Malolotja Nature Reserve

Near Mbabane, Swaziland


Malolotja  is one of those areas that, once visited and experienced from a hikers perspective, one will never forget and will always be the subject of conversation as far as trails are concerned. It is not an easy area to hike and hikers need to be properly equipped, have a good degree of fitness and be lead by experienced hikers who have map reading skills, qualified in First Aid, knowledge of survival techniques and have done trails in other wilderness areas such as the Drakensberg. It is relatively close to Gauteng, the distance being just over 400km, all on national tarred roads.

The best way to travel to Malolotja is by way of Carolina (Mpumalanga) and then through the Oshoek border post. Travelers need to bear in mind that Passports are needed (no visa is required for RSA citizens), car registration documents, a copy of which must be obtained from the financial institution if the car is financed (this can take a few days), a RSA sticker, Swaziland road fund levy for vehicle and if applicable, trailer, obtainable at the border crossing (R50 at time of writing). South African currency is readily accepted in Swaziland and the exchange rate is on a par with the Rand. Petrol is available inside the border and is often cheaper than in RSA. The Oshoek border post is open to 10pm and maybe open to midnight over long weekends (check with AA). The office at the reserve closes at 6pm but if you have booked a campsite at the main camp, the night watchman will allow you to enter and direct you to the camping area.

Once in Swaziland, follow the main highway towards Mbabane and keep a look out for the signed board to the left indicating Malolotja and Piggs Peak. Follow this road for some distance until you reach the main gate to the reserve. If you arrive after the office has closed, report to the office before you start your hike. Here you will obtain your permit and map. Backpackers will also be asked to affirm that they are carrying a small trowel for toilet use. If they don't they will be required to hire one from the reserve.

     

The main camping ground has 15 designated sites. It has well equipped and spotlessly maintained ablutions including hot showers, basins and flush toilets. There is also a small scullery. There is a helpful staff member on duty to make sure that there is plenty of hot water available and the place is kept clean and tidy. There are braai facilities but visitors need to bring there own wood or purchase it from the small shop situated at the main gate. Along with the camping facilities, there are also several chalets for hire. A network of gravel roads is available for those wishing to see the reserve form the comfort of their cars.

 
     
Mortimers Dam
Logwaja veiwsite bench
 

 

 

The starting point for all backpacking routes is at the office where cars are required to be parked. Backpackers will be asked which of the 19 designated camps sites they will be occupying on which days. Hikers will also be provided with a list of average times between the different camp sites. This helps a lot with planning your route. For instance the route that we decided to take on the first day was to campsite 8 (Majolomba) via Logwaja viewsite.

     

Whatever route you decide to take down into the gorge, you will find the path steep and difficult in places. I hiking stick is a good accessory to have along and will be useful also later for crossing the rivers.

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In most cases the paths are well defined and cairns are to be found along them showing the route. The paths do get overgrown however, between maintenance and the cairns do get dismantled by baboons in search of food. As mentioned previously, map reading skills are essential.

 

 

         
 

With the exception of the Nkomati River that flows through the northern part of the reserve from its source in South Africa, we were informed that the rest of the water is perfectly potable and our group drank the water without purification with no after affects.

 
 
         
 
 

       

The designated campsites along the routes are small and suitable for parties of no more than eight people. They consist of cleared, reasonably flat areas next to streams but have no other facilities.

At intersections and campsites along the route you will come across barrel shaped markers, painted red with information painted in white.

 
         
 

Part of hiking in the wilderness area at Malolotja is the numerous river crossings that occur along the routes. These are unavoidable and can be hazardous as the rocks tend to be slippery. On one day we crossed the river 10 times which can also be time consuming.

 
 

 

         
 
Pool near camp 7
Pool near camp12 Cycad near camp 9
 

The pools are a swimmers paradise. Close to camp 7 there is a lovely pool and small waterfall. At Lower Mahulungwane camp (12) there is also a beautiful pool awaiting the hiker, but pools are to be found all over the reserve.

For the botanist, the reserve offers a fantastic range of specimens. Beautiful examples of Cycads are to be found along the paths.

 
         
 

When packing make certain that you provide for changes in weather. Rain is common as is changes in temperature.

No fires are allowed to be lit in the wilderness area and therefore hikers stoves need to be carried. A lightweight groundsheet is a good idea to have along as it can used to create  quite an effective communal area in rainy conditions.

 
 
 

 

 Distances

 

Map 1 Map 2 Map 3 Map4

 

Conclusion

Malolotja has been in existence since the Swaziland National Trust commission was founded in the 70's. It is certainly a credit to the Kingdom of Swaziland that such a well managed reserve exists. On the way to the reserve much exotic vegetation is evident but inside the reserve only indigenous vegetation is clearly visible. There is also remarkably little evidence of human litter and care should be taken to keep it that way. Backpackers need to be aware of the ecologically sensitivity of the area and are required to carry out all rubbish with them.

GPS Co-ordinates

Main gate/office: S26.08.819 E31.08.307

Main Campsite: S26.08.656 E31.07.890

Bookings

Jacana TravelMarketing and Reservations

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Telephone  0861Jacana (0861 522262)

Direct phone: Port Elizabeth 041 378 1439

Pretoria: 012 803 9109

Direct fax: PE 041 378 2548

Pretoria: 012 803 4144

 PE e-mail  bookings@jacanacollection.co.za

Pretoria e-mail: rosa@jacanacollection.co.za


 


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