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SWAZILANDINFO and DIARY         2015-16    

 Map + Plan

 

 

Photos   Diary 1 + 2

I had an invitation to visit a project in South Africa, I have done some pro-bono work on in the past. Now, it should be launched commercially, and I'm asked to give my input, and hopefully work on it, in the future. Realising how little I actually know about South African highland and tropical plants, I figured I might do a tour around the premises.    

While studding the flora, I will try to sell some assistance to the parks I meet on along the road. I also hope to be able to collect material for DNA-tests for Dr. Tanja Schuster, who is mapping Oxygonum.  I will visit the wild and unspoiled nature scattered around this area. I plan to do a quick tour from South Africa through Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
The Kingdom of Swaziland shares borders with South Africa and Mozambique. Is a rather small country, covering only 17,364 km² km2, measuring roughly 120 times 130 kilometres, although it feels significantly bigger, driving its roads! Despite its size, its climate and topography is diverse, ranging from a cool and mountainous highveld to a hot and dry lowveld.
With a bit more than one million citizens, here are quite some nature. 83% are different Christians while 15% worship indigenous beliefs.
The British protected the country from the Boers, and gave it its independence the 6 September 1968.

MONEY: The currency is Swazi Lilangeni (SZL), fixed to the South African Rand. They do not have much of them! 1DKK= 2 SZL. 1€=14,77 SZL.

CLIMATE: The rainy season extends from October to April in which Swaziland gets 1-200mm of rainfall, mostly during severe thunderstorms. I'll hit that period, perfect for botanizing. The temperature should be from around 20C to 32C.

ANIMALS and PLANTS:
Here are the familiar animals from South Africa, and in rather impressive numbers. Swaziland's rich variety of landscapes and habitats gives it a profusion of fauna and flora, with the sheer number of species being mind-boggling.
Swaziland’s flora includes over 3500 indigenous species of plants, including about 25 species endemic to Swaziland. Malolotja Nature Reserve offers spectacular displays of spring flowers, a changing display of species throughout the summer. This rich flora includes, for example, almost 40 species of orchids, 6 species of Streptocarpus, and 150 species of Asteraceae.
For those interested in trees, the country has over 600 species of trees, the highest diversity being found in the Lubombo Mountains which can be visited within Mlawula Nature Reserve. This includes species such as the Lubombo Ironwood and cycads. I hope to find them all!

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

23/12 Coming from South Africa it is required to registry computer and camera (and probably also the cell-phone I use as a GPS, but I didn't). Then I get a stamp in the passport, pay 50 Swazi Lilangeni in road-tax for the car, and I'm in Swaziland!
The first little bit is through open villages with square, small huts. It is real lush green grass between the houses, and kind of clean. Pretty soon, it turns into gravelroad,  but it appears the Chinese is building a new, wide road on this stretch. Unfortunately, hat mean the original road is even more messed up than usual.
The grassland turn into endless gum-tree plantations, only interrupted by pine-trees. When I finally find some, relatively unspoiled nature, it is a swamp. The sun refuses to penetrate the low clouds, and I don't feel that much for botanizing anyway.
A few "Tusk-shops" and butcheries are found along the road in the more settled places. Same square huts, bust with letters on.
Tall stacks of firewood are offered along the road, and in the open areas, goats and cattle are grazing. A few rocky hills are the home of some huge Aloes (ferrox?). Besides from that, it is a relatively flat landscape, between 1000 and 1200 meters the first 100 kilometres. Then I meet a sealed road, and the area drops to 750 meters.
The little drop in altitude means is start to be significantly more tropic, and bananas are in every garden. The wild vegetation also changes, and get real lush and dense. A few villages along the road offers cloth and vegetables from primitive stalls.
I pass the agriculture faculty of University of Swaziland, but I'm aiming for the large Mlilwand Wildlife Sanctuary.  For 40 SZL, 100 kilometres of game-drive is open for me.
The area spans from lowland to highland, and ought to offer a big diversity. I start on the open plain, and are rewarded with many Bless Boks, Impalas, Blue Wildebeest, Zebras, dung beetles and many birds. Mainly weavers and Helmet Guinea Fouls, but also the long tailed drugons, bee-catchers, fly-catchers, swallows, a cross-billed stork and some predator birds.
Next to the first lake, I spot a crocodile. Warthogs are jumpy, so are the smaller gazelles. The rest couldn't care less. I don't' see many of the plants I'm after, but in the low areas, some huge tree-ferns are found. In the more open places, some solitaire Bread-fruit Trees have their big fruits. Then I enter a bit strange gum-tree forest. It seems like they don't care about invasive plants at all. Neither do the animals. In the more dense bushes, the Nyalas are found along with Water Boks and the big Élans.
Some big gates are apparently just to keep the game locked in, and can be passed. In a huge enclosure, some intensive breeding are made with several gazelle species. And I don't know either of them. One is so tiny and fine, it make the dig-dig look bold. The other is real big with some characteristic patterns in the head.
Some magnificent gray cranes walk next to them, and then here start to be Thompsons. 
In recognition of, I might take quite some photos, I simply hook-up the camera to the car: I'm am not the one running out of battery!

I get close to the two mountains, but fail to find a road leading up into them. The gates have locks on, or there are iron-bars across the trails. Then I find a real narrow trail, leading through a river and into the forest. Vervet monkeys flies in front of me, while the dig-digs only retreat to the roadside.
A huge area it almost barren rocks. I'm not really sure about their politics about walking, but to negotiate the trail, I have to walk and scout first. It is not only rough, it is extreme rough! Huge exposed boulders, big branches fallen down and real steep assents, filled with head-large and loose rocks.
One area seems to have been frequently burned, and the grass-tree-like plants seems to thrive with exactly that. At first, I think grass, but then they start to have large, pink flowers!
To add to the weird feeling, I stumble over a railroad tunnel, leading straight into the mountain. It is from 1963, but I had guessed on 1863. I walk into it, but it turns pitch black - and who know what's in it? No plants for sure, but outside again, I find some bulbs.
The road turns ever worse, and it is clear, none have been driving on it for years. But I can't turn back now. It will be impossible to back down this obstacles, and I can't turn around. I end up in 1. low 4WD, and it is barley that is low enough. I've done quite some off-road driving through time, and this is defiantly the limit for this car. Well, it was passed it. I hit a thick branch, and get some dents and scratches in two doors. The huge boulders hit the button, despite I place the wheels as high as possible. But I make it to the top!
The views are fantastic, and the sun start to break through. The top is made-up by huge boulders - or more likely; rock, and grassland. Here are depressingly few interesting plants, the effort taken in mind. I decide it is time for a cup of tea, and find shadow under a gum-tree. One wheel look a bit flat, and then I can hear the air hissing out. Well, I got the tool and two spare-wheels to work with. A consolation is the large tortoise, which pass bye.
Soon after, I meet a significantly better road, and head down-wards. Some Élans hide in the forest, but beside from them, the forests are not the place to encounter the wildlife. I end up at a closed gate. A minor path leads into the forest, and I have to follow it. It leads to a ditch-digging crew, which seems  a bit puzzled to see me. It turns out, the entire Nyonyane Mountain is closed - and I'm been out of the reservation for a long time. They lock me through the gate, and I try to stay on the legal path onwards.
It seems like I have seen what they offers in this park. Well, a trio of plovers at the seashore and some huge turtles basking on the mud is considered a bonus.
At five, I leave the area and start to look for a campsite or lodge. I did pass one before I reach the park, and I head back. It turns out to be lodge only, 450 SZL a night. Not bad, but no rain in sight, and I would prefer to camp. Back again, heading towards the capital Mbabane. A sign show off to a lodge and some back-packer place. I get a campsite for 80 SZL and 300 gram of rump steak and tea for 150 at the fancy lodge.
Back at the back-packers, I start working in the bar. They play some good but loud music, and that turn out to be a problem: Here are for a first; mosquitoes, and I'm not aware of them - can't hear them due to the music. It is only when I retire to the car for power, I hear them - and then I can feel their bites on my ankles. Despite I sit in a steamy car with the doors and windows closed, I get to kill 20 mosquitoes - where do they come from? I work to midnight, but at least, I get through - most.
Even more strangely; the tent is without a single mosquito, and I have no itchy bites.

24/12 This is not a huge country at all, and I move quite quick through it. The capital Mbabane does not have much to offer for tourists, and I simply take the highway around it. From here, it seems to be a green city, scatted over some green hills.  The original plan was to start with Hawane Natural Reserve, a wetland bird paradise. The GPS leads me to a Christian organisation, and despite it being Christmas and all, that is the last place I want to be. The next site was Malolotja Natural Reserve, just twelve kilometres down the road. It is the last remaining, unspoiled highland of Swaziland, and has massive biodiversity. Well, they call it highland, but it is only around 1500 meters - below any of Lesotho's territory.
I drive right to it, pay the 30 SZL and drive out into the wilderness. Here are 25 kilometres of car-trails and many more walking-trails, in the 1800 hectare area. I start with a cup of tea in the empty restaurant. It seems like I have it to my self, and I just leave the car on the wheel-tracks, when I go exploring.
Here are indeed a huge biodiversity! I start at some huge boulders, and the grass hides so many different interesting plants. Here are flowering bulbs, Aloes, flowering Streptocarpus in the cracks, succulents, Ipomoeas, Asteraceaes, Banksias, Oxalis', Vitaceaes, Orchids, Euphorbias, ferns, Haemanthus, Boophanes, Peperomiaceae, parasitic plants and - it will be to extensive to list. Have a look at the designated slideshow with Plants of Malolotja. Quite soon, it is clear; this will last the rest of the day. Despite I honestly try to drive more than 100 meters before next stop, I fails completely! I just spot yet another interesting plant. Huge areas have been burned recently, as a part of the natural circle. 
The views over the grassy hills with scattered boulders are fantastic as well. Here are even some wildlife: Huge grasshoppers, Zebras, Bless Boks, Dassies, Warthogs, a Dig-dig, skinks, lizards and numerous birds. The sun is harsh, and a bit redundant, I use some sunscreen. Despite I got a map, I have a bit of a hard time, figuring exactly where I am. My intention is to see it all, considered the change in species for each 100 meters. After some time, I kind of hope I have seen them all: Here are just too many! But that won't stop me from finding more... Around noon, the sun is perfectly vertical.
At two, I reach the end of the trail, and I return to the reception to find out, which trail I actually took. It turns out to be the short! Another cup of tea while the camera charges, then I'm off again. This time, it is the 4x4 trail, and sure it is! I don't stop that frequent, but I still add new species to the list. And the views are fantastic! The trail ends, and it is five o'clock. I figures, I got sun enough (had that around eleven, I guess), and returns once more to the reception, this time to book a campsite and book some pork for the evening.

Realizing I have taken 600 photos, I grab a fast shower and start to work right away. The campsite's bathrooms are kind of primitive, but here are hot water. Two oil-drums are placed over a fire, and that works fine. There have been some thunder in the distance, and I might upgrade my self to a room, after all. Anyway, I can't make the tent, as the restaurant is 2-3 kilometres away, and I don't want to walk home to night, when I'm finish working.
It is my understanding, dinner have to be ordered before five, and I ask to have mine served at six. I sit in the restaurant and work, and learn I have to buy internet by the hour, at the reception. I figure I can do that later, when everything is ready to be uploaded. Then it turn out; both the reception and the restaurant normally closes at five, but because I asked for dinner at six, they remained. I'm the only visitor, and I make a fast exit, when I find out!
Back to the campsite to work in the car - and without internet. 600 photo is a lot, and tagging the plants is postponed - indefinitely. At ten, I find out the rest don't need tagging either. Another slideshow about The rest of Malolotja with few plants and animals but a lot scenic views. The first photos from the tour in general get their own slideshow.
The moon is full, and provides the area with a pale and mystery light. I can hear the Bless Boks grassing, and I start looking for insects around the well planted camp. Besides from a lot of crickets, here are a few millipedes and grasshoppers, along with some scorpions. I find two of the latter under my car.
The wind pickup, and time and time again, it feels like someone is climbing the ladder to my tent. Not the best receipt for a good night's sleep.

25/12 The thunder awakes me half pass five, and I figure I better wrap the tent before it get wet. But that is too late. A light drizzle have already started. I fold it anyway, at least I don't have to do it in the rain. The Bless Boks are still grassing around the camp, and lots of birds are calling from the fields. While I sit in the dry of the car and eat my breakfast, several birds lands on the hood. One it so determent to get the nuzzle for the window-washer.
I try the internet at the reception, but it is not working, and then I have to see the 90 meter waterfall, while waiting.
It is a hours walking, pass three passes. The clouds are passing bye too, and it is sometimes hard to see the narrow and real rugged trail. When the clouds opens, I see 100s of Bless Boks and a few Zebras. Despite I try not to, I accidental spot yet some new plants.
When I finally make it to the Malolotja Falls - it is real disappointing. It is just a creek, running over a 30% degree hillside. I'm sure the trail have been way steeper in most parts! And the clouds do their best to hide it.
Back at the reception, the internet works, but once again, I fail to be able to upload to my site. Must be some gate which are closed in Swaziland? I do the banking and other updates, then the weather forecast. Is real mixed for the next days, and I'm glad I have some days to spare.

Despite it is still gray and moist, I try the Hawane Natural Reserve once more. The gatekeeper tells me, it is eight kilometres down the road, but I fail to find it, once again. Well, it they don't bother to put up a sign, I don't bother visiting them.
Next up it the nearby Phoponyane Natural Reserve. On my way out through the Malolotja reserve, I spot yet another orchid. I have no intentions of making the 45 kilometres and the reserve today, and drive slowly. I even stop at some stalls with handicraft. Mainly fat-stone cuttings, and I actually think some of the vendors have done them, them self; there are a distinct difference from hut to hut.
The road leads through a lush, green and hilly landscape with scattered tiny farms. The sun refuses to cooperate, and the photos are just not the same without. A sign show of to Maguga Dam, and why not? It is almost dry, and due to the indigenous fat tailed gecko, one can't walk around it. I wonder if they thought of that gecko, when they flooded the valleys?
Around the corner, an area is not fenced, and some Aloes are looking interesting. It is surprisingly dry despite the green trees. The grass, on the other hand, is brown - and mostly eaten. The other plants are sleeping due to lack of water.
The restaurant serve tea, and I sip a few cups, while dozing of in the dry air. Another white traveller turns up - rare around here! It is a great Canadian bicycle rider, out on his sixth year in the world. Sleeping in the woods, only carrying 4-5 kilo luggage. We talk for a couple of hours, and exchange recommendations.
A bit down the road, another sigh lours me of their trail; Nsangwini Rock Art. It turns out to be a seven kilometres quite good but dusty unsealed road. It passes numerous small farms, in what mainly seems to be bush- or forestland. A woman turns up, and collect the 30 SZL, and have me fill a huge form.
Then she leads me down a steep and real rough path. It descents at least 250 meters, but offers some great overlooks of the river. Under a huge boulder, Bushmen have been making ochre paintings the last 4000 years - until they were driven away for 200 years ago. Where other painting tend to be slightly washed away, these are real clear. The overhanging rock points downwards, sheltering way better.
Here are drawings of people in the real world, shaman in the non-real world, pray, fighting the intruders and a huge elephant, symbolising water to the Bushmen. I thought they now were known as Sand-people? I make a lot of photos, and then we walk back, up the steep mountain. We meet a herd of goats, but else, here are real quiet.
I make some additional photos of the area and the tiny farmhouses on my way out. Numerous people are walking in their best dresses, along the road, expecting a hike. Not with me to day; the passenger-seat is taken by my computer charging and doing backup. The backseats by the sleeping bag and other stuff.

This is not a major detour, but it leads me in to some huge pine- and gum-tree plantations. Then "the big city" (village, if you ask me) of Pigg's Peak turns up. It is Boxing Day, and most shops are closed down. I don't bother to stop, and continues through even more mono-culture forests. A sign show down a few kilometre long gravelroad to Phoponyane National Reserve, and lodge.
It is a real nice place, but they do not have a campsite. The nearest he know of, is Malolotja, where I slept last night. Then it is a tent of theirs, with private brick bathroom and breakfast for 650 SZL. Bit more than I like to pay, the camper I have rented taken into consideration, but that is how it is. I ask, if I can open my tent to dry it, and they agree.
I have to order dinner before five - and this time, I'm sure! It tend to be rather small dishes, I get around here, and just be be sure I don't go hungry to bed, I order a main-meal pizza with beef  for a starter, and a T-bone steak as main. The pizza is surprisingly good - and huge! I ask the waiter to give them good time with the next course. At least, it is a more normal size.
It seems like the only other guests are a French family, and here is real quiet, except for the birds. I sit alone in the dining room, facing the huge garden thought the opened walls. The interior is exclusive, dark and polished wood and real tasteful. I still hope to be able to upload, and I've been given a code for the Wi-Fi, but there are none.
Back for tea in my tent and to do some additional work. Then I try the restaurant for Wi-Fi a last time. Now, the router is up - just not connected to the internet. Well, I'm finish working, and call for an early night. Then I can explore the huge garden before breakfast a 7,30 - or work.

26/12 Of cause, I end up working. First with several cups of tea, at my porch. It is facing the river, hidden behind ten meters of trees. The air is filled with an endless array of bird-voices and the sound of the river. So fare, it is a greyish day, and the temperature is just above 20C.
The included breakfast is fantastic, and as I have to try it all, I will have to walk a lot do day - and the coming days. In a matter of fact; Lodges with restaurants are banned! The owner comes bye, and we have a long chat about the lack of rain, the surrounding nature, the lodge in general and what I else should see in the country. As the sun still refuses to appear, I enjoy some more tea while working on some budgets. That said, I have no exportations to the collective cost of this tour through six countries. It is more like a damage report.
At half pass nine, the French family take over the restaurant, and I start exploring. The receptionist give me the promised map over the 150 hectare area with trails. Additionally 500 hectares are even more unspoiled. He is, by the way, a perfect replica of a young Eddy Murphy - just respectful.
The trail, leading down stream, look the most promising. It is actually several trails, cowering the area along the stream. I zigzag in-between them, and find a lot of plants and animals! Especially the area along the barren granite rocks along the water are rich. Normally, it is a rather tropic area with lots of rain, but it lack rain - but fare from as much as other parts I have seen recently. Despite the sun still hides, it is warm enough! The moisture along the water add to the hot&humid feeling. I fare from see as many birds as I had expected, but the insect does not disappoint. Here are huge grasshopper- or locus, moths, butterflies, dragonflies, three or four species of large millipedes, many different beetles, among them a beauty.
I find some striped leaf frogs and its foam-nest, attached on the rock over a pond. Here are some other frogs in the ponds, while blue-tailed lizards are a bit faster than I. Not much more success with the skinks.
The plants are a strange mix. Here are the expected swamp-plants along the stream and in the ponds, but also some succulents on the barren rocks. Huge groups of flowering Stapelianthus, small, slim and big Aloes, huge Euphorbia trees and many bulbs. Many of the other plants are also flowering, and I recognises Dioscorea, Solanaceae, Euphorbia, Vitaceae, Peperomiaceaes, Araceae, Apiaceae, Lamiaceaes several orchids, Fabaceae, Sansevierias, Dalbergis armate, the spiny lianas, ferns, Asteraceae trees and many more, I can't recall the name of, and even more I just don't know.
The fare end of the area, known as Otter Pool marks my turning point - except the bit I walk into the goat-farmer's land. The tour back it strictly along - or actually; in the river. It is dry enough for me to be able to walk on the huge boulders and bedrock. Almost back, I run out of camera battery, and I didn't bring the spare. After three and a half hour, and just as many hundred photos, I'm forced back. I might as well enjoy a cup of tea, while I'm there. And I did NOT ask her to bring chocolate cake! (But it did taste nice). The other trail is significantly longer, and I might have to face it: I will have to pay for yet another night here. Then again; I could save 90%, going 45 km back to Malolotja, and then find another road east tomorrow - or the long detour around Jeppes Reef. I have to adopt to the fact; the country is small! But I won't make it for dinner at Malolotja, though. But why not eat here, before I go!
After an hour of charging, I'm ready again, and so are the spare battery at least. This time, I head inland. The trail generally follow the ridge, then connect with the smaller river in another valley. The light in not that good, and it starts to drizzle.
One of the first interesting plants I find on this leg, is a tiny Selaginella. Then a flowering Ipomoea and some colourful beetles. The views are fantastic too, but one have to imagine how thy would have been, on a clear and sunny day.
Python's Cliff offers some amassing looks at the almost vertical and nearly barren cliff. It is mainly vegetated with large Euphorbias and large Aloes. Two different orchids are flowering, one terrestrial, one epiphytic. A few loops let me see the entire area, and new things keep turning up.
I can't help reflecting over how strange it is: I visit these fantastic reserves, and the few people, who else stay at the lodges attached to the nature, newer seems to go out in it!
Almost back, I get the best view over the big waterfall. The "Big Steps" sure feel big by now, and I have deserved the dinner I order. After that, I have another chat with the owner. Besides from all the great things about his place, I have a few suggestions, which he is open for. One calls for some of my photos. Then I have to rush of, if I am to make it to Malolotja's campsite before dark.
The drizzle finally stops - when it start to rain properly. The ancient sign of "Highland Inn" in Pigg,s Peak make me check. 300 SZL for a proper room seems like a good bargain, this rainy evening at dusk. As a good friend of mine once said: "Add water, and you got instant planning". Here is a good desk, and I have 500 photos to process. And I have to figure how to drive the route, I have made up with for the folowering days. The map the rental company offered, turns out to have a matchbox size of Swaziland within South Africa. Five city names, none I need.
Slightly annoying, the only power-plug that works, is in the toilet, but at least I get to do most. A new slideshow with the plants and flowers of Phoponyane. And one with photos from the tour in general;
Part 2.

From here, I head right through the country in Part 2.

Diary 1 + 2  Map + Plan  Photos