© Courtesy of eSwatini Tourist Board
One of the continent’s top hiking destinations, this mountain wilderness plays host to superb scenery as well as rare flora and fauna.
Malolotja Nature Reserve is the big green blob that occupies most of the map between Ngwenya and Piggs Peak, to the west of the MR1. It is not only eSwatini’s premier natural attraction but, to those in the know, one of the very best highland reserves in southern Africa. Its 18,000ha of grasslands, peaks and gorges may seem modest by African standards but the reserve offers a genuine wilderness in which hikers can lose themselves for days. Like eSwatini itself, its diminutive size on the map belies the great sense of space you experience once inside.
The reserve dates back to the 1970s, when it was one of the first areas identified by the eSwatini National Trust Commission as worthy of protection. A subsequent petition to the late King Sobhuza II got the royal thumbs-up once the king received assurances from local chiefs that the area had little agricultural potential. Once the reserve was declared, some 63 families living within its borders were re-settled on good farmland outside.
(Photo: The rolling hills of the Malolotja Reserve © Mike Unwin)
Seen from the MR1, Malolotja appears to be nothing but high rolling hills. But as you enter the reserve and crest the first ridge you will see the land fall away dramatically to the west, where a series of valleys have carved a toast-rack of mountain peaks that stretch away into South Africa. The reserve’s altitudinal span, ranging from the peak of Ngwenya (1,829m) to the floor of the Nkomati Valley (640m), accounts for its variety of habitats, from short grassland on the tops to riverine scrub in the gorges, bushveld in the valleys and Afromontane forest in the deeper clefts.