March 11, 2018
Eswatini to Golden Gate Highlands, South Africa
Distance: apprx 800km
Time: 12 hours including stops
After our guide promised the guys at the border that we’d leave via Jeppes Reef just to get us into Swaziland (E-Swatini), we anticipated March 11 to be a longass day. Evidently, the detour had thrown our guide off guard because it unexpectedly changed the course of the day. Leaving to Golden Gate National Park via Jeppes and not the Ngwenya border (as originally planned) doubled the time and distance.
To put it in perspective – the original plan was to leave via Ngwenya; distance 460km, time 5 hours. We gave up a relaxing afternoon walk breathing in fresh air at Golden Gate for more time in the car.
It was pitch black when we left the resort at 5am with our packed breakfasts. We zoomed down the highway as the sun started to appear on the horizon. At the border, we met with the same officer who was in better spirits. He asked how we liked E-swatini and whether we attended the Umhlanga Reed Dance Ceremony. What? It was in the papers (he showed us) and tourists occupied the front row… !!! Not Cool- because our guide rambled on about the King of E-Swatini and the ‘famous ceremony’ as we drove into the Kingdom. When asked when can we go, he said there’s nothing going on at this time of the year.
Astounded, we left E-Swatini and headed towards Golden Gate National Park in the Free State. To make it up, the guide went on about the best Biltong in SA as he had promised to take us on day 4. Okay, we say, let’s go. He said it’s at a city on the way and ‘the best’. We’re ready for it.
A couple of hours later, I noticed the fidgets while he checked on his 2 GPSes repeatedly, apparently both giving him conflicting directions to the city with the best biltong. The highway (N4) is straight forward, obviously with a couple of exits he wasn’t sure of taking. Dark clouds filled the sky and it began to pour. He swerved away from an exit. Did he miss it? He didn’t say and continued along the highway. He swerved once more half hour later. So we told him to forget about the ‘BEST BILTONG’ and drive on before it got dark. He was in a mood then made an abrupt stop at Alzu Petroport in Middelburg, an AMAZING place worthy of a stop. It was 12pm, just in time to control the hanger pangs and a potential face off. The petroport had a ton of restaurants with a wide terrace, a lovely view of the watering hole and a surprising herd of buffalos. We swapped the best biltong for chicken at Nandos while he played around with the GPSs.
We drove on for another 4.5 hours towards Golden Gate Highlands. The skies cleared up and presented us with a beautiful panoramic view of what was to be expected in the next few days, the Maluti Mountain range that divided the Free State and Lesotho. As we entered the National Park covered in various hues of green and brown, we were closing in the famous sandstone rocks that sparkled under the sky. We stopped to take photos and eventually the winding road led us to the Glen Reenen Camp, a mile from the Golden Gate Hotel. We settled in our camps to rest before we regrouped for dinner at the hotel. By the time we left the camp (in the van), it was pitch dark except for periodic streaks of flashes and lightning. After one big thunder roar, there was a torrential downpour as soon as we pulled into the hotel.
The hotel was rather quiet with a few guests, and bizarrely a group of young Europeans with gadgets we assumed were gamers. Dinner didn’t blow our minds but I’ll tell you what did, the number of G Wagons parked outside the hotel.