By Vuyisile Hlatshwayo
Taking solace in nature when my life gets too much, I find myself out and about looking for a paradisal place of no worries and ultimate relaxation in the widely unexplored countryside.
Right on top of my bucket list is an idyllic place which is going to lift my spirits. It may be a place I have heard about but where I have never been. It must, by my own standards, boast an inspiring scenery at every turn. Above all, it must be a wonderful place to enjoy nature without having to pay for it except for my transport costs and snacks. Not forgetting my usuals – a six pack of Budweiser beer to enjoy my drinks away from the hawkish eye of the men in blue.
I head down south to the 1294m Etjedze Pinnacle located in Ngololweni in the Shiselweni region. For the uninitiated, the south corner of Eswatini is the cradle of the indigenous emaSwati history. Hence, emaSwati, who speak a mix of isiZulu and siSwati, from here proudly call themselves ‘Yith’abantu’.
What is an 88-kilometre long distance from my place of abode, Zakhele Township, Manzini, turns out to be 120kms which is the exact distance from the capital, Mbabane. I drive with caution along the pothole-riven Yith’abantu Highway and the bumpy gravel road between the Hlatikulu Grand Valley and Ngololweni. The Eloise Cyclone has left our roads in a deplorable state.
I heave a sigh of relief the moment my eyes hit the majestic Etjedze Rocks looming on the horizon. I feel a surge of delight mingled with a fear as my Jeep SUV careers down the road snaking through the scenic Mavukutfu and Mtsambama Mountains. I witness firsthand what inspired the late liSwati-born poet, Nkomeni Douglas Ntiwane aka “ND” to author his SiSwati poem titled Tintsaba Mavukutfu naMtsambama Tihlalelene.
Upon reaching the Nkhungwini intersection, I take the road on the left as the towering Etjedze Rocks beckon on me from the crossroads. Dying to immerse myself in nature, I press hard the accelerator. In no time, I pull off the road at the foot of the Etjedze Mount overlooking the spectacular valleys of the Ngwavuma River.
With luck on my side, I bump into one Etjedze resident, Garage Simelane, who knows the awe-inspiring landmark like the back of his hand. After briefing him about my ecotourism adventure, he volunteers to be my tour guide. He kicks off our climbing with anecdotes about the Etjedze Pinnacle. He reveals that the community is named after it. He says lightning strikes their goats while grazing on the mountain.
Climbing the mountain proves hard for me while my athletic tour guide breezes through. I wiggle my way through the thorns and thistles lining the narrow paths. By the time we get to a top spot that suits a picnic, I’m huffing and puffing and perspiring heavily.
Simelane points to a cave where one can take respite after our non-stop mountain climbing. Not thinking that it could be a lair of pythons, I choose to be spelunker exploring caves. I stop perspiring immediately due to the coolest air inside the cave. That becomes my proof that the temperature in caves stays cool because they are underground and not affected by surface weather patterns. To my amazement, the cave looks clean despite sheltering the goats from the rain.
Out of the cave, I cast my eyes over the marvel of the geologically uniqueness of the towering Etjedze Rocks. The rocks are awe-inspiring in size and design. Cracked vertically and horizontally forming a “Rubik Cube” with tunnels, the chunky granite is a jaw-dropping beauty. When I hop onto one of them dangerously perched on top of another, there is an inspiring scenery in every turn.
As we descend, I am convinced that these rocks are our natural jewels that we should treasure. I believe that ecotouism can generate an alternative income for the Etjedze community. It can offer outdoor pursuits like mountain climbing, hiking, picnicking and caving. The tourists can also visit Etjedze Wetland planted with citrus trees. However, it is a pity that the Etjedze community knows nothing about ecotourism. We celebrate this year’s International Mountain Day under the theme Sustainable mountain tourism #MountainsMatter. Mountains can contribute to creating additional and alternative livelihood options and promoting poverty alleviation as well as landscape and biodiversity conservation.
Explore Etjedze Pinnacle and enjoy the majestic scenery!