Treasure doesn’t always have to come in the form of the cold hard metal known as gold. For this group of motorcyclists, a trip to Swaziland was in search of an abundance of very different riches.
Sitting around a campfire watching Swazi dancers alongside basking warthogs might not sound much like finding long-lost treasure, but it was for Alan Shenton.
Riding for miles along the path of a barren riverbed until the first glimpse of flowing water, then stripping off and throwing himself in to the locals’ cries of ‘crocodile, crocodile’ had the same effect for Joe Fleming.
They were the moments when they found their ‘personal gold’ on a trip from South Africa into the mysterious and often overlooked nation of Swaziland.
A unique country with its own personality
The Bonafide Moto Co founders were part of a 13-strong gang that headed 400km east from Johannesburg to the landlocked sub-Saharan nation in search of personal treasure.
“Swaziland feels very different to most other African nations because of the influence of colonisation,” says Alan. “Different colonies created different feelings and this place has a beautiful yet eerie old mining vibe, which fitted the name of our trip perfectly ‘the search for Swazi gold’.
“The countryside is stunning; really lush with flowers, mountains and a tropical feel as warm as the welcome of the villages we passed through.”
Immersed in culture
Bulembu, a town built around an abandoned asbestos mine, is flourishing thanks to its honey production and was the group’s first stop. Alan says: “You have to try some of the honey if you go there. It’s stunning and was another golden moment that wasn’t lost on any of us due to the sheer contrast between the product and the place’s past.”
The band of riders – led by Alan on a 2017 Street Scrambler and Joe on a Tiger 1200 XCA – immersed themselves in the cultures of the people they met. It was, unanimously decided, another precious part of the trip worth more than mere ore.
Alan says: “Most of us knew each other and the rest were people who came along on an open invite but, by the end, we were all close friends and had forged lasting bonds over our shared experiences. That in itself was almost as magical as the reception we got from the Swazis, whose attitude towards us was open and warm. We experienced song, dance and hospitality.”
Swimming with hippos (maybe)
Next day and a challenging ride south to Hawane provided Joe and the front-runners with the highlight of their trip. They’d just completed adrenaline-fuelled session that combined smooth mountain twisties with difficult single-track gravel roads.
Alan says: “I’d been on my Scrambler, so it was perfect for the rapidly changing surfaces and I rode with a smile on my face. Joe and a couple of the other guys made it look easy on Tigers and a Bonneville T120, but we were eating up some pretty tricky dirt trails and needed a break.
“The guys up front had followed the path of a dried-out river for miles. It was hot and they wanted to stop for a swim, but there was never any water. Much later we passed a bend and there was flowing river. A few of them parked up, stripped off and dived in. The rest looked less convinced yet within minutes everyone was doing the same.”
The spontaneous mass bathing session brought bemused villagers living near the Komati River rushing to its banks to warn of lurking crocodile and hippos. “We think they were joking, but it was an amazing experience even if they weren’t,” adds Alan.
Final stage of the long weekend from Hawane to Mlilwane added some of the most beautiful and technical gravel roads through forests and deep-water crossings. Alan says: “It was exhilarating with a slight degree of uncertainty thrown in because some of the river passes were touch and go, but the Scrambler revelled in it. After that we were on a high and exhausted after hours of concentration, so a pub lunch high in the mountains at Foresters Arms was the perfect climbdown.”
That night, Mlilwane Resort and a little taste of relative luxury was the destination – a traditional game resort that, unlike most, has created a track for motorcycles to get right to its heart rather than leaving their bikes outside.
Dinner with a warthog
Alan’s golden moment came here – right at the end of the trip. Eating barbecued sirloin rolls and sweet potato around a campfire was the perfect finale to miles of dirt and tar and was made sweeter by the arrival of wild warthogs to a blazing campfire, lured by the warmth.
“The food after a testing ride was great on its own, but there was also something magical about sharing it with a wild animal sitting next to you,” says Alan. “In the end, none of us found gold but each one of us found things far more precious than gold could ever buy.”
Follow their trip – day by day
Day 1: Johannesburg > Bulembu
First stop Kaapsehoop for lunch at Salvador Mainstreet Bistro.
First night Bulembu, meaning ‘spiders web’ in Swazi, a town built around an old asbestos mine, which was abandoned.
Day 2: Bulembu > Hawane
Highlight Swimming in the Komati River after some challenging dirt trails – locals jokingly warned us about crocodiles and hippos.
Highlight Traditional lunch at Maguga Dam.
Second night: Hawane Resort, slept in dormitory-style horse stables and spent the afternoon around the pool.
Day 3: Hawane > Mlilwane
Highlight Beautiful – and technical – gravel roads through the forests and a pretty deep water crossing that made us all a little nervous.
Highlight Pub lunch at Foresters Arms, high in the mountains.
Highlight Sitting around the fire with a fellow warthog, enjoying a local buffet and entertainment from traditional Swazi dancers and musicians.