Mesmerising Mmagwa

Mashatu Game Reserve is located in the eastern portion of the North Eastern Tuli Game Reserve ( an area of 720 square kilometres) which is the eastern most part of the Tuli Block in south eastern Botswana. Mashatu is unusual in that it has so many diverse landscapes to explore. To the north west is the Motloutse river outlook, Soloman’s wall and Mmagwa Hill. To explore these three sites is a half day trip. It is ideal to be up Mmagwa either before dawn or at dusk. It is about an hour and a half’s drive from Ponte Drift (South Africa-Botswana border post), so it is easier to do a sunset trip.

“These are islands in time — with nothing to date them on the calendar of mankind. In these areas it is as though a person were looking backward into the ages and forward untold years. Here are bits of eternity, which have a preciousness beyond all accounting.” ~ Harvey Broome

This means travelling in an open game vehicle in the afternoon heat which depending on the time of the year can be very hot in mid-summer. Thankfully, we were in Mashatu in early spring when it was still hot but bearable.

The drive to Mmagwa takes you through a “foot and mouth” dip where you have to stop, get out of the vehicle and walk on a chemically saturated sack in a tray. After this chemical adjustment we got back onto the vehicle and proceeded onto Mouloutse river lookout.

It was early afternoon so it was hot as we drove into the amphitheatre which is a few hundred metres from the Motloutse outlook. The amphitheatre is a sandy open area surrounded by a rugged sandstone ridge. The shade of a well leafed tree at the edge of the amphitheatre provided welcome shade for lunch.

After lunch we drove down to the Motloutse lookout. It is a climb to get up the rocks to the lookout but it is worthwhile. The vista is spectacular from the lookout. One is able to look up and down the Motloutse river for kilometres. Being early spring, the river was just sand but in the rainy season, when in spate, this river flows bank to bank.

“To me, a wilderness is where the flow of wildness is essentially uninterrupted by technology; without wilderness the world is a cage.” ~ David Brower

The Motloutse lookout is on top of a granite ridge. It is rugged and stark but has a charm which lingers in your imagination.

Even if you have no interest in geology, you cannot help but be fascinated by the rock formations in Mashatu, especially in the Motloutse-Soloman’s Wall area. Apart from which there is plenty of wildlife up in this part of the game reserve.

Solomon’s Wall is an impressive basalt dyke which once formed a vertical natural dam wall across the Motloutse River. The two sides of this breached barrier still tower up to 30 m high, and are 10 metres wide.

Before the wall was breached, the dyke created a natural dam wall which held back a great lake. Evidence of this lake lingers in the form of alluvial semi-precious stones including quartz and agate which can be found in and along the Motloutse’s riverbed. The first diamonds found in Botswana were found upstream of Soloman’s Wall in the 1960s.

“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Over the millennia this dyke weathered to form blocks. At some point the dyke was breached by the water which dammed up behind it. Today the wall has been washed away across the Motloutse river which allows the river, when in spate, to flow unimpeded down to the Limpopo river. Either side of the river, Soloman’s Wall remains intact as a reminder of what must have been an impressive natural dam wall with an equally impressive waterfall over it. Even though for most of the year the Mouloutse is a wide dry river of sand, in the rainy season it can flood bank to bank making it completely impassable.

After visiting Solomon’s Wall, we drove to Mmagwa Hill. On top of Mmagwa Hill is the remains of the Moltoutse ruins. Mmagwa was once part of the royal dwellings of the rulers of the Leopard’s Kopje Dynasty – the forerunner of the legendary Mapungubwe Empire, southern Africa’s first kingdom. The remains of this empire can also be seen some 35 km east of Mmagwa at the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site in South Africa. Great Zimbabwe is thought to be another satellite of this erstwhile empire.

This area was also made famous by Frederik Courtney Selous who hunted elephant in the region during the late 1800s. Baines also passed though here on his voyages. Cecil John Rhodes who led the led the Pioneer Column through this area into south western Rhodesia. It was also the route for the Zeederberg Express (stage coach service) from South Africa into Rhodesia. Cecil John Rhodes must have also stood on top of Mmagwa gazing north and contemplating the possibility of the Cape-Cairo railway. Rhodes’s initials can still be seen engraved in the trunk of the baobab tree on top of Mmagwa Hill.

A characteristic of the Tuli landscape is the abundance of ridges and outcrops formed from a variety of rock types making the Tuli area a paradise for geologists and landscape photographers alike. The geology has, to a large extent, determined the soils which lie above the rocks and the geology has also determined the ground water system in the area.

The Tuli area is situated on the Basement Complex which consists of a number of stable shields, known as cratons, surrounded by less stable mobile belts. The cratons are large, stable masses of mainly granite and metamorphic rock. The Tuli area is specifically located on the Limpopo Mobile Belt which is unstable (in geological terms) which has caused its significant deformation. Strongly folded rocks form the base material which is overlaid sandstone and igneous rocks such as granites and dolerites, which give the area its diversity of rock types and its impressive landscapes.

The so-called Rhodes Baobab impressively stands at the western end of the Mmagwa ridge. This solitary baobab towers as a sentinel at the most exposed part of the ridge but has managed to survive there for hundreds of years. The top of this baobab must have broken off many years ago leaving the uniquely shaped trunk and two major branches which are still alive.

It is always worthwhile being on top of Mmagwa Hill at sunset. The vast vistas reveal herds of elephant and the height provides a view for tens of kilometres.

“Mmagwa is place to come and contemplate the ages past. The view is expansive. There is a calm sense of reverence instilled in this wild place. A reverence which will remain with you long after you have left.” ~ Mike Haworth

Quiet contemplation of the beauty of this area over a sundowner sitting on this massive granite rock while bathed in soft evening light will illuminate your imagination and lighten your soul. When everyone is quiet, there is a palpable sense of reverence on top of Mmagwa Hill.

I have been up Mmagwa many times but this visit was unusual. This time, Jack asked Kate to marry him at sunset next to the baobab. It was a very romantic setting and the occasion produced many tears of joy, huge smiles and offers of congratulations.

After the celebration the sun had set below the horizon. The air was still and the temperature warm. For about 20 minutes after the sun has set the colours in the evening sky became progressively more saturated gladdening this photographer’s heart.

In early spring it is very dry and the air is full of dust which the light catches at sunset creating this beautiful smokey orangy-peach hue. We were making our way back along the ridge to get down one of the steep sections before it became too dark.

Once you hear the hyaenas calling in the valley below as they make their way to the spring, you know it is time to get off the hill.

This is one of those places which infuses a deep sense of Africa in you. You really get a sense of times past. The landscapes reflect the geological history and the hyaena’s whoop at sunset remind you that this is Africa and the nocturnes have awoken.

“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” ~Aldo Leopold

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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