More of Mnweni on Milliot’s Trail
Milliot was a local prophet who lived in the Mnweni in the early 20th century. He was well-known in the area and is still spoken of today. He spent much of his life living in caves and wandered around the Manzana area and surrounds. Manzana is one of the three AmaNgwane wards which together comprise what many hikers simply call "the Mnweni". The commonly hiked trails are in the Mabhulesini and Khokwana areas, and Manzana sees very few visitors.
An enjoyable weekend trail unlocks the treasures of Manzana and offers fresh views and insights into the Mnweni. The trail is named after Milliot as his memory lives on there, and should you enquire among the locals, you may find someone who can relate the story of the prophet.
In July 2014 I hiked Milliot's Trail with one of the Mnweni mountain guides, Khumbulani Ndaba, whose family by marriage are descendants of the prophet. Khumbulani is also part of the Mnweni Wilderness Working Team. They manage important environmental work in the area such as path and trail stabilisation, alien plant eradication, environmental monitoring, and fire management - along with promoting awareness among the locals. They work closely with the Mnweni Donga Project (a community group focusing on donga rehabilitation and re-vegetation) as well as a community cultural and rock art group.
Having explored the high-lying areas and passes of the Mnweni fairly extensively, it was a nice change for me to see valleys which I had been ignoring all this time. I gained perspectives on the Mnweni that I never had before, and my fascination with this beautiful, rugged stretch of mountains so intertwined with the local culture, has deepened through this trip. Khumbulani, who lives in Manzana, is a walking encyclopaedia on the area, as are the other mountain guides, and I am indebted to him for so many things that I learned on this trip.
The observant visitor driving to the Mnweni Cultural & Hiking Centre may have noted a large tree extending over the road some 2km before reaching the centre. From there a road extends northwards into the Manzana Valley, and ends after about 3.5km. Not far from the end of the road, another road branches off in a south-westerly direction and climbs up above the valley for about 1.7km. The views of the High Berg are impressive from there – and it just gets better on the trail! We started our hike after parking our car at the Shange homestead which lies at the end of this road.
The Shange homestead
From there we headed up towards the sandstone cliffs called Siphongweni. These steep, golden cliffs are visible from the Mnweni Centre and the name implies a broad forehead. It is not the only "Siphongweni" in the Berg but the views from there are certainly the most splendid! The panorama of the High Berg is totally unbroken from Eastern Buttress through to Cathedral Peak, with Sentinel and Cathkin Peak also being visible.
The views from Siphongweni
Never in all my explorations of the Mnweni have I enjoyed such a panorama. Much of the commonly hiked trails in the Mnweni do not take you along the classic plateaus of the Little Berg as is the case in areas such as Cathedral Peak, Monk’s Cowl and Giant’s Castle. It is from these plateaus that the grand panoramas of the High Berg tend to present themselves. The Siphongweni area is one of the places the hiker can experience these panoramas in the Mnweni.
Views into the Manzana Valley
We continued along the crest of the ridge from Siphongweni, still enjoying the views of the High Berg to the West, and down into the Manzana Valley to the East. Our overnight stop was Kwelidumayo Cave – a typical Berg sandstone overhang offering reasonable shelter. It is situated relatively high up on the ridge, with good views down into the Manzana Valley.
In the roof of this cave is a dramatic, naturally-formed tunnel, which can be climbed into. This is quite a unique feature that I have not seen before. The name of the cave is a reference to the booming echo which results when you stand and talk directly under the tunnel!
Perspectives on the unique tunnel in the roof of Kwelidumayo Cave
Back up on the crest of the ridge the following morning we again enjoyed the grand panorama of the High Berg in morning light, all the way up to the 2012m spot height marked on the map.
View overlooking the Nsetheni Valley, with well known peaks around the Amphitheatre in the background
From there, after a short descent and contour, we started working our way into the upper end of the Manzana Valley. It is encircled by sandstone cliffs and guarded by an eye-catching peak which is currently incorrectly labelled as Ophondweni on the map (the true Ophondweni is further to the East – the 1989m peak incorrectly labelled as Qhozo). The peak and area are collectively called eSihoxweni by the AmaNgwane, the meaning of which alludes to the fact that cattle can be herded up to end of the valley and left there to graze, since they are unable to climb out due to the imposing barrier formed by the cliffs all round. The neighbouring AmaZizi call the peak Nguni. By the names it is evident that this is a significant grazing area for cattle on either side of the mountain. eSihoxweni is a lovely, tranquil area which could also be a good place to camp.
Perspectives on eSihoxweni
Once down in the valley, the trail meandered along easy terrain, and eventually through some wattle forests, which unfortunately have infested the lower end of the valley and are proving difficult to bring under control. The trail stabilisation efforts of the wilderness team (currently funded through a GEF Small Grants Programmme) were evident along this section, with drainage lines on the trail as well as small foot bridges extending over water. We also walked by a donga rehabilitation project near the end which was implemented with assistance from the Wildlands Conservation Trust. I am always inspired with hope when I see work such as this being done, and I would encourage visitors to be on the lookout for these projects, as some of them are along the commonly hiked trails too.
Some of the environmental maintenance work done in the Manzana Valley
Though we were close to the road-head at the Zondo homestead, we had to link across back to the Shange homestead where we had parked the car. And that brought this memorable trip to an end.
I can’t help thinking about the first seasonal rains falling on these valleys, and how a rush of bright green colour will surge over the hills of Manzana and surrounds. It makes me want to return to the area for more exploration. Writing this article a few months after the trip, I find my mind is still on Manzana...
- Hiring a guide is not obligatory for hikes in Manzana, though a guide will certainly prove useful in making parking arrangements and in navigation of the route. A guide will also be a vital link between you and the local culture, and will point out many things along the trail you may never have noticed, thus providing an enriching perspective to the hike.
- For all hikes in Manzana, please pay the hiking fees and sign the mountain rescue register at the Mnweni Cultural Center first.
- Milliot’s Trail is not demarcated, nor is it a formerly established trail. It draws on an existing trail network used by the locals to access the area, and along short sections of the route the trail can be difficult to follow.
- The trail is suitable for beginners provided a suitable leader or guide is part of the group. It is pleasurable and refreshing for the hardened Mnweni pass-bagger.
- The suggested itinerary is to start from the Zondo homestead and walk up the Manzana Valley to Kwelidumayo Cave on the first day. The second day along the ridge to Siphongweni, and down to the Shange homestead (or the Zondo homestead depending on parking arrangements) is shorter and easier, which may be desirable if you are doing the trail over a weekend and want ample time for travelling home afterwards.
- Depending on the requirements and number of vehicles in the group, cars can be parked at either or both of the homesteads mentioned above. On arrival, politely request the responsible person for permission and park your car at the spot they may designate. A nominal parking fee should be paid after completing the hike. At the current time there is no set fee and the amount should be negotiated. It is considered safe to park at the two homesteads.
- While water may be found at the overnight spots, it is advisable to fill up your water bottles before setting out on both days. The ridge can be particularly dry.
- At Kwelidumayo Cave the water supply is in the water course North West of the cave. Depending on the season water may easily be found at the same height as the cave, or you may have to descend the water course to find it. In very dry periods it may be advisable to enquire about the state of the water supply before setting out. In July 2014, a year which was considered to be very dry, water was found further down the watercourse in some very small rock ponds which were fed by a faint water trickle.
Manzana road turn-off: S28 48.907 E29 07.342, 1255m
Road turn-off towards Shange homestead: S28 47.481 E29 06.576, 1317m
Shange homestead: S28 47.977 E29 05.881, 1504m
Zondo homestead: S28 47.298 E29 06.340, 1340m
Siphongweni viewpoint: S28 47.784 E29 04.885, 1866m
Kwelidumayo Cave : S28 46.994 E29 04.070, 1940m
Saddle above eSihoxweni : S28 46.413 E29 03.710, 1954m
The very informative map of the trail included below was created by Michelle Dye from African Conservation Trust: