One of the smallest African countries, Swaziland, under its king Mswati III, has a strong sense of pride; the King represents and maintains the traditional way of life. This is an absolute monarchy and the power and clan links of the still highly revered King are perhaps the basis of Swaziland's continued stability. Many Swazis wear traditional robes and the high points of the year are the lncwala, the sacred ceremony of kingship and the Umhlanga, performed by the country's maidens.
The superb scenery of this relaxed and friendly country ranges from rainforest and savannah scrub to jagged mountains and high veld. Originally set aside for the royal hunt, several of the excellent game and nature reserves owe their existence to the monarch and this is one of the best areas to see rhinos, despite poaching. Happily, the King is on the side of the conservationists.
The Tea Road makes a good scenic circular tour for travellers with limited time. It is named after a failed project to establish tea plantations. The route runs north from the main road from Mbabane, climbing into the Mzdzimba Range, the burial place of the kings. The ridge provides a panoramic view of the beautiful Royal Valley, Ezulwini. At its centre, the town of Lobamba contains the palace, parliament and the royal kraal, where the King participates in the two magnificent annual ceremonies. A boulder marked gravel road crosses the mountains through Swazi villages and descends to the Malkerne Valley, a lovely area famous for skilled craftwork. North of the country road back towards Mbabne, the mountainous Miliwane Wildlife Sanctuary has a variety of wildlife and good walks.
WHEN TO GO
May, June and October
TIME IT TAKES
The view from Mdzimba includes Sheba's Breasts, twin peaks traditionally the site of King Solomon's Mines.
Even businessmen wear emahiya, the traditional dress of Swaziland.
The cultural festivals are an extraordinary spectacle.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
The gravel roads are often very steep and impassable during the rainy season.