Just a few short kilometres northeast of eSwatini’s capital city another adventure of sizeable magnitude awaits explorers of this wonderfully diverse Kingdom: Sibebe Rock.
For the more adventurous with the right vehicle there is a wonderfully scenic route along backroads from Maguga Dam to Sibebe.
This impressive geological formation has a number of things going for it to make a visit worthwhile. Firstly, it is ancient. Secondly, it is enormous! Thirdly it is as challenging (or easy) to visit as you wish. And finally, you can also drink it!
Lets start with it’s age. Sibebe was formed some three billion years ago as a result of volcanic activity when our earth was but an infant. This makes the Sibebe monolith a slightly younger cousin of the nearby Makhonjwa Mountains, who, at 3.2 to 3.6 billion years are the oldest mountains on earth.
Now for the real wow factor, Sibebe’s size! Sibebe Rock is the second largest rock in the world and the largest exposed granite pluton to be found on our planet. The largest rock is the very famous Uluru (Ayres Rock) in faraway Australia’s Northern Territory. Uluru however, is not composed of granite but of sandstone and is a newborn infant in terms of its geological age at a mere 550-530 million years. But yes, Uluru is the biggest.
Covering an area of 16 500 hectares, and rising 350 metres above its surroundings, Sibebe is huge!
The difference in how these two giants were formed is also interesting. Uluru, made of sandstone (sedimentary rock) is an inselberg. The land was once submerged under a giant ocean and as the sediment settled and became compressed, rocks were formed. Later, softer layers around Uluru were eroded away, leaving the tip of Uluru exposed. Almost like an iceberg, the greatest part of Uluru is hidden deep underground and only a small portion is exposed.
Sibebe on the other hand is a batholith made of granite (igneous rock). When Earth was still young, huge volcanoes of molten lava were pushed through the earth’s crust, later cooling and crystallising to form the rocks of which Sibebe is composed.
Geology lesson concluded, I hope I got most of it right! Please add a comment below if I got it wrong.
The challenge (or not) of visiting Sibebe. This rock is so massive that one cannot appreciate its enormity without viewing it from the top. Like hair around a bald patch, vegetation around the lower edges break up the crown of the rock and there’s no single point from which to see it all. With a bit of elevation, the true scale of this giant becomes apparent. The summit is beautiful with cool waterfalls, mini forests and hidden caves to explore. Attracted by the lush, varied floral landscape and abundant water, birdlife is prolific.
The area is managed by a community organisation Swazi Trails and whether you decide to walk alone or use one of their guides, it is essential to obtain permission at the office first. Coming from Mbabane, the office is located just beyond the rock close to the turnoff to the Sibebe Resort. The rock is not a nature reserve, the land is owned by the Swazi Nation. There are many paths leading off in all directions and the sheer expanses of rock can be treacherous so a guide will be advisable to show you the easy way up and lead you to the secret spots.
The easiest way, which is how I did it, is to drive to the newly-built Sibebe Resort at the top. There is a narrow, winding road that leads higher and higher and finally ends at a very fancy-looking establishment. From here it is an easy walk to view the splendour of Sibebe. The first time they allowed us to drive to the viewpoint, but the second time it was walking only. After the walk, relax and have a light meal as a reward for your efforts.
Whatever means you’ve chosen to reach the top, you can now reward yourself by drinking a Sibebe in celebration of your achievement! Sibebe is eSwatini’s national beer and a frosty cold one on the terrace of the lodge is a lovely way to just relax and soak in the peaceful surroundings. Just remember, the steep twisty road back to the real world still lies ahead, so don’t over-celebrate at the top!
Continuing my exploration of eSwatini, my next stop would take me further east to one of the country’s main game reserves at Hlane Royal National Park.