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I am delighted to have a guest blog from Jenny Bowen of Sense Africa about Nordic Walking in Swaziland. This looks like a wonderful way of exploring a country and its wildlife, keeping you fit at the same time. I’ll have to try it for myself before too long!

There is nothing more rewarding than walking past a “journey” of giraffe, a “dazzle” of zebra and a “pod” of hippo in the quiet of the morning in the African bush. Not only are you seeing wildlife on foot, but you are experiencing all the beauty that Africa has to offer whilst getting fit in the process. What more could you want from such a unique walking holiday?

Swaziland Nature Water

The natural beauty of Swaziland (Photo credit: Jenny Bowen)

What is Nordic Walking?

Nordic Walking is a full body workout which has grown into a popular way for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is aimed at all ages and fitness levels so that you can tone up, lose weight and improve your health. It is very different from trekking or rambling, as it is a full-body exercise which is easy on the joints and has great health benefits. Swaziland has many ideal locations for Nordic Walking where you can immerse yourself into the African environment without compromising your safety.

Nordic Walking was originally a summer training program for cross-country skiers where specially designed walking poles harness the power of the upper body to propel you forward as you walk. So why not propel yourself past squawking bee-eaters and snorting wildebeest?

What Equipment do you need?

The beauty about Nordic Walking is that the equipment is limited and relatively cheap.  All you need are Nordic Walking poles, walking shoes and loose fitting walking clothes.

Nordic Walking poles are different from trekking poles in the fact that they are lighter, designed to be placed on the ground behind you, not designed to support loads and for use on primarily flat surfaces. Trekking poles are for those that need support for loads and for assisting you to climb up rough terrain. Trekking poles are also much heavier.  A decent set of Nordic Walking poles will cost you about £30 – 60 and can fit nicely into your luggage as many poles divide into two or three sections.

Footwear need to be waterproof and breathable: shoes which have a flexible sole and potentially some support to absorb heel shock and to add stability. A simple pair of trainers will suffice, although there are much better designs for Nordic Walking such as Merrell Sports trainers that cost in the region of £80. Ideally be breathable mesh is best for Nordic Walking in Africa, as it will be pretty warm when we are out in the savannah.

And then finally there is your clothing. Loose fitting comfortable clothes such as breathable and wicking fabrics are brilliant and running clothes are ideal. With Nordic Walking you’ll get warm once you’re on the move, so wear layers of unrestrictive clothes which you can take off as he warm up. Try to avoid cotton T-shirts and jeans as these become very uncomfortable after you have warmed up.  We recommend simply long walking trousers, a wicking shirt and a lightweight fleece.

Also walking in Africa you will need plenty of water so I recommend a Platypus or Camelback system, which is carried on your back so that your hands are free for your walking poles and you can still have quick and easy access to water.  With this in a small backpack, with your camera, you are ready for a walk on the wild side in Africa.

What are the Health Advantages?

Nordic Walking poles are planted behind you in order to propel you along. This engages the upper body and makes you feel lighter on your feet. With Nordic walking you use 90% of your major muscles so your upper body gets toned as well as your legs and backside! How great is that? You could also burn 20–40% extra calories by using the poles, which is great for weight loss and it takes the pressure off your knees and joints. Nordic Walking is renowned for being great for back and neck problems.

What’s the Technique?

You move in a similar way to ordinary walking and swing your arms from your shoulder with your elbows straight – think of a soldier marching. To get the full benefits and avoid injury, Gill Stewart of Nordic Walking UK recommends that you start with lessons to get the basic technique.  Nordic walking is a really great social activity and can be adjusted to encompass walkers of all levels.

Why Nordic Walk in Swaziland?

Nordic Walking is recognised as a way to turn a walk into a whole body exercise that can be done by anybody anywhere. Originally Nordic walking started in Scandinavia, however this phenomenon has spread all over the world. Nordic Walking is still new to Africa so there is lots of opportunity to escape off the beaten track of mass tourism and explore Africa at your own pace and on foot.

Swaziland is ideal for a Nordic Walking trip as there are many reserves where you can walk amongst wildlife and which do not have the dangerous Big 5. The reserves have few visitors and you may find that you are the only people in the reserve, which is a real pleasure. Be expertly guided by Jenny Bowen who has been visiting Swaziland since 1999 and knows the country exceptionally well, so much so that she represents Swaziland in the UK at trade shows and for talks.

The Kingdom of Swaziland is a blend of scenery, culture and wildlife, in essence it is Africa in a nutshell. The driving distances between reserves and attractions are short, it is safe to travel and walk around in and self-drives are encouraged here. It is a little-known country with a very big heart.

The Scenery of Swaziland

Swaziland has three main ecosystems ranging from undulating mountainous areas, to roads weaving their way through granite boulders, to typical African Savannah where rumbling elephants roam.

Spending two weeks here enables you to experience what this incredible kingdom has to offer. One day you could find yourself Nordic Walking along dirt tracks in the magical mountains of Malolotja marvelling at the incredible flora and in the late afternoon walking along tranquil lake waters watching out for crocodiles (from a distance!) in Mlilwane. And then the following day you could find yourself meandering through a local community with smiling children accompanying you and in the afternoon exploring the lowland savannah of Mbuluzi Game Reserve whilst curious giraffe look on.

The People of Swaziland

Swaziland Culture and Dancing

The vibrant culture of Swaziland (Photo Credit: Jenny Bowen)

The Swazis welcome you with open arms, it is an incredibly friendly nation. As you travel through Swaziland you’ll see people in traditional dress, children dancing on the side of the roads, learn about traditional life, listen to singing around campfires and understand the importance of the environment to the people.

Spend time with the guides on your safaris, visits local homesteads, chat with the anti-poaching team, converse with people at roadside markets and take the opportunity to visit a school and meet the children there. You will find this an engaging and rewarding experience and begin to understand what life is all about in Swaziland.

Tradition is woven into everyday life.

The Wildlife of Swaziland

Swaziland is the ideal destination for the first-time visitor to Africa as it does have the Big 5, although the leopard is pretty elusive. There were only two game reserves that actually have what is considered these dangerous animals and these are Hlane and Mkhaya. Hlane has lion, rhino and elephant, whereas Mkhaya has black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo.  I consider it a sin if you do not visit at least one of these parks and if you do not see a rhino then you probably have had your eyes closed for the duration!

Warthog hoglets

Swaziland Warthog Hoglets (Photo credit: Jenny Bowen)

The remaining reserves are delightful and open up their doors for people to explore them on their own terms. Quite often these reserves have wildlife wandering around the camps so it is not unusual to wake up to a row of warthog hoglets sleeping outside your door, a zebra looking into your window or a nyala watching you as you eat breakfast.

And the birdlife is fantastic, as you walk through the reserves the magical sounds of trilling birds at your feet and in the sky is restoration for the soul.

Do I need Experience?

After only a few hours you can gain the fundamentals of Nordic Walking, learn about forward propulsion from the poles and understand the correct gait and co-ordination. Gill Stewart who is the instructor for Nordic Walking in Swaziland says that Swaziland is ideal for beginners and intermediate walkers. However, the more practice you have had beforehand will ensure you get masses out of this unique experience.

When can you go?

Picture of Jenny Bowen

Jenny Bowen of Sense Africa

There is a Nordic Walking safari going to Swaziland from 4 – 20 October 2016.  Why not be one of the few who can genuinely say they have Nordic Walked in Africa, seen wildlife on foot, eaten wonderfully healthily and gotten fit in the process?

Jenny has been organising specialist safari holidays for 15 years through her business: Sense Africa. She is a qualified ecologist, and enjoys writing about the many once-in-a-lifetime experiences of Africa. Follow my blog, Sense Africa Blog, for more African Safari stories and information, and keep up-to-date on the wonders of Africa by following my Twitter (@senseafrica) and Facebook.

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