Enjoying the pleasures of Swaziland

Bruce Fraser

Bruce Fraser

Adventure tourism is one of the fast growing sectors in the world of travel and one that has found a home in many parts of Southern Africa.

From the record-breaking 111m bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge that links Zambia to Zimbabwe, to cage diving in freezing waters with four-metre great white sharks off the Cape West Coast, or perhaps swimming with dolphins in KwaZulu-Natal, the choices are varied and thrilling.

With its diverse natural beauty, challenging rivers for white water rafting, sheer cliffs for absailing, trails through virgin forests for quadbiking or mountain biking - the tiny kingdom of Swaziland is following the trend and beginning to tap into this lucrative market.

"Join us for an adventure weekend in Swaziland" reads the invite that found its way in to the inbox of my computer.

A promised day of quadbiking sounded like too much fun to turn down so this past weekend saw me crossing over to our neighbour at the Oshoek border post and heading for the idyllic surrounds of Ezulwini Valley, just outside the capital Mbabane.

Now, signing an indemnity form always gives me the jitters but when partaking in an activity that carries some risk it is normally compulsory.

Basically what the organisers of the event are saying is this: "If you happen to die or amputate a part of your body while enjoying your activity ... tough!"

After putting my signature and life on the dotted line it was time for a briefing on the quadbikes (Suzuki 250cc) from our guide Bafana. Then it was simply a case of donning our crash helmets and winding our way through to the nearby Devil's Cauldron - an area of dense tropical foliage that was literally dripping with humidity.

The tall gum trees stretch high into the sky, their bark peeling away like old paint, while lower down sprays of bright berries provide food for the small monkeys scurrying about like naughty children.

The bikes themselves are fairly easy to operate, with the front and back brakes positioned on the handlebars. The accelerator is a simple switch also on the front right handlebar. The theory is that you can't use the brake and accelerator at the same time. It makes sense, though one unfortunate rider did make an unexpected exit down an embankment that wasn't part of the route!

Also a test of one's resolve and part of the adventure weekend was a trip down the Great Usuthu River, a 45-minute ride by bus from the Valley.

The river carries a Grade 4 rating (Grade 6 being the wildest and meanest) and though at this time of the year the waterlevel is low, the adrenalin rush is still high.

Imagine putting yourself in a washing machine, filling it up with water and pressing the "start" button - well that's what white water rafting is all about.

It's a roller-coaster ride of emotions. One minute the water can be as calm as a Buddhist monk, the next it's transformed into a raging torrent as it empties you from your two-man craft and tosses you about like a rag doll.

Despite wearing a compulsory life jacket and helmet, the force of the current at times attempts to suck you down into the dark caverns that lurk beneath the surface.

Seconds can feel like minutes, if not hours while you fight with all your might for the luxury of light and air until eventually you pop out like a champagne cork.

I'm definitely not some "McGyver type" so for me the weekend was about pushing my boundaries - physically and mentally.

It can test you to the limit while it drags you from your comfort zone into the unknown. A challenge to mind, body and soul and if the opportunity comes your way grab it with both hands and adopt the wellknown motto "Just Do It!"

If the adrenalin-junkie in you needs a rest and you are staying at a Sun International hotel in the Valley, activities such as golf, bowls, tennis or simply chilling out in the jacuzzi are all on offer.

An adjacent craft market is also an ideal way to while away an hour or two as you admire the beautiful handcrafted carvings and trinkets made by local crafters.


Swazi Trails organises activities such as quad biking, white water rafting, absailing, caving and guided walks. Contact them on 00268 416 2180.

Sun International has three hotels in the Ezulwini Valley. For details and specials phone 011-780-7800.