Beacon VII (South Africa left)
We arrived just before sunset at Big Bend after travelling slowly through Swaziland.
23 April was the day to visit the southern tripoint. The Lebombo Villa B&B I had booked in Big Bend had been very helpful with my tripoint visit plans, as they have land down towards the Great Usutu river, and they had the Swazi border military staying on their land. They had arranged for two of their workers and two soldiers to accompany us to the tripoint. I wasn’t entirely sure of their plans, but trusted them.
After breakfast we travelled with the landlady to the farm at the Usutu River, where I pulled my GPS enabled laptop out, and located the farm on Google Earth. I measured the distance from our position to the tripoint in a straight line to 14 kms. I was expecting to go with our groups in a 4x4 on a road that leads near the tripoint, but was very surprised to learn we should walk there.
I decided to abort this tripoint visit, as 30 km walk was unrealistic, but the one worker claimed he could make it there in 30 minutes, as he goes there often. We tried to make sure if everybody really knew where we were tried to go.After much discussion we decided to give it a try, it should be fantastic scenery with good chance to see wild life.
I decided to leave the laptop behind, to ease the weight and poor recharging of battery. I had brought a copy of a 1:50.000 topomap, which luckily also included initial starting point.
We drove up to the military camp, met the soldiers, and started our walk. Finn realized early that this walk would be too much for him, and decided to wait at the workers house, just over the first mountain.
It was also at this point I realized we were on the south side of the Usutu River. This meant we would hit South Africa as the border comes down from the first ridge into the river. When explaining this problem to our group, they explained we would have to cross the river to avoid crossing into South Africa.
Just 14 kms to the tripoint
As we were coming to the point where my map indicated the border I waiting in suspense to see what would happen. The soldiers showed us words painted on the cliffs that in Afrikaans said this is the RSA/Swazi border and from this point RSA no longer had power. I tried to spot a beacon like the one I saw at the crossing, but there were nothing to see.
Border painting on rocks
We continue walking on the southern side of the river, and there were made no attempt to cross back over to the Swazi side. Having reached the border the map indicted that the tripoint was still far, but there was no doubt; our escort did understand where we were heading. And they always knew where they were, quickly pointing out features on my topomap.
2 km before the tripoint, our guides pointed out the remote Mozambique hills, but also told us the bad news, we cannot proceed. So close yet so far. The terrain would be too difficult, and we were also fighting the issue of getting back in daylight.
The Great Usutu river, the border
The remote Mozambique hills
On our way back some baboons threatened us from the hills, we were intruding their territory.
I have measured our path on Google Earth; 33 kms. Hardest failing tripoint expedition I have ever done.
24 April was the highlight of the trip. The northern tripoint, the Mpundweni Beacon, I have read about and seen on maps for almost a decade. Would I finally see it? I had been planning very hard for this point, as Google Earth clearly showed vistas, and fences, and I didn’t really fancy seeing this beacon from a distance, I wanted to touch it. Contacts to tourist offices and local police stations had proven unfruitful, now I was there.
We drove north up to the Lomahasha border station, and explained our plan. A border official referred us to the Lomahasha police station, were we reported. Not long after that we found ourselves at the office of the police commander. He was very helpful and tried to phone the border soldiers. As he was unable to reach them, he wrote us a letter to show if we would meet them.
I had already found our dirt track route up near the tripoint, and my GPS enabled laptop helped us find the right track. A few times we thought the car wouldn’t make it up the mountain, but the luck was with us and was able to find a place to park and a turn around spot. We continued along the path and reached the vista fence.
The vista fence
The tripoint on the top
From here we were able to see the large tripoint beacon on the peak.
It turned out to be a cordon fence to stop animals and not people. A local farmer arrived from the vista area and after talking with an English speaking woman at the farm we were heading towards the peak on a path inside the vista.
What a beautiful tripoint monument, and what a view.
The Swaziland-South African border from the tripoint
The Swaziland-Mozambique border from the tripoint
The Mpundweni survey station in the background
The top of the beacon
Another tripoint count
After seeing a few round clayed Swazi huts from the inside, we called back into the police commander’s office and thanked him for his help.
We crossed into Namaacha in Mozambique and after a refreshment we asked the English speaking café worker for direction to the two border beacons that sits at the edge of the town. He knew what we were asking and arrange for a non-speaking café guest to show us. Unfortunately he and the locals seamed scared at the border and we never spotted any beacons.
The Mozambique border fence in Namaacha
The Mozambique road along the fence
The turn of the border
We headed back to Swaziland for the night, and the next morning we drove back to Johannesburg.
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