My Wild South African and Swaziland Adventures

Watching a lioness hunt was a higlight of my African adventure in South Africa

My recent African adventure was wild!

Just as I had hoped it would be. No this did not involve drunken nights (well not too many) but it did involve getting stared down by a lion in an open jeep and diving with sharks.

The 2 1/2 weeks I spent in South Africa and Swaziland has been my favorite vacation, even topping the Galapagos!

It was my second time in South Africa –  I was there earlier this year in the stunning Drakensberg and Golden Gate National Park and it was my husband’s third time.  We choose Durban as a starting point since neither of us had been there before and planned our itinerary from there knowing that wildlife viewing and diving with sharks would be the main focus of our trip.

In Durban, we stayed in a private 120-year-old historic townhouse that we booked through Wimdu, a vacation property booking site.   I soon learned that  living in Durban could be an adventure as I read over the instructions about how to keep monkeys out and how to get them out should they sneak in (apparently yelling and shaking a broom at them should do the trick).

Wanting to maximize our time in Durban, we booked two tours through Urban Adventures, a walking tour through Durban’s markets where Michael our guide explained the significance of each of the different markets.  I made an impromptu stop at a Sangoma (a traditional healer) at the herb market.  While it wasn’t on the itinerary, I ended up getting treated on the spot, which I can honestly say was the wildest and most fascinating medical treatment I’ve ever received (more in an upcoming post).

Zulu cultural tour in South Africa
Watching Zulu dancers was a wild experience! These guys know how to move!

The next day we did the Zulu Heritage Trail with Urban Adventures where we learned more about S. Africa’s largest tribe and visited the place where Nelsen Mandela voted for the first time.  Crazy to think that it only happened in 1994.

Next, it was off to St. Lucia located in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  St. Lucia is a village of only 500 residents, but it has some of the wildest residents I’ve ever met.  Most places will have at least the odd streetwalker, but they take on a whole new meaning in St. Lucia.

These ones are of the four-legged variety in the form of hippos, who have been known to cruise the main street throughout the night.  There’s also at least one resident leopard and more mischievous monkeys than I could count jumping from roof to roof.
Hippos are one of Africa's most dangerous animals and there are 500 of them in iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa
It was also in iSimangaliso Wetland Park that I experienced some of my wildest adventures thanks to Heritage Tours &  Safaris. Like coming within several meters of a herd of hippos. And staring eye to eye with a hyena on a night drive. Observing the endangered Samango monkeys on the western shores of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

And of course stopping in our jeep safari tracks at Hluhluhe-Umfolozi Game Reserve while two male elephants wrestled with each other several meters in front of our jeep.

Endangered samango monkeys seen in iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The endangered Samango monkey found on the eastern shores of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Our wild adventure continued into Swaziland where we visited the Mlawula Nature Reserve and Hlane Royal National Park. Here, I came face to face with several rhinos including a baby rhino and his mother.   It literally took my breath away!

Observing rhinos was one of the highlights of my trip.
I could have observed the rhinos for hours. Fortunately, I saw them in 3 different parks.

We also braved Swaziland’s only canopy tour in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. It’s the most exciting canopy tour I’ve ever done!  One of the zip lines was a dizzying 60 meters from the ground!

Enjoying Swaziland's only Canopy Tour
Enjoying Swaziland’s only Canopy Tour. I would have happily repeated it if time had permitted.

I had three of the most incredible hours of my life at Tembe Elephant Park.  On one safari drive, I witnessed a lioness hunting.  Unsuccessful she then moved within a couple of meters at us staring us up and down for over 20 minutes!

Note to self – don’t ever challenge a lion to a staring contest, you will lose.  One woman in the jeep behind us was so scared that she sat on the floor and covered herself with a blanket!

That would have been incredible in itself, but minutes later we came across a herd of 20+ elephants. The elephants in Tember are among the largest in Africa.

They surrounded our jeep and two adorable baby elephants who were only 3 days old introduced themselves, while cautiously staying close to their mothers!  I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Enjoying Swaziland's only Canopy Tour
The baby elephant pictured is just 3 days old. Beyond adorable!

South Africa is known for its wild adventures below the waters and being avid shark divers we couldn’t pass this up, so headed to Protea Banks for diving with African Dive Adventures.

My favourite were the baited dives. On one dive we were surrounded by 17 sharks.  No Great Whites, but 15 Oceanic Black Tips and 2 Bull sharks – both of which are good sized sharks!

The shark dives were a big part of my African adventure in South Africa
Oceanic black tip shark cruising above me on a shark dive.

Still not having our fill from diving, we headed back towards Durban to Aliwal Shoals, famous for its reefs and sharks.  Here we saw some of S. Africa’s most famous underwater residents – the Ragged-tooth shark, or Raggies as they’re affectionately referred to.

Good thing Dick our Divemaster with Agulhas Dive Centre knew where their local hangout was.  Thanks to the Raggies, I’ve now dove with 14 different species of sharks.

Our wild adventure would not have been possible without our rental car from Sunny CarsRenting a car gave us the freedom to explore some of the more remote places we visited which would have been difficult with public transportation.

I would highly recommend renting a car if you want to travel independently and cover a lot of ground like we did.

I have dreamed of seeing African animals in the wild since I was a kid. But nothing could have prepared me for how much it touched me and changed me. Especially when I learned how many challenges both the people and animals of South Africa and Swaziland are facing.

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Disclosure: I was fortunate to work with the aforementioned companies/destinations on my Wild African Adventures tour, but as always all opinions expressed remain my own and nobody promised me any baby animal sightings.

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About Author

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She's passionate about getting outdoors as often as possible and helping travellers do the same on their vacation in a sustainable way. She's Canadian and grew up in the Canadian Rockies but now lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her skiing or hiking in the mountains most weekends, hanging out with her cat or with her nose in a good book.


August 26, 2012
What an incredible adventure...Love the pic of the yawning hippo:)
August 26, 2012
@D.J. - I was so lucky and I learned that there are 3 reasons why hippos yawn (stay tuned :)
August 26, 2012
Wow, 14 species of sharks. You really do love sharks! All your photos are great! I especially love the rhino. I can't wait to read more about your adventures in South Africa and I hope I too am spending an anniversary there very soon.
August 26, 2012
As fitting the blog's title, I really like the picture of the Samango monkey. :-) You got to experience it all, didn't you, L! What a great adventure, and thanks for sharing your experiences with us!
August 26, 2012
@Jennifer - Thanks Jennifer and you're right, I do love sharks and am hoping to add 2 more to my list this year. Hope you're able to spend your anniversary there, S. Africa is incredible as is Swaziland. @Henry - Thanks and there will naturally be more monkey photos to come :)
August 26, 2012
I really enjoyed this the photos and sounds like an incredible experience! I've always wanted to visit Africa for safari..hopefully I'll make it there soon!
August 26, 2012
@Tiffany - Thanks so much. Doing a safari has been on my list for a long time too. I was also pleased to see that there are a variety of budget options as well. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading about your experience when you go.
August 27, 2012
Looks like a vacation that was like a dream come true for you! So glad you enjoyed and got to do so many things. Look forward to hearing more about your business ideas. :)
August 27, 2012
@Cheryl - Thanks so much, it really was. Looking forward to catching up later this week.
August 27, 2012
Baby elephants - super cute! And the rhino, too. Look forward to hearing/reading more :)
August 27, 2012
2 1/2 weeks?! This looks like a dream trip. Was that cage diving or free diving with sharks?
August 27, 2012
@Sophie - Baby animals get me every time. @Christy - It truly was and there were no cages. It was really cool, as they would come really close and sometimes touch your flippers.
August 28, 2012
Sounds like an incredible trip! I'd love to see some of those animals in the wild someday. Love the photos!
August 28, 2012
Oh man, South Africa is one of my favorite places on the planet. I just love it! So glad you had such a wildlife-filled time =)
Cynthia Simpson
August 28, 2012
Great post on my country, South Africa. Lovely to read it from your perspective :) and so glad you had a super time.
August 29, 2012
Oh my gosh! The staring down photos are pretty wild -- but I am in love with that monkey. He looks like he's daydreaming something lovely!
August 29, 2012
You got to see a lot of animals on your trip. I think seeing a rhino in the wild would be really cool... and frightening :-)
August 30, 2012
Such an amazing trip! I have been reading your travel reports most of the summer and it was all "ohhh" and "ahh". This is a part of the world I don't know at all, but you got me hooked on Africa!
December 3, 2012
What an adventure Laurel! We head to South Africa in January and after reading this I am pumped! It looks like you did it all!! great shot of the rhino too.
December 3, 2012
@Deb - Thanks. You will love it. It was the best vacation of my life, truly incredible!
January 31, 2013
SO jealous! GREAT pics - love the baby elephant. -Veronica
January 31, 2013
@TheGypsynesters - The baby elephants were my favorite part as well. Definitely a highlight!

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