Why, oh why, have I not spent more time in Malolotja? Malolotja is one of Swaziland’s nature reserves that has the type of beauty and tourism potential that the locals don’t want you to know about. Although I had been here a couple of times previously, I had never explored it fully until last week.
Organised in typically last-minute fashion, Helene and I joined Quentin and Jerry for three days of hiking and camping in this spectacular area. We started off on the first day making our way to the viewpoints for the Majolomba and Malolotja Falls – both full with torrential white water after the recent weeks of rain. We abandoned the path and cut around the edge of a steep mountain before rapidly descending to the Malolotja river.
The afternoon was spent enveloping ourselves in the cool waters of the river, slurping up its pure revitalising nectar, scrambling over rocks to look at the falls above (and above that, and above that), enjoying a picnic lunch and some downtime by the water’s edge, before finishing the day with a two hour steep climb back to the car.
On day two, we took my trusty vehicle for some 4WD action to the start of the infamous Potholes trek. The overcast weather was a blessing, as we hiked up and down the layers of protea-filled mountains that continued on until their fading outlines eventually melted into the backdrop. The path gradually carried us into woodlands by the water’s edge, where we encountered an explosion of flora diversity, butterflies, spiders and the deafening din of thousands of cicadas that have made their way into the light after years underground to participate in a two-week sex party, before dying.
Perhaps the most “exhilarating” element of the walk, though, was the multiple river crossings. Normally only shin-deep, the recent rainfall left us trying desperately to keep our packs dry as we waded waist-deep across slippery rocks and through strong currents. We survived, but the river took hostage of a camera, a phone and almost one of my hiking boots. Fortunately, Quentin, seeing my boot floating down the river and envisaging my future cut and blistered feet, heroically leapt into the raging waters and made a dive for the boot as it was about to gather speed and disappear into the depths below. This act of gallantry paid off, as he came up with a boot in one hand, while clinging to a rock with the other.
Despite the trials and tribulations of reaching our destination, the potholes themselves were stunning. At the lower end, we admired the falls and made the most of the big circular pool by scrambling up rocks and leaping into the water’s cooling depths. At the upper potholes, we quickly warmed ourselves with tea while admiring the cascade, before hurrying back up the mountain to reach the car before nightfall. We made it, just.
The next morning, Quentin and Jerry departed early, while Helene and I decided to tackle one more walk alone. This time, our plan was to hike a loop joining the first and second day’s routes. Without expert guide Quentin on hand, we were at the mercy of our map-reading skills and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves not quite where we intended to be. Still, we were able to get back on track and wandered through picturesque marshy woodlands before stopping for lunch and a quick dip by a small set of falls.
The rest of the afternoon tested us. In addition to day three fatigue, it seems we had also chosen to take the trail less travelled. This meant that for about half of the track, there was no track, just overgrown shoulder-high grass and spiky plants that were intent on scratching us and leaving us super itchy for days. The sight of the car was one of immense joy. However, it seems Malolotja was not done with us. After two days of trepid 4WDing, my poor car’s coolant was boiling and bubbling from the heat. After googling and calling for instructions, we managed some amateur mechanics and successfully made our way home and to the culinary Vietnamese mastery of friend, Tony.
The remainder of the Christmas festivities were much more relaxed. On Christmas day, (after having to beg for money to cover the inflated entry fee), Helene and I cycled our way through a series of single track in Malolotja Game Reserve – frightening impala, blesbok, zebras and warthogs in our path. We stumbled across a hidden hot spring, necessitating a quick dip, before heading home to a late lunch of fresh salads, prawns and rum balls.
On Boxing Day, the feasting continued, as I celebrated the Christmas birthday of my friend Tanele, with Babazile. Then on the 27th, the birthday of my boss and friend, Shelley, led me to partake in a gruelling Body Blitz class as part of her “celebrations”, before undoing all the good work with a delicious fatty breakfast at Summerfields.
The remainder of the holidays have left me catching up on sleep, movies and contemplating the coming year. If it’s going to be anything like 2013, I’m going to need all the rest I can get.