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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
The grassland turn into endless
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 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
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,
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
this car. Well, it was passed it. I hit a thick branch,
and get some dents and scratches in two doors. The huge
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
At half pass nine, the French family take over the
restaurant, and I start exploring. The receptionist
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
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
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
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
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;
From here, I head right through
the country in Part 2.