Great South East African Border Trip - Forside
Been on many border expeditions I have started to expect failure, as otherwise you many be disappointed. Expeditions in Africa are certainly no exception.



On this expedition I have set my heart on the two Swaziland-South Africa-Mozambique tripoints, and a few interesting border visits on the way.



I have allied myself with a Danish friend Finn, who had never before been to Africa, and I had promised to take him places few tourists have ever been, and my wife’s cousin Graham, who is a South African.



On 22th April we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and travelled towards Big Bend in Swaziland. Researching the South Africa-Swaziland border, I decided to use the Nerston-Sandlane crossing as according to the treaty border beacon VII was to be found 45 yards north of the road




We stopped just before the SA checkpoint and asked if we were allowed to walk the 45 yards north along the border to see this beacon. The SA official wouldn’t allow or recommend us as we were unarmed and we would risk meeting armed illegal crossers. First failure had occurred, but that did not put me down.



We did the paperwork on both sides, and asked the Swazis officials about the beacon. They were differently helpful and arranged with a local man to take us. As it turned out it was just in the back yard of the border station. Failure was changed to success. A good start.

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Beacon VII (South Africa left)
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Beacon close up


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.


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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.


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Border painting on rocks

49ff4e96eb19904052009.jpgWe 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.

49ff4fc5a8afb04052009.jpgThe Great Usutu river, the border

49ff4fd0c87f104052009.jpgThe 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.

49ff51d6a734e04052009.jpgThe vista fence

49ff520e5be1304052009.jpgThe 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.

49ff52af99f3c04052009.jpgThe Swaziland-South African border from the tripoint

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The Swaziland-Mozambique border from the tripoint

 

49ff52fb672b804052009.jpgThe Mpundweni survey station in the background

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The top of the beacon

49ff5410b713d04052009.jpgAnother 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.

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The Mozambique border fence in Namaacha

49ff54c778c6e04052009.jpgThe Mozambique road along the fence

49ff54e245ae204052009.jpgThe 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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