• Zook in Swaziland Trip Report

    Hi Guys

    I know very few people will actually read this report, most people will scroll down to the pictures without delay and please feel free to do so. After doing Augrabies, Riemvasmaak, Witsand, Mokala and Lesotho all in a short space of time, I promised SHE a leisurely, comfortable weekend away. Touring vs. off roading, if you get what I mean.

    Key info below:
    • Trip distance 1050km
    • Average fuel consumption 8km per liter.
    • Best fuel consumption 10.5km liter tar highway 100km/h
    • Worst fuel consumption – 1st low range on gravel ascents, about 2-3km/l.
    • Suzuki Grand Vitara 3.2 V6 Auto with lift, tires, snorkel and bash plates.
    • Outbound route from PTA via Barberton and Bulembu down to Ezulwini Valley 490km.
    • Inbound route 360km via Mbabane and Oshoek to Pretoria.
    • No vehicle or any trouble whatsoever
    • General impressions is that Swaziland is more accessible than Lesotho or Mosambique and tourism is actively promoted everywhere
    • General look and feel in the Western Highveld and Middleveld areas are similar to the Mpumalanga escarpment and the Natal midlands, respectively.
    • The aim of this trip was to do a recce of Swaziland for future thoroughfare to Mozambique and also as a standalone weekend destination in its own right.

    The weather over this past weekend was perfect for experiencing the mountains and waterfalls of Swaziland- rainy and overcast.
    We departed Pretoria at around 15:00 on Thursday afternoon and hit the N4 to Belfast, where we took the turnoff to Barberton via the Schurweberg and Nelshoogte passes. A VW Polo decided to challenge a 24 wheeler truck to a duel and this caused some delays at the top of the latter of the two mountain passes. We reached Royal Sheba guest house in Barberton around 18:30. I can recommend them and also, Papa's Pizzeria next to the museum in the old part of town. It is a nice and cosy place to go and have a drink with a meal, do not expect quick service. We waited more than an hour for a pizza, but I was in no rush and the picturesque setting made up for it.

    My decision was to avoid Oshoek on Thu/ Fri due to increased traffic on the roads as it was the start of a long weekend. The Josefsdal/ Bulembu border is a way more scenic option and we were the only car to pass through that morning 8am when the gates opened. The road leaves Barberton on a Southern heading on quickly climbs up to the start of the Saddleback pass. This tar road used to be a beautiful gravel pass until FIFA 2010 changed that. Along the way there are numerous stops by which to pull over and admire the scenery. The Geo trail features numerous examples of different rock formations and well, rocks. As you crest over the mountains you are rewarded with beautiful views over both SA and Swaziland. We reached the border at around 07:25am and the gates opened at 07:55. Staff was friendly and helpful and it took us all off 2 minutes to get our passports stamped. A courteous police officer checked my license disk, VIN number and engine number, confirmed my residential address and that I were indeed the owner of the vehicle over his police radio, before he waved us off with a smile. Swazi side was uneventful and I paid R50 to enter the country with a temporary vehicle import permit. I insisted on the T.I.P. as I was going to exit via Oshoek. No paperwork was required except for filling out the single page T.I.P. for the GV, but in any event I had my Tuffstuff insurance letter, NATIS and the whole caboodle with me.

    Immediately, after the Bulembu border post the road turns into a tar ridden, graveled pothole.8) T4A comes in handy when passing through the settlement of Bulembu and the road is bad, albeit scenic gravel for the first 10km or so. Closer to Pigg's Peak the gravel surface smooth out a bit and the sinkplaat is forgotten. Small boulders, minor rock falls and large stones riddle the road surface so even though it’s by no means a challenging trail or even unsuitable for 4x2, I would think twice before driving a Polo up there. Unless it’s an Avis Polo, of course. Avis Polo's are legendary. Avis Corolla's are called "Donkey Slayers" in Northern Namibia, did you know that?
    Any case upon reaching the tar road at Pigg's Peak I turned left (North) in the direction of Phophonyane falls and nature reserve. A nice, enjoyable gravel track brings you to the top of the falls where it parts with gravity down a gentle, sloping ravine. Follow T4A to Phophonyane nature reserve, unless you want to end up in some forsaken spot in a long forgotten plantation. The scenic gravel road becomes a twee spoor track when you are within 1km of the reception buildings. After paying our R40pp entry fees, we took a hike down to the main viewing deck. Water level was disappointing, but the surrounds made up for it. We ventured slowly down to the bottom of the ravine down a path marked "big steps". "Big steps" is Swazi speak for "helluvalottasteps". More than 200 of them I counted, and they are steep. I am not talking office building "get to the water cooler first by avoiding the crowd in the lift lobby" steps. Big bloody bouldering steps. Bring your own rappelling gear. Okay, maybe I am a little unfit. Climbing back up was taxing, but it got the blood flowing again. Weather was misty and wet.

    Pigg's Peak is nothing much to look at. The mountain scenery both side of the border is much more exhilarating. Fuel is Swaziland is R11.10c per liter of 95 unleaded and that made me smile, until I realized the irony of the situation. Am I seriously thankful for fuel at a price in excess of 11 Rands per liter? lol

    Maguga dam is worth a quick stop, unless you overnight at Maguga Dam lodge which looks like a very decent spot. Bass fishing in Maguga is very good, or so they say. The new visitor’s center and restaurant at the viewpoint is neat and tidy, even if only for the obligatory photograph. The Cannonball run was happening in Swaziland over this weekend and we shared the road with Maserati, Porsche and Audi R8.

    Continuing down the road over the dam wall will eventually spit you back out onto the MR1 going south and we ambled along to the glass factory at Ngwenya. I decided not to ignore the signs asking visitors to refrain from taking pictures inside the facilities, hence no photos of the glass making process. Ngwenya is a good spot to enjoy a light lunch and let the Swambo go mad over all the funny little glass things.

    Ngwenya old iron ore mine I found to be well worth a visit if you are into history and geography. Entrance to the mining complex is R28pp and includes a guide, remember to tip. Our guide Mbuzo took us up to the visitor’s center and to the viewing point at the first and deepest of the two pits. According to the heritage foundation, Toyota in Japan sourced a lot of its iron from Ngwenya in the 60's and 70's. A railway connecting the mine to LM as well as a tar road from the SA border post to the mine was both the first tar road and railway line in Swaziland. As per Anglo American records, 28 million tons of 65-80 percent pure iron ore was removed from Ngwenya over the years. As of now, the mine falls within Malolotsha National Park and an Indian contractor is sifting through the tailings. There might be plans to reopen the mine as it was closed for political reasons, not because the resource was exhausted. Or so I have heard?

    Originally, there were three ancient mine shafts/ caverns on the Ngwenya mountainside. Anglo destroyed two when opening up the main pit and left the so called "Lion's Cavern" intact. I expected some romantic tale regarding the naming of the place, i.e. the King's hiding spot, last lion was shot here, etc etc. Upon questioning the guide tells me that when the archaeologists first started their diggings, a large amount of empty Lion Lager beer cans were removed from cave entrance. Hence the name. Lion’ Cavern is officially the oldest know mine in the world. Radio carbon isotopes suggested the age of the diggings to be in excess of 40 000 years old. Hematite was mined here by the ancestors of the Khoi San.

    A short, but steep walk leads up to the top of a ridge decked out with a viewing platform that offers some brilliant views over both countries. People with a fear of heights might find the experience less than desirable.

    Our final destination for the day’s drive was Lidwala Backpackers and Lodge in the Ezulwini valley. Leaving Ngwenya at 1600m ASL we took the main highway(MR3) through Mbabane and then took the off ramp via the old road down to the valley floor at around 700m ASL. This part of the country is well developed and no potholes, crime, litter or scum is visible anywhere. We opted not to camp as we normally do, Mlilwane was fully booked and I promised the She that we could do" minder bos en meer arts en crafts, my Liefie". Cue lowrange the next day, but more about that later.

    We checked in at Lidwala. A decent double room with en suite facilities was provided by the amiable staff at reception. If you are not full of shite and you do not mind the odd Spanish backpacker jolling around the boma camp fire with the volunteer group from Sweden and the English math teacher from Manchester fighting for world peace, you will enjoy Lidwala. Facilities are adequate and spotless. We are used to roughing it with no electricity, so the accommodation could be considered as luxurious by us. I chose this location in the Ezulwini valley, because it’s central to all attractions, close to the shops and craft markets for Swambo, etc. It is situated very close to the Sun International hotel and golf course.
    The Gables shopping center is a modern mall with cinemas, Ocean Basket, Spur, etc. The Ezulwini valley is a tourism mecca and all along the road vendors are selling art, crafts, woodcarvings, stone work, the lot. She 1, me 0.

    A quick jaunt up the valley brought us to Mantenga nature reserve, home of the official Swazi cultural village and Mantenga falls. I am not one for the touristy "cultural" kraal type thing. Genoeg van daardie tipe goed hier in SA. Ek het al gedink ek moet ‘n toergids wees oor naweke, dan vat ek niksvermoedende Europeers in Mamz in, drink Zamalek, bribe ‘n taxi bestuurder vir ‘n zol en vra hulle ‘n lot geld vir die “experience”. Different horses, different courses, neh. We took a quick look and headed further up the track to the Mantenga waterfalls. It’s actually twin falls, sort of like the Mac Mac or the Swallowtail in Hoggsback. There is a beautiful picnic spot down by the river and you can drive your 4x4 right down to the spot, past the parking site for sedans. On the way there and back you will pass the Mantenga craft center and tourism information office. Mantenga has shops that sells authentic African artworks at silly, low prices. R60 for an African mask the size of an A3 paper, Wood carvings of impala 60cm tall R100, etc. Swazi Trails is famous for the rafting, kloofing and caving expeditions that they host in and around the Swazi Big Game Parks. That evening we had a quick Chinese dinner at the Gables and retired early.

    Saturday saw us at Mlilwane entrance gate around 8am. It sure is a very scenic reserve with many familiar plains game species like blesbok, wildebeest, , warthog, zebra and rooibok. A highlight for me was the threatened species breeding project. I have never seen so many Roan in my entire life, never mind in the same reserve. Bastergemsbok. Awesome! Blue cranes abound, as do tiny Oribi. Or is this a Suni? Please offer your comments. I drove up to Reilly's rock hilltop lodge, saw some kring gatte loitering around, shared the road with many birds and animals large and small and came across a martial eagle checking out from whence his next meal might come forth.

    The rest camp at Mlilwane offers a rustic and ideal camp site under large trees ideal for nature lovers and people that want to avoid the rush (like me, mostly). The camp is unfenced so hippo, warthog and antelope roam within the confines of the camp site. I will recommend Mlilwane if you are any of the following: MTB, Twitcher, Bouldering fanatic, Hiker, Nature lovers in general. Mlilwane is best experienced on a mountain bike or from the lofty perch of you hiking boots.

    Watse gans makou is dit hierdie?

    Around noon we left the reserve and headed down into the Malkerns valley past different shades of green pineapple and sugar cane to reach Swazi Candles.

    Being on every visitor’s agenda, the place was fairly crowded. The have a great little coffee shop and restaurant with wholesome, well priced meals. General feeling about the place was that it is a bit of a tourist trap, SHE who is an art teacher could see that many of the goods were mass produced curios and not real local crafts. The candle shop is great for Swambo to shop around though, while I stood around trying to look arty. It didn’t work. Jy kan nie ‘n drol in ‘n droomprins verander nie. At least she had fun! Final verdict: Mantenga crafts market is a better option if you are shopping for authentic wood carvings and stone work. Got the T- shirt, me surmises.

    On our way to the Royal Museum we stopped at Malandela’s and House on Fire. This very unique art studio and performing arts theatre had She all excited. I found this interesting sign in the Loo, I walked around looking for stuff to photograph that is not multi coloured, psychedelic or straight from an 80’s centerfold. Malandela’s had a friendly, jolly bunch of SA bikers having a jol on the outside verandah. Glad I wasn’t the one driving back in the rain after the fact.

    The museum is worth a quick visit even though it’s expensive at R80 per person entry. I love history and the influence of the Boer Republics on the founding of Swaziland as a modern day nation is astonishing. Bremersdorp, now called Manzini used to be the regional capital and Swaziland was part of the Transvaal Republic. After the Anglo Boer War severely weekend the Afrikaner nation and Bremersdorp was consequently burned and looted, the Swazi nation asked Queen Vicious to extend her protection and henceforth Swaziland became a British protectorate. “Not because they loved her the more, but because they feared her the less”. A-ha.
    T4A guided me through downtown Mbabane (cleaner than most African cities I frequent for business) through Pine Valley to Sibebe rock. After Ayers rock in the land Down under, this is the largest single, free standing rock in the world. It is also the world’s largest granite pluton. All in all, dis ‘n klip so groot soos ‘n berg. I would love to attempt the steep climb to the top one day, the weather was not permitting on this specific occasion.

    Marked as “10km bad gravel” a shortcut appears as a straight line from just past Sibebe to rejoin the MR1 close to Malolotsha entrance gate. I decided it’s time to test the traction control in the wet. Unfortunately there are no photos of this stage of the trip as I was white- knuckling my way up a slippery, washed out mountain goat track through thick fog with less than 5 meters visibility. Low range was needed to crest out at the top and also down some descents. No idea about how gorgeous the scenery could have been, as thick mist and fog closed us in completely. I would recommend this road to anyone as its great fun and must be beautiful on a clear day. Low range is not required, conditions dictate actions. At the top of this pass, a young girl dressed in pajamas flew out of her hut with a very funny, bewildered look on her face. I knew then that this track does not see a lot of traffic. When in doubt, always look at the locals, if you belong there of if they are used to seeing vehicles on the track that you are on, you will know.

    Arriving at Malolotsha the mist was so thick that we decided to call it a day and head back. Cue 40km with hazards on, all the way down the MR1 until it reached Mbabane. We had a sushi dinner and an early night.

    The next morning we departed for Oshoek early. The last remnants of the Cannonball run were encountered at the border gate. You know that you are back in SA when over privileged people behave like numb sheep and jump to the front of the queue with no consideration for the people that was there first and stood in the queue for longer. Thick mists and fog followed us all the way to Carolina, and the N4 was a manageable and short, drab stint back home.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Zook in Swaziland Trip Report started by Kierie View original post