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A small reserve between Mbabane and Manzini, Mlilwane offers surprising diversity for an area bedeviled with exotic vegetation in the form of guava, bugweed and gum, and carved with deep erosion furrows. Vehicle and walking trails are widespread and there is a range of accommodation on offer from an exclusive lodge to rest camps, backpacker's dormitories and camping.

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Specials

Southern Bald Ibis, Verreaux's Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, Marsh Owl, Half-collared Kingfisher, White-fronted Bee-eater, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Wire-tailed Swallow, Buff-streaked Chat, Broad-tailed Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Golden Weaver, Red-backed Mannikin.

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Habitats

The topography is undulating hills and flat plains, with the Nyonyane Mountain in the north. Mlilwane is predominantly open grassland, but woodland extends along drainage lines and on the lower slopes of the mountains. Stands of eucalyptus plantations are patchily distributed throughout the reserve, and exotic vegetation dominates much of the woodland.

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Facilities

There is an extensive network of good roads in the southern portion of the reserve, while the northern portion is only accessible on foot. A wide range of accommodation is available from camping and simple (bee-hive) huts, to rustic cottages and private lodges. A Backpacker's dormitory is also available. Several, well-maintained walking trails are open to the public. Cycling is permitted, and mountain bikes are on hire. In addition, guided walks, horse-riding and game drives are also offered. The shop at the main camp sells basic supplies, while food and drink may be purchased from the restaurant and bar. A detailed map of the reserve is on sale.

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Birding

1. The main camp overlooks a waterhole which is home to some large crocodiles and terrapins. An island in this waterhole supports a heronry. Look here for Black-headed Heron , Grey Heron and Green-backed Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Reed Cormorant, Black Crake and other waterbirds. Wire-tailed Swallows are resident here. Look out for Black Sparrowhawk, Olive Woodpecker, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Purple-crested Turaco and other woodland birds in and around the main camp. The sparrowhawk nests in the stand of tall eucalypts behind the camp.

2. The Mhlambanyatsi trail leads from the main camp along the Mhlambanyatsi River passing several wetlands. Look out for Cape Batis, Kurrichane Thrush and White-browed Scrub-Robin in pockets of thicket at the beginning of the trail. Soon a large vlei appears on the left side of the trail. Fan-tailed Widowbird and Red-collared Widowbird are plentiful here, as well as Red Bishop, Tawny-flanked Prinia and Common Waxbill. Look out for African Marsh-Harrier and Marsh Owl, both of which breed here, and for Cape Grassbird which is easily located by its warbling call. This is also a reliable site for Broad-tailed Warbler, whose tinkling call can be heard in summer. The remainder of the trail passes mainly through exotic vegetation and returns to the main camp via the Hippo trail behind the large Hippo Dam. Dozens of White-fronted Bee-eater breed here. Also look out for Golden Weaver and Scaly-throated Honeyguide. The latter is best located by its trilling call. Although it does not breed here, African Fish-Eagle is often present at the large Hippo Dam. The full trail can be completed in about 2 hours.

3. The Macobane Trail starts halfway up the Nyonyane mountain and can be reached by road. The trail follows an old aqueduct along the contour of the mountain and can be completed in 3 hours. A branching trail leads up to Nyonyane Peak which offers excellent views of the Ezulwini Valley. Verreaux's Eagle used to nest on a spur of this mountain, but have not done so for several years. Lanner Falcon and Jackal Buzzard are regularly seen. Look out for Buff-streaked Chat and Yellow Bishop when the trail passes through bouldered-strewn montane grassland. Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis and Spectacled Weaver may be seen in patches of thickets along the trail.

4. The Lusushwana 4X4 trail leads around the back of Nyonyane Mountain down to the Lusushwana River. This trail can also be negotiated by mountain bike or on foot. Bald Ibis have bred here recently at Mantenga Falls. The natural vegetation of the Lusushwana valley is mostly intact and is a welcome relief from the exotic-infested areas to the south. Woodland birds such as Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Black-collared Barbet, Violet-backed Starling, Red-backed Mannikin, White-bellied Sunbird and Yellow-fronted Canary may be seen.

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General

The main gate can be reached on a short gravel road which is sign-posted from the old Mbabane-Manzini tar road, and can be reached from Mbabane in less than 30 minutes. An entrance fee is payable at the main gate which is open 24 hours per day. Reservations can be made through Central Reservations at (+268)5283944 and fax: (+268)5283924.

Ara Monadjem 2007.



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