From Maputo there are a few of options to get to Johannesburg airport. Two of which go through Eswatini, our only question was which of these to take.
To celebrate 50 years of independence, in April 2018 King Mswati III renamed Swaziland to Eswatini. The move was intended to signal a break with the colonial past.
It had only taken us a couple of hours to reach the Goba border crossing. With an easy exit process on the Mozambique side that simply involved getting an exit stamp, we found ourselves in the equally deserted Eswatini border post being stamped in by immigration officers in uniforms still badged “Swaziland.”
The border post was on the top of a big ridge of mountains. It was as the most scenic crossing. The highway had barely anything on it.
We needed to get across the country and camp near to the South African border in order to cross early the next morning to get to Johannesburg airport around midday.
Traffic steadily increased as we made our way inland. That’s when we discovered that Eswatini has by far the worst drivers we have encountered on the whole journey. They’re erratic which makes them unpredictable and to us that equals danger. We didn’t have to worry too much though as it didn’t take long until we hit our first big strip of roadworks and Stop/Go’s. At first you think nothing of it but a couple of hours in and we were at a standstill in a huge long queue of traffic. Having achieved our Chasing Sunrise goal the novelty of driving was gone, we were tired and this was really testing patience.
It took a couple of hours more but once we’d finally made it through we found ourselves on a big fast dual carriageway with only light traffic. It bypassed the capital city, Mbabane, but thankfully traffic didn’t increase. We turned off it not 5km from the South Africa border and after a 30 minute or so detour arrived at Malolotja National Park. It has a basic campsite inside with Blesboks roaming freely around. Only 2 other people were on it and while unserviced someone had lit the hot water boiler for the shower. That suited us perfectly as we had a fire pit and after giving some of our firewood to 2 campers on foot with a small hiking tent we still had enough to have a great bonfire. We showered by torch light before bed and left our hoodies hanging on trees overnight to air the smell of smoke out.
We’d arrived with a good bit of time until dark. However with a lot to do we set to work quickly. We got the dirtiest parts of the 4WD cleaned and wiped it down inside with a bucket of water and a cloth. We didn’t want to get hit with a cleaning fee and we figured if it looked like we’d taken care of it they might look a little less closely. We also got everything out of the back and sorted into the extra utility box we’d bought everything we had left over i.e. food, things we no longer needed, and all the things we’d bought on the way to supplement our camping kit. The ‘stick anything’ glue we’d bought (you can literally replace pieces of metal with it, it is so strong) also came in useful to fix the handle back onto the rental company’s rice strainer. It had been a victim of the 4WDing.
Up early the next morning we were at the border in no time, only to discover it didn’t open until 7am, giving us a 20 minute wait. A bit of a queue formed, a small group of people at the gate and a couple of dozen cars. We knew it wasn’t busy but after the last few quiet crossings it felt it. When it opened people literally ran to be first in the queue. We were gobsmacked. We drove in and parked and yeah there was a couple of dozen people in front of us but processing was pretty fast. We just couldn’t understand it.
As you’d expect on the South African the queue was about the same length. It was a little slower processing as only 2 counters were open and 1 was taking biometrics. It was still a reasonably quick queue though and it turned out we needed to do absolutely nothing for the vehicle. Not even get a stamp.
We left on a huge wide 120kmph highway. There was very little traffic so we went much slower, the views back into Eswatini were just stunning in the early morning light, but photos couldn’t do it justice and capture all the layers of mountains.
We were technically due to drop the 4WD off at midday but the hire company were flying a guy down from Windhoek to collect it and let us know he wasn’t due to land until early evening. We had a look on the map and took a detour to a nice reservoir. The woman on the entry gate let us off the fee given we only wanted to stay half an hour for a look round. It was pleasant, if not exciting. It was incredibly calm.
We then took a gravel road rather than retrace our steps back. It wasn’t long until we were on a big motorway. It was a strange landscape, vast and empty except for open cast mines, the wind was kicking up dust everywhere. We watched a couple of mini-tornadoes cross the road.
Just outside Johannesburg we took a short detour to another pleasant reservoir. The day had warmed up nicely and we hung out in the shade of a tree for a bit before using the bathrooms to wash and get changed for the journey home.
It was a bit sad to leave the 4WD parked up in the multistory carpark. After the adventures we’d had it didn’t belong there. It had served us well, with no mechanical issues and not even a puncture (thankfully) but we wouldn’t miss it’s disintegrating steering wheel and squeaky clutch. One last check of the clock and we’d racked up a total of 8,870km. Now that’s a road trip!