20 November 2014

Travel Thursday: Swaziland and the Maguga Dam

As mentioned in a previous blog post, my husband and I went to Swaziland for our second wedding anniversary. It's so weird driving just three hours from home and having to use our passports! Getting through border control was a breeze and the people were friendly and quite efficient.

We drove another half an hour or so to get to our accommodation. On the way there we stopped at the Ngwenya Glass Factory that we've heard a lot about. They make recycled glassware and you can stand above the workshop and see how they blow glass and make everything by hand from wine glasses to ornaments in the shape of giraffes and elephants.

We arrived at the Maguga Lodge which is the only accommodation next to the dam. We really couldn't have picked a more beautiful location!  Swaziland uses hydroelectricity to power the country, and most (if not all) of it comes from the Maguga Dam.

The dam is absolutely breathtaking and although our rondavel didn't have a dam view, we could see it from pretty much everywhere else. Most of the rondavels are divided into two, and are rented out as two separate rooms. I'm not a fan of round rooms, so the fact that I had a straight wall behind my head while sleeping was quite comforting! It was rustic, yet clean and the room is quite large with a Kingsize bed, a television with DSTV, air conditioning, a butler's tray with a kettle and some coffee and tea, a vanity table of sorts, and a separate bathroom with a humongous shower.

About 50 m from our rondavel was the main building with the reception area and the restaurant. The restaurant overlooked the dam and many times we just sat there with a drink and looked out over the peaceful dam.

When we weren't at the restaurant, or snoozing in our room while waiting for a thunderstorm to clear up, we drove around and explored the western part of Swaziland. We made it as far as Mbabane (the capital). All the towns we saw were small and rural, but Mbabane is a city with a CBD and lots of cars and big buildings. On a much smaller scale than, say, Pretoria, but still much more busy than the rest of Swaziland. It's also a treat driving on the highway in Swaziland: they have a grand total of two lanes going in a certain direction, and there is hardly ever more than four or five cars in front of you. And by "in front of you" I don't even mean "close to you"! Due to the light traffic the highway is in a very good condition. When we got closer to Mbabane the traffic got heavier, and there were also quite a few trucks on the road.

We also visited the Phophonyane Falls in Pigg's Peak and the Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Lebombo. Both were quite beautiful and definitely worth a visit, as is the rest of Swaziland!

Things to note before visiting Swaziland:

  • A valid passport!
  • If you're taking your own car you need the following: 
    • A letter from the bank stating that you are allowed to take your car across the border (if you don't owe any money on your car this is not needed), 
    • A copy of your car's registration papers 
    • A letter from your insurance company saying that your car is insured in Swaziland
  • According to the AA you need a "ZA" sticker, but we took ours along and we weren't asked to stick it onto the car.
  • You won't have cellphone reception as soon as you step into no man's land between the border posts.
  • We used our Absa credit cards in Swaziland without notifying the bank that we are going to be in another country (normally they stop your card for safety reasons if it is detected that you are suddenly using your credit card in another country without letting them know)
  • There are limitations on what you are allowed to bring into Swaziland. Electronics are fine as long as you don't plan on selling your camera over there! Electronics such as cameras, tablets, and laptops are declared at border control by filling in a form at customs. Ours were never checked, but you never know.
  • You are allowed to bring alcohol across the border as long as it is for personal use. So you can bring two bottles of wine, but not twenty cases.
  • Taking firearms over the border complicates things, so it's best to leave them at home! 
  • Speaking of safety: Swaziland is very safe, but I won't recommend getting out of the car at the small informal settlements. Once again, you never know.
  • They have a different currency to ours, but the exchange rate is 1:1 and you can happily use your Rands to pay for everything.
  • Some petrol stations do not allow you to pay with your South African credit card, so you will have to use cash. We filled our car with diesel before we hit the border, and we only needed to fill up halfway back home, so that might be something to consider.

I hope you enjoyed this little travel interlude! Let me know if you would like to see more of these types of posts.

Until next time!


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