Chubeka Trails is the trailing arm of Big Game Parks, our flagship being horse trails on Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Mountain biking and hiking trail packages are soon to follow!
Our hourly rides are concentrated on the southern plains, sometimes crossing the river and including a little forest riding. The Rock of Execution and overnight trails explore the beautiful mountains, providing uplifting elevation. We cater for beginners and experienced riders, with horses of various breeds and sizes. We do have a rider’s weight restriction of 95Kg.
Our Guides are all trained in-house. Most join us without horse or environmental knowledge. Our training focuses on client care, quiet respectful horse handling, skillful trail riding and field knowledge. As a result, our guides enjoy hosting, sharing their knowledge and learning from our guests.
All rides are booked through our Central Reservations office or the Mlilwane Rest Camp Reception, where experience levels and weights are communicated. Riders then meet at our Activities Centre, where indemnities are signed, and helmets issued. A safety briefing is conducted and guests are allocated their horses at the near-by horse holding paddocks. Horse rides depart daily, and require at least an hour’s notice, or 24 hours or more for overnight trails, depending on the number of nights. Conservation of Mlilwane provides more information on the habitats and species you may encounter on trail.
Mlilwane’s Rest Camp offers a range of affordable self-catering and catered accommodation with Sondzela Backpackers 2 km to the south, luxurious Reilly's Rock Hilltop Lodge and Down Gran’s Self-Catering Cottage a short 3km to the north of Rest Camp. Camping is available in the Rest Camp and at Sondzela.
Situated between Mbabane and Manzini, the neighbouring tourist hubs of Ezulwini and Malkerns, with their many unique attractions and craft shops add nice variety to any holiday.
Throughout Mlilwane’s history, Liz Reilly’s influence in the horse quality has been strong. With a sharp eye for conformation and elegance, temperament and endurance, Liz leant towards Arab and ArabXBoerperd horses in the beginning. In 2000, Warmblood lines were introduced for size and comfortable stride, again selected for strength and temperament. During 2006 Chubeka Trails experienced a dreadful food poisoning through manufacturer error, having to rehome and replace 45 horses, most of which were home-bred and just coming in to work. This resulted in bringing in horses of a variety of breeds as an interim measure, and we are aiming back to warmblood and arab lines.
Chubeka Trails now has 50 horses comprising mainly of purebred and crosses of Nooitgedaght, Boerperd, Warmblood and Arab breeds. In 2017 we invested in a number of coldblood crosses bringing in Percheron, Clydesdale, Friesian and Lusitano blood to increase size. Our horses vary from 13hh to 16hh, with 15.2hh being our preferred size for the steep mountains.
We run our horses as a herd, believing this goes a long way to creating happy, versatile horses. The herd is split into 3 groups with one group being off every week. This way they have less chance of becoming stale at work, and they socialize with the entire herd, translating to easy trailing. The horses are rotated between paddocks on the farm, all of which are shared with wildlife which makes its way in. On any given day, there are nyala, zebra, wildebeest, warthog and blesbuck in our paddocks, making the horses more accepting of wildlife.
Home-bred horses are trained in the traditional equitation style, with ground handling, lunging and slow backing. During 2018 we introduced Equitation Science methods and are integrating this as we can, using this as our preferred horse-starting method. A little schooling follows to instill balance and aids, then our young horses are ridden out with more experienced horses. As their confidence grows, they are introduced to trails under our back up guides, and finally find their place in the trail string.
Horses which are bought in follow a similar training, depending on their background. Generally we bring them in through the same process, joining the trail string as and when they are ready.
Kiddies Pony Rides
Every child dreams of riding a horse – and Chubeka Trails offers the perfect happy first experience.
Kiddies are crowned with helmets, placed in the saddle with reins and mane in hand and rock to the pony’s rhythm while our guides lead the pony on foot around the Rest Camp for about 15 minutes, passing warthogs and whatever is in the open Animal Inkhundla at the time!
Getting amongst the wildlife on horseback, or simply breathing in the scenery and fresh air is a true romantic African Safari. Our rides adopt a pace suitable to the group, with complete beginners and experienced riders catered for. The aim is on viewing the wildlife on the plains of Mlilwane from close proximity, but our guides - at their sole discretion - will happily pick up the pace if they feel the group is able. The hourly horse rides are perfect for riders with limited experience or time constraints.
Rock of Execution Trail
Too many people visit Mlilwane without climbing Nyonyane Mountain. Our Rock of Execution Challenge is a wonderful 3-4 hour trail summiting Nyonyane Mountain, complete with impressive views of the Ezulwini Valley below.
The trail crosses the Central Plains, following game paths and cut trails to the saddle below the summit, where the horses are released in a small paddock. Riders then hike the last stretch to the summit for the ultimate 360 degree views. It is here where Nyonyane Mountain earned its infamous name 'Rock of Execution', being the site from which unfortunate criminals were nudged at spear-point from the peak to the rocks below. “Nyonyane” means “little bird”… the rest perhaps requires no explanation!
Being a small mountain adjacent to fertile plains, Nyonyane Mountain has an intriguing history of several tribes and cultural significance, the stories of which are shared during lunch.
"Trailing thru the Kingdom" means riding in the mountains, through Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and into neighbouring rural community, swimming in mountain springs (Bilharzia may be present) and camping in exquisite mountain retreats. Trailing with Chubeka Trails is a Must-Not-Miss experience!
Our motto is “Rough it a little, remember it forever!” All trails begin at Rest Camp Reception, where our guide meets our guests, offers refreshments and explains the process. Small overnight bags are left at Reception and will follow in the support vehicle.
The terrain is steep in places following game or cattle paths, roads and riding cross-country. Riders may be requested to dismount for the sake of their horses.
The emphasis is on being rugged, yet comfortable, with Swazi style food prepared on an open fire, sitting under the star-studded African skies while recalling the adventures of the day as it vanishes over the mountains. Riders are encouraged to live the experience to the full by taking part grooming, feeding, saddling up and preparing food on all overnight trails.
Group size: Cave Trail 2-6 riders; Klipspringer Trail 2-8 riders and 3+ night Trails 4 - 8 riders. Bookings for the Overnight Trails need to be at least 48 hours in advance, although longer notice is advisable to avoid disappointment.
Cave Trail (1 night, 2 days)
Our popular Rock of Execution Trail gets one better – stopping midway for a night in a Bushman Cave! Riding through the plains and onto Nyonyane Mountain, this trail includes steep inclines and declines, adventurous paths and dirt road riding, therefore most of the trail is slow, with some chances for opening up. For the less adventurous riders there is the possibility of following a road most of the trail.
The 3-hour afternoon ride is broken for a snack lunch at the top of Execution Rock. The day ends with a short sharp hike, rewarded with a unique night camping in a Bushman Cave. The Cave is a large granite overhang with a fresh water stream flowing through - truly awesome! Overlooking Swaziland’s traditional capital, Lobamba, the evening is enriched with the calls of jackal and zebra on the plains, and the distant bray of donkeys and chickens… only in Africa!
Everything happens in the Cave – campfire, dining and sleeping. Meals include a poitjie dinner and a campfire breakfast, with light lunches carried on the horses. Canvas bedrolls are provided for each guest, spread out on the sand floor of the Cave. Guides share the Cave with guests, so there is little privacy on this adventurous trail. Ablutions include a wash basin and a pit latrine appropriately located away from the Cave. There is no shower in the Cave.
The second day's ride returns via an alternate route, arriving at the Rest Camp mid-morning.
Showers are provided on return to the Rest Camp, with the option of a relaxing swim in Manzane Warm Spring.
Klipspringer Trail (2 nights, 3 days)
Following a similar route to the Cave Trail, the Klipspringer Trail crosses onto Mlilwane North - a beautiful area of highveld with very little habitation. A highlight of this trail is an exciting river crossing over the Lusushwana River (the Little Usuthu), where guests are requested to dismount and could get their feet wet! Klipspringer Camp is reached shortly afterwards via a trail along the riverine forest.
Both nights are spent in dome tents in our rustic trail camp on the banks of the Lusushwana River without any other sign of people! This camp is set in a deep valley, right on the riverbank, with little in the way of structural development, other than a horse paddock, a pit latrine and a romantic open-air shower.
On the second day, the trail climbs steeply onto the ridges, observing both rural and developing Africa from this important watershed area, with a short ride through community area. Chose between lunch out in the mountains or returning to camp for lunch and a leisurely afternoon on the banks of the river. The third day returns to the Rest Camp with some variation to the route followed on the first day.
This trail departs from Rest Camp at 11h00, returning approximately 14h00 on the third day, with between 4-6 hours riding per day. The route includes steep inclines, a little walking to rest your steeds’ back and time to marvel at the stunning scenery!
SWAZI CULTURE & SCENERY TRAILS (3 & 6 night options)
These exciting trails have been developed for the experienced rider, looking for longer distances and more time in the saddle. Exploring rural Swaziland entails following cattle paths, weaving between homesteads, riding through some commercial pine and Eucalyptus forests and embracing spontaneous encounters with locals. Riding through community areas brings with it dog and livestock encounters, which may present some exciting and challenging moments.
Variation 1 – Swazi Mountains Experience (3 nights, 4 days)
This trail follows the first day of the Klipspringer Trail but climbs further onto the ridges, extending to Somini Fly Camp at the north-west tip of Mlilwane North for the first night. Nestled up against a huge granite extrusion, Somini Fly Camp has impressive introspective views of a highly valuable and picturesque water catchment area. The tents are placed on flatter ground amongst a few trees, with the central fireplace in the open area and horses to one side. A camp shower and pit latrine are conveniently positioned. This is home for all three nights of trail.
Our guides choose from a variety of trail options over the following two days, exploring the wildness of Mlilwane North with the amazing scenery and interesting history, as well as riding through some rural community, with all the spontaneous encounters these rides bring. Distances will differ according to group ability and request, with lunch packs carried in saddlebags or returning to camp for lunch and siesta.
The final day meanders through Mlilwane North, dropping down to the Lusushwana River once again, and heading back to Mlilwane Rest Camp, with a saddlebag lunch en-route.
This trail departs from Rest Camp at 09h30, returning approximately 15h00 on the last day, with between 5-7 hours riding per day. The route includes steep inclines, single track paths, off-path riding and dirt roads, perfect for faster paces. Minimum 4 riders.
Variation 2 - Swazi Culture & Scenery Trail (6 nights, 7 days)
This trail is part of a 10-day Swaziland itinerary available on set dates only. Day 8, 9 and 10 include a vehicle-based safaris on Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve. Should guests prefer to do the trail portion only, this is possible.
The first two nights are spent in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary’s Rest Camp. Day 1 allows for arrival at the Sanctuary, orientation and meeting the horses, with wildlife-focused riding on day 2.
After a wholesome breakfast in the restaurant, day 3 departs on an adventurous 5-day circular trail, with the first night camping at Klipspringer Camp (see Klipspringer Trail above). Lunch is carried in saddlebags on all days, meeting our ground crew each night.
Day 4 is a long ride through the commercial Usuthu Forest, once the largest man-made forest in the world (Swaziland has held some intriguing, unexpected world-records!). We cross the quiet Mhlambanyatsi tar road which cuts through the forest, ending the day in the pleasant comfort of Foresters Arms Hotel.
An early start on Day 5 leaves through the forest, climbing onto an amazingly scenic ridge before dropping down a tricky path into rural community. After lunch, we cross back over the tar road, ride past the impressive Luphohlo Dam and climb the steep ascent to Somini Fly Camp on Mlilwane North, home for the next two nights.
Nestled up against a huge granite extrusion, Somini Fly Camp has impressive introspective views of a highly valuable and picturesque water catchment area. The tents are placed on flatter ground amongst a few trees, with a central fireplace in the open area and horses to one side. A camp shower and pit latrine are conveniently positioned.
The incredibly scenic wildness of Mlilwane North and her interesting history will be shared on Day 6. The ridges afford riders elevated views of Mbabane and Ezulwini towns, a chance to look back on the trail route ridden in the previous days and extended views across Swaziland in every direction. Lunch may either be carried in saddlebags or be served in camp with a ride later in the afternoon.
The final day meanders through Mlilwane North, dropping down to the Lusushwana River once again, and heading back to Mlilwane Rest Camp, with a saddlebag snack en-route.
This trail departs from Rest Camp at 09h30, returning approximately 13h00 on the last day, with between 4-7 hours riding per day. The route includes steep inclines, single-track paths, off-path riding and dirtroads perfect for faster paces.
Set departure dates 2018:
17 - 26 May (trail 17 - 23 May)
19 - 28 June (FULLY BOOKED)
06 - 15 July (trail 06 - 12 July)
The camping is as comfortable as rustic can be - we are intent on enjoying nature with a little roughing it! Canvas dome tents are used on the 2-4 night trails. For all trails, we use canvas bedrolls, complete with pillow, mattress, sheets, duvets or sleeping bags. Towels are provided for each guest. For more please see Tack & Equipment.
Catering is basic, wholesome and in keeping with the trail concept – fresh fruit and vegetables, with meals prepared on the open fire where possible. Food preferences and allergies need to be communicated when making the booking. All catering is included, although riders may bring their own delicacies and alcoholic drinks.
Our Cave and Klipspringer Trails are suitable for all levels of rider, including adventurous beginners. We simply take it at a slower pace and stop more often, and the scenery does the rest.
Guests on the Swazi Culture & Scenery Trails must be adept riders, competent to handle horses both from the saddle and in-hand. All guests must be fit for five full days in the saddle and the occasional walk on foot when necessary. This includes:
Experience in outdoor riding is highly recommended and preferred – the arena is a very different animal!
It is essential that an honest indication of riding experience and ability is communicated at the time of booking and confirmed with your guide.
Horses are often seen as beasts of burden. We view them as a partner in the mountains, to be respected and assisted while they carry us on our journey. Take time to consider that where we sit, there is no structural support below, and their backs can take enormous strain. While we strengthen horses specifically for longer trails, the long hours in the saddle and the difficult terrain require a lower weight restriction. Also consider that a beginner does not hold their weight like an experienced rider, adding heaviness, similar to carrying the dead-weight of a sleeping child.
Currently our max weight is 80kg (12st8lb) for 3+ nights and 85kg (13st5lb) for 1&2 nights.
The availability of the overnight trails depends on the levels of rivers, weather and times of year. For this reason the trails longer than one night run between April and October annually. The Cave Trail is weather dependent, with the clay soils becoming too slippery in wet conditions.
What to Bring
An Adventurous attitude; Neutral coloured clothes; Comfortable trousers suitable for riding; loose light fitting, preferably long-sleeve cotton shirts; Closed shoes with a strong sole and a heel suitable for riding and walking; Helmet; Sun hat; Sun cream; Insect repellant; Personal toiletries; Swimming costume; Camera; Torch; Basic medical kit
Optional - sleeping bag; snacks; preffered alcohol; reading material
Comfortable riding requires stretchy, tight fitting long trousers or jodphurs, to avoid pinching from the stirrup leathers. Back pockets should not have exaggerated buttons which can damage the saddle. Closed shoes with a small heal are essential for safety, and should be comfortable to walk in. All riders are expected to wear helmets, either their own or using ours. Chaps or half-chaps are a nice to have for greater comfort and ‘stickability’. We highly recommend long sleeve cotton shirts to safeguard from heat and to prevent sunburn.
Tents & Beds
Two people share a 4-man canvas dome tent, with attached floors. Tent windows and doors are netting with additional canvas flaps secured by valcro. Two mattresses are laid on the floor of the tent, a high-density foam beneath a good camping mattress. Cotton sheets cover the mattresses and either sleeping bags or duvets provide warmth. A pillow and towel are provided. Single tents are available on request and attract a single supplement.
Tree showers are set up in shower cubicles for the multi-night trails. Water is boiled in a large drum close by, and transferred to the shower bag in a bucket. The shower itself is hooked to a pulley system, which lowers the bag for easy filling and hoists it back up for a shower. Unique soap dishes and clothing rails will delight our guests!
Toilet facilities include a large toilet seat placed over a pit latrine, hidden in a spacious cubicle.
All our horses are ridden in leather bridles with snaffles, over a rope halter with attached lead rein for stops along the way. Our reins are webbing with cleats for that extra grip. Leon Liversage Enduro saddles make for comfortable trail riding, with small bags in front of every saddle for water and personal belongings. Larger saddlebags are carried on a few horses as necessary, evenly secured over the seat out of the rider’s way.
Chubeka Trails is based on Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Please see Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary Directions page for specific directions.
Swaziland has 12 borders, making access easy from almost anywhere along ourboundry from wither South Africa or Mozambique. To assist, we have created a "Suggested Borders" document for you.
The reviews below are taken from over-night trail guest questionnaires, where our guests rate us on numerous aspects of our trail (guides, horses, food, route etc) and to give any general comments as well as the highlights of their trail.
16 June 2016:
Sleeping in the cave, eating yummy food & seeing the animals up close. We loved the beauty and the fun guides
10 September 2016:
The horses, the guide, the trail. Best experience we’ve had in Africa
19 November 2016:
Excellent in every way, Well done! Baby Zebra & Speedy canters. Excellent Excellent Excellent! We just loved every moment.
24 November 2016:
Sleeping in the cave, climbing execution rock, seeing lots of animals. Very nice trail in a very beautiful area of Swaziland.