Simply superb!!!

  33. Jude Lab

    Beautiful!!! Thanks!!!

  34. priya

    would like to hang out in such a place with my faourite soul aatleast once in my life time

  35. Twattie

    I’m a South African and have considered travelling through Swaziland, but was cautioned to rather not go. Maybe one day…..
    Beautifull pics!!

  36. bandzai

    very nice story, from the very nice place 🙂

  37. menchu4901

    I love your sense of humour about the gardens — a lot grows here! LOL!
    Wish I was there with you…the pix are great, my favourites being the giraffes, the sunset, the Drakensburg, the steak. Look forward to the next instalment.

  38. alaa hassan

    life is climb…but the view is great

  39. techmodi

    Pictures are awesome! Really good!!!!

  40. woda7

    It is one place many people wish to be there; I live in Uganda and Swaziland looks very much like our own Murchison Falls National Park!

  41. shanaynegans

    I’ll be going to Swaziland on a mission trip in March ’11. I’ve never been outside of the U.S. and I’m very nervous, scared, and excited. For some reason when I thought of Swaziland I pictured bare trees and desert looking grounds. Your pictures and experiences have proved me wrong! Thank you for sharing!!!

  42. sayitinasong

    Swaziland looks unbelievably beautiful! It has always been my dream, to see Africa.

    • 2summers

      I visited Chennai for two weeks in 2006, and loved it. Can’t wait to go back 🙂

  43. majnun

    Hi Do you know I made the Journey from Maputo In Mozambique through Swasiland to Durban. Then later the trip to Johannesburg from Maputo passing through Nelsprit and stopping at one of the wildlife parks. I can’t recollect its name the main one was bookings only as it was public holiday. (This was in September)

    But I have to say they are fascinating journeys, lots to see, Saw the giraffes, herds of elephants, the deers, Gnoos, lions etc all roaming wild.

    The scenry during the drive is amazing. And you will probably remember all the cows in Swasiland.

    your post brought back some nice memories.

    Do you remember the sings beware of animals crossing in the UK its pictures of sheep etc their its pictures of lions and elephants.

  44. Preciousalchemy

    Too beautiful! I was born in Mbabane, Swaziland and lived most of my life in S.Africa, and now living in Canada. Like many of your other S.A readers, your stories and photos made me nostalgic. But I will be visiting soon, as I am currently establishing and organization that aims to empower disadvantaged and at-risk women around the world through art, dance, storytelling, drumming, yoga, breathwork, life/business skills and community. I am also currently writing a novel set in Swaziland. Thank you …and I look forward to parts 2 and 3…..

  45. zevicor

    This is a really nice blog you have worked hard on this I can tell.. I use to be a zookeeper so it is always fun to see animals interact with humans. Cute monkeys!



  1. 闲来话话 » Part 1 of 3: On the Road to Swaziland - [...] the original here: Part 1 of 3: On the Road to Swaziland Posted on 2010 年 11 月 29…
  2. Part 3 of 4: A Swazi Reunion | 2Summers - [...] We were too tired to do anything about it so we went to bed. I think we both dreamt…
  3. Food - [...] Part 1 of 3: On the Road to Swaziland [...]

Leave a Reply