Sibebe, SW 2023

In March of 2023, I found myself trekking in eSwatini, (Swaziland) to climb a small mountain called Sibebe Rock. Sibebe Rock is located 10 km northeast from the capital city Mbabane. The country of eSwatini (Swaziland) is in the northeastern part of South Africa and the southwestern border of Mozambique, (imaged below).

Google Earth map of my trekking spots in South Africa, (eSwatini is in the upper right corner of the map).

We approached eSwatini (Swaziland) from the west on Hwy 17 from South Africa. Once we crossed the border, we continued on the same road, now called MR3. We continues on MR3 to Mbabane for 23 km, (imaged below).

Google Earth map of MR3 to Mbabane, 23 km

From Mbabane, we made our way north through a group of neighborhoods to Pine Valley Road. There we followed the signs north to Mbuluzi High School where we turned right up the paved road to the top of the mountain where the Sibebe Resort has a parking lot, (imaged below).

Google Earth map of the Pine Valley Road to the Sibebe Resort.

Somewhere below eSwatini (Swaziland), following the cooling of the chamber of magma deep within the Earth’s crust, earth movements pushed a meteor-sized, 3 billion year old stone upward, (Basement Uplift), until it finally broke the surface millions of years later.

The Sibebe Rock, eSwatini (Swaziland); from the Pine Valley Road looking south in 2023.

Pictured above, wind, rain, and a rushing river finished the job to expose Sibebe in all its glory, (pictured below). Sibebe Rock towers nearly 300 meters over the long and wide Mbuluzi River, a body of water which cuts clear across eSwatini (Swaziland) into Mozambique.

The paved road up to the Sibebe Resort, eSwatini (Swaziland), in 2023.

Recognized as the world’s largest exposed globe of granite and the second largest rock, Sibebe rests like an immense bowling ball within the greater Mbuluzi Mountain Range, (pictured below).

The paved road up to the Sibebe Resort, eSwatini (Swaziland), in 2023.

This immense three-billion-year-old volcanic slab, which rises to a height of 1,488m and covers some 16,500ha, (pictured below).

The paved road up to the Sibebe Resort, eSwatini (Swaziland), in 2023, {a heard of Blesboks (Damaliscus dorcas philipsi) grazing near the Sibebe Resort Parking Lot}
The trail from the resort’s parking lot up to the to top of Sibebe Rock, eSwatini (Swaziland), in 2023.

The Sibebe Rock itself is located on the Mbabane granite pluton which is made up of the Mswati granite, of 2.7 billion years in age. It is a porphyritic granite of coarse grain which forms part of the Kaapvaal Craton, (imaged below).

Public domain geological map of the Mbabane area with the rock types & rock ages included; [Taken from & adapted from the “Geological map of Swaziland” ( Kröner 2007; Olson et al. 2011).].

The Kaapvaal Craton is an old yet stable landscape composed primarily of granitoids, gneiss, and other metamorphosed volcanic and sedimentary rocks varying in age between 2.5 – 3.6 billion years old. The Mbabane Pluton is remarkably affected by tectonics as evidenced by a network of NNE-SSW and NW-SE fault lines and lineations, which account for the deep dissecting and near perpendicular valleys in the area, (imaged below).

Map of the 3 billion year old Archaean magma-basement (Kaapvaal granite) found in eSwatini (Swaziland); [image taken from the Geological map of the Kaapvaal Craton, modified after Eglington & Armstrong (2004)]

Pictured below, the Mswati Granite is an intrusive igneous rock, which means it crystallized from molten rock, called magma, miles underground. At these depths, magma is insulated by the rocks around it and cools very slowly, growing large interlocking crystals. The Mswati Granite is often said to have a “salt-and-pepper” appearance: the lighter-colored minerals are quartz, potassium feldspar, and plagioclase feldspar, and the darker-colored minerals are mostly biotite and hornblende.

A fresh break in the Mswati Granite of Sibebe Rock in 2023

Pictured above, the different crystal sizes are the result of different rates of cooling as the magma body moved upwards. The large crystals, called phenocrysts, are usually feldspar crystals. Feldspar is one of the first minerals to form large crystals as magma solidifies. They grew as the magma cooled very slowly deep in the magma chamber. Later, the magma with the phenocrysts moved quickly upward into cooler rock, causing more rapid cooling of the remaining molten rock to form the smaller crystals that make up the rest of the rock.

I’m standing next to large granite boulder, north of Sibabe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, preservation of the Archean granite is due to its greater resistance to erosion compared to the easily weathered surrounding meta-sedimentary rocks.

Looking off of the eastern side of Sibebe Rock into Pine Valley, eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured below, the spectacular bare domes (also known as ‘bornhardts’) are superb examples of differential weathering and erosion shown by some massive granite bodies.

Northwest, (looking southeast), of Sibabe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023. (the now-isolated, rounded boulder is a residual core-stone left after erosion).

Pictured above, granite domes such as Sibebe Rock, result when large, curved, convex-upwards slabs and blocks break off along sheet fractures. These fractures are probably caused by relief of stress in the granite when erosion removes the considerable weight of overlying rock.

A giant boulder on the northwestern side of Sibebe Rock, (I took this picture while climbing the western side of Sibebe Rock and looking north).

Pictured above, the large size of the domes is due to the wide spacing of vertical ‘master joints’ within the even-textured and rather structureless granite. There are fine examples of ribbed, gutter-like channels called ‘rillen’ and fracture-controlled clefts or ‘kluftkarren’, as well as small ‘weathering pits’ on the flatter rock surfaces, (pictured below).

A ‘kluftkarren’ found on top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023. {Note the tree is a rare Green pincushion}

On top, we found a wonderland of huge sculpted boulders and gleaming slopes of exfoliating granite, (pictured below).

I’m standing on the top of Sibebe Rock, eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023, (the camera is looking north). {Notice the ‘rillens’ and ‘weathering pits’ on the flat surface}.

It was hard to appreciate the scale of Sibebe from below. That’s partly because there is no single spot from which the whole rock is visible; and partly, also, because large areas of it are vegetated, with patches of grassy hillside and forested clefts – like toupees on a balding pate – that break up the bare rock into what appear to be discontinuous outcrops, (pictured below).

A forested cleft on the western side of Sibebe Rock. {Notice the clumps of grass in the cleft. They are actually small grass-trees}

The flora on-top was impressive, with orchids and other wild flowers carpeting the western side, and wild bananas (Strelitzia caudata) fluttering their tattered, flag-like leaves in the forested clefts, (pictured below).

Wild Banana (Strelitzia caudata) tree in one of the clefts on the western-side of Sibebe Rock, eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, the Wild Banana (Strelitzia caudata) is associated with forests on the escarpements in eSwatini. The leaves are Banana-like with long, fairly still petioles and blades that are approximately 2 m long x 0.5 meters wide.

I’m standing near the top, (camera looking south) off the eastern side of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023, (notice the grass-trees on my right).
Grass Trees X. glauca anguvstifolia found on Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above and below, Grass trees X. glauca anguvstifolia are originally a Australian native plant. It grows naturally right across Australia’s diverse landscapes. However, we found it here on the top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023. It gets its name from the grass-like foliage that plumes from the base. The trunk of the grass tree doesn’t form rings like a regular tree trunk. Instead, the grass tree trunk consists of the tightly-packed leaf base of old grass foliage, held together by the resin produced by the plant.

Grass Trees X. glauca anguvstifolia found on Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, grass trees grow around 1cm each year. These trees can live for centuries, reaching heights of over three meters. Grass trees grow well in any native rockery. They prefer full sun, so next to native grasses and other drought-tolerant plants, they thrive.

A Green pincushion tree Leucospermum conocarpodendron found on the western slopes and top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, this Green pincushion tree Leucospermum conocarpodendron is a somewhat rare species which, like most members of the protea family (Proteaceae), is confined to the winter-rainfall region of South Africa. However, this particular subspecies seemed to be restricted to this small area on the western side of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini.

A Green pincushion tree Leucospermum conocarpodendron found on the western slopes and top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, this Green pincushion could be classified as either a shrub or a tree. It can grow to as much as 5 meters in height, with branches either at ground level or just above. It has a roundish umbrella-shaped, fairly dense crown. The branches were characteristically crooked and young branches were distinctly hairy. The leaves are oblong to obovate, up to about 100 x 50 mm, and mostly covered with soft hairs, they are borne close together at the tips of the branches. The basal part of the margin of the leaf is entire, but a number of prominent teeth occur on either side of the apex; teeth margins may be reddish.

A Outeniqua yellowwood Podocarpus falcatus tree found on the western slopes and top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, Outeniqua yellowwood Podocarpus falcatus tree occurs in the forests of the eastern escarpment of Limpopo, extending into eSwatini, Zimbabwe & Mozambique. It’s trunk can be up to 3 m in diameter and is always long and straight. The leaves are simple, straight or slightly falcate (sickle-shaped).

The left tree is a Pod-mahogany Afzelia quanzensis found on the western slopes and top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, looking across the Sibebe-valley from the western slope of Sibebe Rock, I found this Pod-mahogany Afzelia quanzensis. It is a single-stemmed deciduous tree with large pods (200-70 mm) that are half-moon-shaped, flat, thick, woody and dark brown. The pods split on the tree to release seeds, which are oblong, shiny and black, with a scarlet to orange and enveloping one end. Locals string this scarlet seeds into necklaces or other trinkets.

A Small clusterleaf Terminalia randii tree found on the western slopes and top of Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, this Small clusterleaf Terminalia randii tree grows on the dry, rocky hillsides of Sibebe Rock. It’s leaves were small, narrowly obovate and occurred in clusters on the axils of the short, sharp thorns. The flowers were small, white sweetly scented and borne in short (30mm), sparse spikes together with leaves.

An African Aloe Ferox in the Sibebe Valley north-west of the Sibebe Rock in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.

Pictured above, in the Sibebe Valley on our way back to the resort parking lot, we found this African Aloe Ferox tree. This is a tall, single-stemmed aloe tree, that can grow to 3.0 m in height. Its leaves were thick and fleshy, arranged in rosettes, and had reddish-brown spines on the margins with smaller spines on the upper and lower surfaces. This woody aloe is indigenous to this area. Aloe Ferox is one of several Aloe species used to make bitter aloes, a purgative medication,[and also yields a non-bitter gel that can be used in cosmetics.

A Sibebe Cultural Dance video

The video above and picture below, is a cultural-village we found in the Sibebe Valley on the way back to the parking lot, (of course they were playing drums that were hard to miss). The village, a vernacular architecture that is a sheer classical example of a primitive dwelling. It offered entertainment in the form of a variety of cultural dances and a rich history of the culture of emaSwati. It was constructed of huts, with each of them having a singificant meaning in the culture of emaSwati.

A cultural village in the Sibebe Valley in eSwatini (Swaziland) 2023.
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