The lovely Naomi du Pont, who will be looking after our rugby coaching volunteers whilst they are in Swaziland, offered to come with myself and Sharon Oliver of The Oliver Foundation to show us the way to Malaloja National Park. The drive took us about 1 to 1 ½ hours from the Malkerns area and Naomi chatted all the way about her work with the Skrum, both rugby coaching and counselling the children about personal problems and AIDS/HIV awareness.
The Park is a true wilderness, unspoilt and consisting of Highveld and Middleveld grasslands and forests with streams and gorges – so well maintained and so beautiful with fabulous views all around. The smells of all the plants were intoxicating and every now and again we would see some really colourful flowers. On entering, we saw some Blesbucks but apart from a variety of birds, a few butterflies and the odd eagle soaring above us, we didn’t see many larger animals. The Park is perfect for walkers and you can hire mountain bikes from the visitor centre too.
We checked in at the visitor centre and paid our fee of 450 rand and at the last minute managed to persuade Naomi to do the canopy tour with us! First of all you have a talk from the guide about what you are going to do and how the equipment works and then they fit the harness to you and also a helmet (having first got you to sign the usual indemnity form!). They assured me that the cables can take 2 tonnes and I made the comment that a horse usually weighs 1 tonne so it should be able to cope with my weight! Our guide said that 2 tonnes was equivalent to 3 baby elephants and my imagination ran riot imagining these baby elephants cruising the canopy tour!
An open vehicle then takes you on the 10 minute bumpy drive across the Highveld and then you leave the vehicle and walk in single file (to minimise destruction to the grasses and flowers) down a hill into the gorge. The first section of the tour is only a few meters from one platform to the next which is perfect to get your confidence up on launching yourself off the platform.
Our two guides, Peter and Deli, were so professional and inspired us with even more confidence so that by the time we reached the huge runs across the gorge we were brave enough to do it with a smile on our face. Deli would go first and wait on the other side. We would stand on a step and Peter would attach us to the cables (two separate ones) with 3 different attachments and we would launch ourselves off in a sitting position and as we approached the end of the run Deli would signal to us with her hands when to slow down to avoid crashing into the rocks and ending up as baboon fodder. (Our guides told us that there had been baboons living in the gorge but when they built the zip wire system, the baboons left).
It was an exhilarating experience although I did question myself why, at my age, was I doing such a daring activity. Obviously, I wanted to be able to recommend it to the volunteers and make sure in my mind that the safety precautions were first class, which they were.
We were the only visitors that day and I commented on how fantastic it would be if all the children in the schools in Swaziland had the opportunity to come and try out the Canopy Tour and also appreciate the beauty of their national heritage in Malaloja. Naomi has one particular school where she works more and decided to start a saving scheme for the children. They bring so much every week, and maybe after a year there will be enough for her to bring them to do the Tour.
Naomi has coached thousands of children, both boys and girls, and been on Swazi t.v. so wherever we go people recognize her and she is hugged like a long-lost mother or congratulated on her work with the rugby coaching and AIDS/HIV awareness.
The Tour includes a walk across a wobbly suspension bridge and at the end you have a 10 minute climb up a path to meet the car and then back to the Visitor Centre for a light lunch (made by one of Naomi’s old students).
Perfect for any adrenalin junkie and a great way to savour the Malaloja Park!
(Volunteer Vacations has rugby coaching placements in Swaziland. 28-day minimum placement costs £1,600 to include airport transfers, accommodation at Sondzela’s Backpackers Lodge, breakfast and dinner at the Lodge, lunch from Skrum’s office, orientation, Level 1 rugby coaching certificate. For more details see www.volunteervacations.co.uk Or email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 01483 203405 Mobile: 07833 208 158)