Sojourn to Swaziland
Travelling along the familiar 37-kilometre Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrial (R40) to the Swaziland Josefsdal/Bulembu Border Post can be interesting. If you are anything like me, with no knowledge of geology or a real interest in ancient rocks, the informative viewpoints will soon have you mesmerised and staring into the distance. Looking at the flora along the route will change the way you travel up Bulembu Pass.
After all the glorious rain we have recently had, the hills and grasslands are lush with wild flowers in full bloom. It is with great expectation that I set off to try out a recently discovered mobile app which makes the identification of plants along my route quite easy. The app allows you to identify the plant or flower by adding selection details such as a “yellow flower” and “grassland”, while setting the “in season” button to “all season” will display all the plants based on your selection criteria.
The brave and mist-erious
Thistle is considered a common weed. It has a few surprising health benefits though; it is often used for gastrointestinal complaints and it can be taken to treat fatigue. The dried flowers serve as a rennet substitute for curdling plant milk. Thistle is well known as the national flower of Scotland.
With the higher altitude, the route becomes mist-erious, so I make regular stops to take photos and enjoy the vast scenery when it is visible, mandatory. The early-morning call of the baboons and shy scurry of a duiker across the road force me to drive slowly.
The quiet border post makes entry into Swaziland a breeze and the staff members are friendly and obliging. They advise me that the road to the nearby town of Bulembu is not in a good condition and that I should drive slowly. The village itself is recognisable by the rows of faded blue, pink and yellow workers’ houses on the slope of the far hillside. Most of the villagers today grew up in this tiny town while their parents worked at the Havelock Mine as it was known in the 1960s.
The mine operated from 1939 to 2001 and produced more than 40 000 tons of chrysolite (white asbestos) in the mid-70s. In 2001 the then owners, HVL Asbestos Swaziland, went belly-up and all but 50 residents left the town. Today the town is home to about 350 Aids orphans, their caretakers and parents living around the mine dumps. I arrive in the town on a Sunday and am greeted by deserted streets and manicured gardens, deciding to enjoy a hearty lunch at the Bulembu Country Lodge.
Here I familiarise myself with a true Swaziland product. The notoriously hot Kingdom Cobra chilli sauce. It definitely puts a line of perspiration on my brow and keeps me warm in the misty weather.
I also opt to spend the night in one of the “self-catering” units. The quiet grace of the old mine houses and spacious rooms is nostalgic. Staying the night gives me the opportunity to explore the town on foot and at my own leisure.
The mountainous Swaziland is adventure heaven. The intricate network of forestry roads and traditional villages with friendly citizens makes it the ideal destination for the adventurous and self-exploring tourist.
The original mine operation workshop is now being utilised as a craft shop, a museum and the Bulembu honey-processing plant. It is the museum with its stark-white interior and open spaces that has me wandering amid the exhibits in awe. From the old cableway cars still hanging in the switch house to the brightly exhibited operating room complete with overhead lighting and surgical equipment from the original clinic, the Bulembu Museum is a grim reminder of the once-bustling town.
The women at the craft shop give me a friendly welcome. Their hand-sewn stuffed toys are brightly coloured. All the African animals feature a heart to show that it was made with love.
Regardless of the prevailing wet and misty weather, I decide to make my way towards Piggs Peak. The friendly waiter at Bulembu lodge smiles shyly when I tell him of my plan – almost as though he pities me. “The road is terrible,“ he says. “It is very slippery and muddy.”
The short distance of 18 kilometres from Bulembu to Piggs Peak can be an adventure in dry times, I have been told by my well-travelled biking friend. It has been raining for most of the week and the cut lawns are waterlogged, and squish and squelch beneath me. Just outside town I find myself doing my best impression of a left-hand powerslide complete with spraying mud and muck. I have frightened the grazing Jersey cows into trotting along the fence as if they are the cheering spectators at a rally.
I stop on several occasions, sometimes willingly, others by accident. The road is a mangled mess of muddy tracks. I am witness to the slippery conditions when I do a true Swazi swagger to cross a rather muddy road and find myself enjoying an unexpected mud bath. On another forced stop I find a 4×4 wallowing in a rather deep bog.
Its occupants are hesitant to exit the pristine cleanliness of their vehicle. These muddy bogs are best avoided by an already messy adventurous rider like myself. And there were several of these mud puddles along the short road.
Someone once said Piggs Peak really isn’t a pretty town. Maybe that’s where its name comes from, that and surely because of the fantastic mud pits you can find on the dirt roads in the area.
Truth be told, the mountains around the town boast with sights of note. The town was named after William Pigg who discovered a gold reef in 1884, but today the gold is in the forestry industry.
From the ghostly old trading post on the Bulembu Road where a forlorn-looking mutt lies quietly in the dew-wet grass, to the impressive journey across the Maguga Dam wall, the Piggs Peak area is an exploring tourist’s dream. The 115-metre-high dam wall was completed n 2001 and lies in the Komati River tract. The viewpoint might have those with vertigo somewhat nervous as it teeters over a cliff edge in pavilion style.
Soon I amble among the community of Nsangwini. People soon show me the way to tour guide Ngety Masuku and her small enterprise. I have to admit that due to the altitude in the mountain, I sweat profusely trying to keep up with the young lady. She runs the community-driven tourism business known as Nsangwini Rock Art.
Nsangiwini Rock Art is tucked away amid the hills on the loop road to Maguga Dam. Along the path to the cave, the view of the Nkomati River Valley below the dam is worth the steep climb down the rocky path.Ngety leads at a brisk pace down a rocky path to the rock overhang and what remains of a bushmen cave. The cave with the rock art was discovered in 1955 by one Jameson and H Dlamini. According to this guide, the bushmen lived here about 400 years ago. They mixed okra and animal blood to make the drawings. Sometimes charcoal was added to create darker ink to depict the local black people. She also gives me a brief explanation of the different scenes depicted on the rock.
This reminds me of a quote on antbear.co.za: “No more do we bushmen hunt in these hills. The fire is cold. Our songs are quiet. But listen carefully. You will hear us in the water. Look carefully. You will see us in the rock.”
Afterwards I check in to Piggs Peak Resort & Casino for my second night, I sit on a balcony and look out at Nkomati and the green hills. After a week of welcome rain the clouds have parted, making for a patchy blue sky. Each of the hotel’s 104 rooms has a balcony and an air conditioner to keep you comfortable. Recently under new managment, the hotel is systematically being renovated and has recently acquired new slot machines.
It also offers massages, manicure and pedicures, facials and sauna treatments at its wellness centre. It is situated a mere 30 kilometres from Jeppes Reef/Matsamo Border Gate and is en route to the Kruger National Park. The Peak Craft Centre offers unique handwoven Swazi craft and unique handmade jewellery. It is the kind of place even this biker chick needs to end a Swazi adventure the right way.
Get In Touch
Bulembu Country Lodge at www.bulembu.org.
Piggs Peak Resort & Casino on +268-243-7880 or
Nsangwini Rock Art at www.afrotourism.com/activity/nsangwini-rock-art-centre/