Emlembe, Swaziland’s Highest Peak

On Sunday, I climbed the highest mountain in Swaziland. I should confess that I didn’t clamber up all 1,863 metres of it. We drove in four wheel drive vehicles on rough tracks through the Mondi forest to 1,425 metres and scrambled up from there.

We left the vehicles at an abandoned COIN camp formerly used by the army. This stands for COunter-INsurgency. This is such an incredibly remote place, one wonders why the camp was built here. South Africa surrounds Swaziland on three sides. If SA wanted to invade, they would not have to march over Emlembe to do so.

We walked for thirty minutes uphill before arriving at the Devil’s Bridge, a sliver of land between two hills, with deep canyons on either side. It is only a few metres wide and is eroding fast.

Once we crossed over, there was a strenuous, steep climb through highveld grassland to the peak. Our route took us along the border with South Africa, which was marked by a rusty barbed wire fence. On the top there was a metal watch tower on the Swazi side. The ladder to the top was hanging by a single rusty bolt.

On the South African side there was an isolated concrete hut without a roof and an empty flagpole.

The views were stupendous across the Makhonjwa Mountain Range. This contains the oldest preserved, accessible rocks on the planet. There are others, but they are in Greenland. And there’s no bus service there.

Looking south into Swaziland we could see the Maguga Dam, Silotwane in Malolotja. The former asbestos mining town of Bulembo was laid out below us. It became a ghost town when the mine closed, but after some chicanery a Canadian church foundation converted it into a massive orphanage for 300 children. They make excellent honey which tastes delicious. You can spend the night there at a guest house which is really, really quiet. Almost oppressively quiet for some people. The golf course at 1,200 metres is still playable.

Looking north, we could see the rocky peak of Gobolondvo and I could just make out Driekoppies Dam near Matsamo and the Lebombo Range to the east.

We came down faster than we went up.

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6 Replies to “Emlembe, Swaziland’s Highest Peak”

  1. I love reading your posts, but I end up having a ton of questions about the content. I try to limit them to two. Is the third photo the Devil’s Bridge you refer to in the text? (Its the photo with the luscious browns and greys). Is there not an inherent respiratory risk around an abandoned asbestos mine? It looks close to the orphanage in the photo. Was it open pit?

    1. I couldn’t get a good photo of the bridge showing it for what it was. One of those situations when you really had to be there to experience it.

      The asbestos is apparently not the dangerous type. Though a similar site in South Africa cost $400,000 to clean up. It is an open cast mine, just digging the stuff out of the ground.

  2. Now you get the idea why I cried on the bus back to South Africa after only a weekend in Swaziland. Beautiful! and wonderful people. in 1973 I had spent the weekend with Pitika Ntuli and his girlfriend and other mates, listening to jazz and poetry, swimming in the river, moving great hunks of carved soapstone slabs in the pickup truck to place on the new Bank in the high street of Mbabane. Great memories…. as you too are creating! Terrific.

    1. The bank you refer to was in the need a couple of weeks ago. The top floor had a fire. A few days later, it caught fire again.

      Mbabane must look very different now, with shopping malls and chain stores. It remains charming though. Well worth a revisit.

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