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Established in 1979, Malolotja is home to one of southern Africa's rarest birds, the magnificent Blue Swallow. Malolotja is arguably Swaziland's most attractive reserve, lying on the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment and protecting a wide variety of habitats that range in altitude from above 1800m (Ngwenya Mountain) to below 800m (Komati Valley). The bird list of over 280 species is correspondingly diverse, but don't expect to see more than 80 species in a day in spring and early summer.

The climate is more temperate than tropical: summers are generally warm and wet, winters are cool and night-time temperatures often drop below freezing. Birding is best in spring and early summer: November to January. Whilst the montane grassland is accessible by car, other interesting habitats may be reached only by walking, and a minimum of two days is recommended in the reserve. The roads have recently been upgraded and can be traversed by any vehicle.

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Specials

These include Southern Bald Ibis, Striped Flufftail, Denham's Bustard, Black-winged Lapwing, Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, Ground Woodpecker, Blue Swallow, Buff-streaked Chat, Chorister Robin, Brown Scrub-Robin, Orange Ground-Thrush, Broad-tailed Warbler, Short-tailed Pipit and Gurney's Sugarbird.

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Habitats

Montane grasslands cover much of the reserve around the main entrance gate and internal roads. Mistbelt and riverine forests, gorges and rocky slopes, and wetlands in the form of vleis and dams are other interesting habitats found in the reserve.

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Facilities

Five Log cabins are situated near the main entrance gate (currently being increased to 15 cabins). These self-catering cabins overlook a grassy drainage line and sleep five people.

Main Campsite caters for campers and is beautifully located amongst a rocky outcrop that is also home to a group of dassies. An ablution building with hot water is also present.

The Environmental Education Centre is fully equipped to cater for school groups interested in learning about nature. Qualified staff teach groups about various aspects of environmental conservation. Groups are welcome to stay overnight in dormitories at the centre.

Hiking is encouraged and camping is permitted at numerous secluded camping spots that link together to form a network of hiking trails. Toilet facilities are not available here, but water is readily available from nearby rivers and streams.

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Birding

Bird-watching at Malolotja is particularly rewarding and the reserve is renowned for its high numbers of southern African endemics. The best birding opportunities are on the extensive trail network.

The star attraction is undoubtedly the endangered Blue Swallow, a few pairs of which breed in natural sinkholes in the montane grassland. Look out for this species on the drive to Logwaja view point (the starting point for walks to Malolotja Falls), where the road makes a steep descend. This spot is also a good place to look for Ground Woodpecker. A regular breeding colony of Southern Bald Ibis are present during winter and early spring near the Malolotja Falls. Other species easily found here are Cape Rock-Thrush, Swee Waxbill, Buff-streaked Chat, Jackal Buzzard and Long-billed Pipit. Short-tailed Pipit was recently found to be breeding in short grassland not far from the waterfall trail.

The main campsite, and surrounding areas, is a good place to see many of the grassland species Malolotja is famous for. Cape Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Red-winged Francolin, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Wailing Cisticola and Levaillant's Cisticola are easily located here. Listen out for Bokmakierie. Striped Flufftail are occasionally heard calling from rank vegetation around the Dam near the workshop. More extensive coverage of the grasslands should yield Secretary Bird (often seen between the main entrance and Logwala), Denham's Bustard and Black-bellied Bustard. Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk are sighted infrequently.

Try to find recently burnt patches of grassland (winter) as these sites draw Black-winged Lapwing and Plain-backed Pipits. A climb to the top of Ngwenya Mountain may be rewarded with sightings of Gurney's Sugarbird, Rock Kestrel, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Cape Bunting. The Malolotja Vlei is worth visiting for a glimpse of the elusive Grass Owl. Other more common species here include Marsh Owl, African Marsh-Harrier and African Quailfinch.

Mistbelt and riverine forest are home to Purple-crested Turaco and Knysna Turaco, Lemon Dove, Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon, Chorister Robin, White-starred Robin, Olive Bush-Shrike and Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler. An easily accessible (but small) mistbelt forest is directly adjacent to the Environmental Education Centre. Riverine forest occurs patchily along the Komati River, Malolotja River and some of their main tributaries.

The mistbelt forest at Mgwayisa has a variety of forest birds not easily seen elsewhere in the country including Brown Scrub-Robin and Orange Ground-Thrush.

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General

  • Guided day and night drives are offered in an open vehicle. This provides a chance to see some interesting nocturnal animals and birds (including Spotted Eagle-Owl and Cape Eagle Owls).
  • Visit the Ngwenya Mine (not operational anymore) reputed to be the oldest mine in the world.
  • The entrance to the reserve lies off the main Mbabane-Pigg's Peak tar road, and can be reached in about 30 minutes from Mbabane.
  • For more information contact Malolotja Nature Reserve directly on Tel: (+268) 4424241
  • An entry fee is payable for day visitors.
  • The gates open at 06h00 and close at 18h00, but these times are not strictly enforced and late-comers are usually welcome.
  • All entries into Swaziland require a valid passport.

Ara Monadjem 2007



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