June 22nd 2012
We were up early for one last foray down to the short boardwalk trail at sunrise to try and catch a glimpse of the hippos for one last time. We were once again fortunate enough to find a group of about 10 in the water seemingly just waking as well. We enjoyed not only their company but also the company of some Vervet Monkeys, and a whole gang or marauding Banded Mongoose. We left after breakfast from St. Lucia and headed west to Mtubatuba to meet up with the N2 which we would take north to Piet Retief. After Piet Retief our maps were a bit muddled when it came to the roads leading to Swaziland. We had a rough direction in mind for getting to the crossing point we wanted, but little else. Instead of finding the crossing we wanted, we ended up on a gravel road and finding our way to one of the much less frequented crossing point of Bothashoop/Gege. It consisted of two small derelict buildings with a lady on a small seat manning the boom gates. The three South African officials seemed surprised to see us, and proceeded to ask a lot of questions more out of boredom and curiosity then a purpose of national security. We were the only people there and it didn’t seem like they were expecting more any time soon so things went pretty smoothly and quickly.
After the formalities at the South African post they lifted the boom and we drove a few hundred feet of no mans land to stop at the boom gate for the entrance to Swaziland. The Swazi officials seemed equally befuddled by our presence, but were nice and eager to help us on our way across the border. They even gave us directions, which as vague as they seemed when we listened to them they turned out to be very helpful. He said “Go straight for about 5km and turn left at the big Gum Tree and then go straight again until it looks like you should turn right, and then stay on that road until you hit Mbabane.” As I followed his directions it became pretty apparent as to just how difficult it is to get lost in a country the size of Swaziland. If you drive 30 minutes to 1 hours in almost any direction your almost bound to come to a border crossing. We continued on passing through the capital city Mbabane to Malolotja Nature Reserve about 35-40km northwest of Mbabane. We camped in the park and fell asleep to the sounds of the prowling nocturnal animals.
June 23rd 2012
We were up early and prepared to hike. The information I had about the park had been slightly misleading, its not that there weren’t over 200km of fantastic hiking trails, because there was, it was just the fact that only 2-3 trails were accessible in a 2 wheel drive vehicle. It seems like this would have been an important piece of information. It didn’t take away from the great landscape though as I am sure I could’ve spent a week backpacking through the park had I known what was in store. We decided to cut our stay to only 1 full day in the park because of the lack of access and Sarah had been feeling well under the weather and wasn’t too keen on hiking all day. She decided to tough it out and make the short few km hike to Malolotja Falls. We drove there with the heat on and left with the A/C on. The mornings were chilly, but once the clouds cleared the sun hit with full force. It was quite brutal with the shady spots few and far between. The trail did provide us with some great views of the mountains as well as a few Elands, Grey Rheboks, and a massive amount of Blesbok. With one step in front of the other we trudged back to the car.
The two wheel drive roads they did have in the park could easily be classified as 4×4 roads anywhere else and I had to do a good bit of dodging and weaving to save the rental car. On the drive back to our campsite we came across a bunch of soapstone. Sarah was quick to spot it, which is one of the benefits of having a geologist with me. Soapstone is easily carved and when wet it is like slicing butter, so we decided to try our hand at it, and make our own souvenirs. For dinner we got a nice fire going and with some dried up shrubs and what little sticks we could find and roasted up some impromptu grilled cheese over the coals.
June 24th 2012
Sundays seem especially slow in Swaziland. Most things are pretty deserted on Sundays in South Africa as the vast majorities are in church, but Swaziland seemed even emptier. We made just a short drive, as you can only make a short drive if you want to remain in Swaziland, to Pigg’s Peak just north of Malolotja Nature Reserve. We intended on going to Phophoyane falls and nature reserve just north of town but were greeted with an empty office and a locked gate. The majority of the rest of the town was shut down, but we managed to find a nice guest house just out of town for a very reasonable price. Malolotja was the last of our camping for the trip and the end of 8 days in a row in a tent. The nice soft bed felt glorious and having a little yard allowed us the space we needed to air things out, clean them and re-pack for our remaining weeks in South Africa. Upon further exploration around our little yard I found a couple avocado trees, and passion fruit vines, and with Sarah’s homemade avocado picker, consisting of two trekking poles, and some rope we were able to do some free grocery shopping.