Harrowing Drive through Swaziland

border entrance sign into Swaziland

A harrowing drive through Swaziland was the result of a planned shortcut through that country in order to eliminate 2-3 hours of driving time in South Africa on a road that gives a wide berth around Swaziland’s borders.  We left Kruger National Park at 7 a.m. expecting to arrive at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve on the coast in about 7 hours.  What we did not expect was the condition of a 50-kilometre stretch of mountain logging roads and how it would impact our schedule.

a pair of blue wildebeests in kruger national park, south africa

Our day started out with crippling views of a pair of Blue Wildebeests or Gnus,

a healthy male lion in kruger national park, South Africa

and a healthy male Lion that was resting in the long dry grass off to the side of the road after having traveled upon it all night long.

a closeup of a giraffe in kruger national park, south africa

A Giraffe browsing on leaves cast a curious glance our way as we slowed to snap a few photos, and at the same time, we asked ourselves why there was a heavy layer of sand covering the road’s surface.  There had been no rain to flood the road and no wind to drive the sand into drifts.  It turns out the sand was spread on the tarmac to prevent it from melting underneath the brutal heat of the sun.

landscape in kruger national park, south africa

In light of the long drive ahead of us, I snapped a few quick photos of the landscape in passing…

melalane gate, kruger national park, south africa

then we made haste for the Melalane Gate where we would say goodbye to Kruger National Park.

a rear view of melalane gate at kruger national park, south africa

It was with a sad heart that we left Kruger but we made promises to one another to return again some day.

a border entrance sign into swaziland, africa

It was shortly after reaching a community called Jeppes Creek that we crossed the border into Swaziland.  My former concerns about problems at the border had been unfounded.  It was 9 a.m. and 27 Celsius already.

landscape in swaziland, africa

Over the course of the next 3 hours, Bob and I were stressed to the hilt.  We struggled to find our way on the recommended route because road signs were non-existent, the narrow dirt road into the mountains was riddled with gargantuan potholes and exposed rocks that threatened to rupture our radiator, and we were completely off the grid.

landscape in swaziland, africa

An attempt to gain reassurance from a farmer walking in a field was fruitless because of the language barrier, and we had seen only one other vehicle.  Bob and I felt totally isolated and completely vulnerable.  I took no photos as we poked along.  Instead, I had a white-knuckle grip while repeatedly holding my breath and hoping we would have no problems.  I was praying that we would eventually come out where planned.

a traditional kraal in swaziland, africa

A few wrong turns prolonged the journey, but every so often, a small collection of buildings would spring up on a hillside so we knew we were not alone.

a traditional fence in swaziland, africa

Traditional fences surround those small settlements, and the resulting kraals (corrals) are fashioned from twigs and small tree trunks of either the Umsinsi or Erithryna trees.

a traditional living fence in swaziland, africa

Once pounded into the ground, the branches will begin to sprout and grow into a living barricade.

a lady walking along a paved road in swaziland, africa

When at last the dirt road descended out of the hills, it joined a paved road that brought Bob and me much relief.

a collection of thatched huts in swaziland, africa

Larger communities of thatched huts and simple rectangular dwellings with tin roofs were appearing in closer proximity to one another and dotted the hillsides.  It is customary for families to erect their homes in close proximity to one another.

dwellings with a cone-shaped grass roof in swaziland, africa

The traditional style of hut was once a basic beehive structure of grass on a sapling frame with the roof extending right to the ground.  These buildings required copious amounts of work, so they are being replaced by dwellings with a wooden frame and a cone-shaped grass roof.  As a result, the art of building such beehive-shaped dwellings is being lost.

a man re-thatching his dwelling in swaziland, africa

We had occasion to observe one homeowner re-thatching his roof, so we witnessed the skill and know-how required to do a proper job.

women arriving in Madlangamphisi, swaziland, to sell their wares

In Madlangamphisi, we found a bustling hub of activity.  Women had arrived by bus from outlying communities and were preparing to sell their wares.  Carrying fruit-laden trays on their heads,

vendors under a shade tree in swaziland, africa

they and other vendors staked a claim on the shade of any large tree as a place to sell their wares.  Lean-tos were set up as snack bars complete with over-sized charcoal pits, while simple wooden huts served as drink stands.

a young man in traditional dress in swaziland, africa

Further on, the sight of a young man in brightly-coloured clothing standing at the side of the road had Bob and me making an abrupt stop in order to chat with him.  Sabelo Fakudze politely told us his name and explained that he was waiting for a bus.  A rustic table under a shade tree served as the bus stop.

a young man in colourful traditional dress in swaziland, africa

I was intrigued to learn that Sabelo is a member of the Swazi tribe, and his destination on that scorching hot day was a nearby mission.  A paragon of patience, Sabelo seemed nonplussed by the fact that he still faced a very long wait for the bus.

Keen to tell us about his clothing, Sabelo explained that the colours are those of Swaziland, and the symbols on his necklace mean “love of the country”.

clothing in the colours of swaziland, africa

I was so pleased for Sabelo’s willingness to talk to us, and thankful for his command of English so that we could have that shared experience.  We offered to pay him for his time, but he refused and felt honoured that we should be so interested in his story.

people with a team of mules in swaziland, africa

South of Big Bend, a flat valley of cultivated and irrigated fields is protected to the east by a never-ending range of mountains.  It is there that we found a farmer and his wife wrapping up the day’s work.

farmers with a team of mules in swaziland, africa

This hard working couple only wished to spare a few minutes of their time in order that Bob and I could get a photographic record of their team of mules…

a primitive plough in swaziland, africa

and the primitive plow pulled behind them.

a team of working mules in swaziland, africa

In terms of the standards of Swaziland, a farmer who owns such a healthy team is considered quite well off.  As the hours turned one into another, Bob and I began to wonder just how much longer this drive would be.

hillside communities in swaziland, africa

By late afternoon, certain sights had become familiar to us such as children walking miles to and from school sporting spiffy school uniforms and yet treading across hills and fields, along hot pavement or rocky terrain in their bare feet.  Seemingly miles from nowhere, the children and locals alike followed unseen cowpaths that soon become hidden from view by rocky knolls or tall grass.

After a grueling 8-hour drive, our spirits were buoyed when we spotted a sign pointing us in the direction of the border gate into South Africa, and another hour later, the road leading us to the hilltop location of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve had us breathing a sigh of relief.  At last, we would take some time to relax.



Exploring the Bourke’s Luck Potholes in South Africa

Pinnacle Rock In Mpumalanga, South Africa

Our Travels to South Africa

Lesser Masked Weavers In Kruger National Park

Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean


  • Hello! Your trip looked AMAZING! My husband and I are going to be traveling from Hluhuwe up to Kruger. We were hoping to travel through Swaziland to save some time, but are very nervous about it. GPS wont work here? How did you find your way? I’m a little nervous and thinking maybe we should just go the long way…. it sounds like it was pretty difficult. Would you travel this way again? Any tips are most welcome!:) Thanks1

    • Hi Michelle. It was so nice to hear from you. When we traveled through Swaziland, neither our cellphone nor GPS worked, but perhaps things are different now. It was 2011 when we journeyed across that country. My husband had printed off rudimentary maps on our computer at home, and basically, we used those and followed our nose, so to speak. If we had to choose which way to go now, we would opt for the longer route. Hope this helps, and wish you safe travels with lots of memorable adventures.

  • Great pictures as always but didn’t you have a GPS?

    • Thank you for the compliment. We took this trip before GPS’s were standard features in automobiles. Even if we had had one, the route was so remote that it would not have been charted into the system.

      • Another question: in the picture where that native is posing for your picture (22nd one down, the one with the “Keen to tell us about his clothing, Sabelo explained that the colours are those of Swaziland, …” caption), is he holding a cellphone in his left hand?

feedback welcome