Dry undergrowth crackles underfoot as we saunter in silence, single file through the dense bush of Swaziland’s Hlane National Park. A faint crashing has alerted Africa, our very appropriately named guide, who immediately signals us to freeze. Motionless we stand listening to what was a distant noise increasing in intensity – it’s clearly headed in our direction. Moments later a shadowy gray figure reveals just enough shape to confirm a small herd of elephants is feeding less than 100 metres ahead. We jostle amongst each other for a better view of this picture perfect scene. No longer obscured by bush a massive gray elephant, sporting starkly contrasting white tusks, stands feeding on the lush surrounds. Her huge ears flap as she rips chunks of grass and leaves with her trunk, inching further toward us with every mouthful. Poor eyesight renders these magnificent creatures still seemingly unaware of our presence – Africa, who by the way is armed only with a stick, signals our retreat out of the “too close for comfort zone”.
We watch, shoot photographs and marvel at our situation – standing without protection just 30 metres from a herd of wild elephants! It’s at that moment the matriarch looks up and pushes forward in the bush, raising her trunk she bellows as if to say “I see you, you’re in my space…” Africa swiftly gets the message and hurriedly alerts us to evacuate as we make a dash to safety.
Dry mouthed with hearts pounding we swiftly slip through the two flimsy strings of rusty barbed wire, which is apparently electrified – this is all that protects us from this now angry 6 ton giant of the animal kingdom. Once we’d moved away she calms and moves on with her companions. Brimming with adrenaline, animated whispering gives way to relieved chatter about our big 5 encounter. Topping this will be tough as we creep back through the fence and venture off in search of the next experience.
The Royal Hlane National Park has become a haven for Swaziland’s wild animals as poachers attempt to hunt down and profit from these natural assets. The hundreds of seized traps that sit piled atop each other at the Park entry serve as a chilling reminder of this brutal and devastating practice. Unfortunately for the local elephant population, continued farming and development further encroaches on the lands where wildlife once freely roamed.
The Park’s lodge and campground are located in well looked after grounds with the main buildings set on the shore of a huge waterhole. Dripping with natural authenticity it generates a feeling of raw remoteness that is in sync with the environment. It’s definitely worth the visit for a day or two, and the walking safari is a must-do for anyone who has spent most of their time doing vehicle based game drives.