Yemi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo at MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland

Swaziland’s Bushfire Festival: My Top 8 Tips

Last weekend I attended the MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland. It was my second time at the festival (read about my first Bushfire in 2012) and my seventh trip to Swaziland, one of my favorite countries on earth.

But this was my first time doing the full Bushfire experience, i.e. camping out on the festival grounds and staying for the full three days.

Bushfire crowdCrowds at Bushfire.

Sunset at the Bushfire festivalSwazi sunsets are the best.

I’m not a hardcore camper nor a hardcore partier, and this generally precludes me from enjoying big music festivals. I went to Oppi Koppi, South Africa’s largest music festival, a few years ago and while I’m glad I did it once and survived, I would never go again. There are far too many people, too much dust, too much ridiculous behavior, and — most importantly — too few clean bathrooms (i.e., none) at Oppi Koppi.

Bushfire is different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a festival and camping is a pain and people are drunk and the whole thing is exhausting and I came home with a stupid cold. But Bushfire is a delightful walk in the park compared to Oppi Koppi.

House on FireHouse on Fire, the wonderfully eclectic, funky venue where Bushfire takes place.

The Bushfire festival grounds are clean, the bathrooms are well maintained and plentiful, and the people are so much better behaved than at Oppi. Bushfire even has great food and SHOWERS.

Bushfire also has different demographics. Most of the big South African music festivals are, to put it bluntly, so white. Bushfire is a lot more diverse: Its musical acts come from all over Africa and beyond, and the festival draws very big-name stars.

Nakhane Toure at BushfireSouth African singer Nakhane Toure.

Ladysmith Black MambazoThe legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Yemi Alade at BushfireNigerian pop sensation Yemi Alade.

Also, the majority of Bushfire’s attendees are black. Which makes sense because, you know, this is Africa.

People at BushfireHaving fun at Bushfire.

Encore at BushfireEncore.

As far as Southern African music festivals go, Bushfire is the one I recommend (at least out of the two I’ve been to). If you’re thinking of going next year, here are a few tips.

Bushfire Tips

1) Leave early on Friday, especially if you’re camping.

If you’re driving from Joburg, the Swazi border is technically four hours away and House on Fire (where Bushfire happens) is another hour. This trip always takes longer than five hours though. The sun goes down at 5 p.m. and everyone tends to arrive right at nightfall, creating a massive clusterfuck.

Do yourself a favor and leave first thing on Friday morning. Then take a leisurely drive to Swaziland, set up your camp in the afternoon, and enjoy the music when it starts at 7:00 p.m.

On a related note, make sure you know how to pitch your tent before you go. Practice in the dark, just in case.

2) Cross at a smaller border post.

Oshoek, the main border crossing between South Africa and Swaziland, is notoriously busy, especially on Friday afternoons. Skip that madness and cross at the Sandlane border post instead; it’s about the same distance from Joburg. You will have to deal with some potholed roads and a slightly longer drive once in Swaziland, but it’s totally worth it. Do the same on your way home, too; We decided to risk Oshoek on our way back on Monday morning and still waited in line for an hour.

On a related note, don’t forget your passport.

3) Hire help to carry your stuff.

The parking lot for the main campsite is a five-minute walk from the actual camp. This means you have to carry all your stuff — tent, food, water, clothes, etc. — from the car to the campsite, which is extremely laborious. (Especially if you arrive after dark: See tip #1.)

Hence, you can hire a porter with a wheelbarrow to ferry your things from the car to the campsite. There are many of these porters around but they are hard to pin down during the busy arrival and departure times. (See tip #1.)

The porters are fantastic and they work their asses off. Tip them well.

4) Bring sleep aids.

As I’ve said, Bushfire festival-goers are relatively well behaved. I didn’t see anyone passed out or throwing up or having sex in public. But people still PARTAY. I was amazed at the stamina of the partiers camping around me.

This conversation, which took place just outside my tent at the end of my first sleepless night, says it all:

PERSON 1: Wow, it’s 5:00 a.m…No wait, it’s 6:00 a.m.! Where did the rest of the hours go?

PERSON 2: We drank them.

Don’t expect the noise at the camp to die down. Like at all, ever. You’ll either have to find a way to sleep through it — earplugs, sleeping pills, whatever — or don’t sleep at all. Plan accordingly.

5) Don’t worry about the bathrooms.

Unlike Oppi Koppi, where the bathrooms are the bushes, Bushfire has lots of clean, flushing toilets stocked with toilet paper. There is rarely a long line. So cross that worry off your list.

6) Shower at night.

Bushfire also offers showers, with actual hot water, at the campsite. However, the shower lines are painfully long in the morning and even into the afternoon. The only time to avoid an hour-long shower line is at night.

7) Dress to impress.

For some reason, when packing for the festival I only thought about staying warm. I brought lots of baggy sweatshirts and jeans and sneakers.

Then it turned out not to be cold and I was envious of all the cute outfits I saw other people wearing.

Ruth and Heather at Bushfire
Here I am with my best buddy Ruth, rocking my Salty Dog hoodie. I could have done better. (Photo by Yoav Dagan)

Fun people at Bushfire
These ladies dressed to impress. (Ignore the men — they are photo bombers.)

Blue wig at BushfireBlue wig — love it.

Beautiful hat at BushfireThis hat is everything.

This is a funky festival so dress accordingly. (Bring warm clothes too because it can get chilly.)

8) Stay until Monday.

Ruth and I initially discussed the possibility of driving home on Sunday. I am so glad we didn’t because all the best music happened on Sunday afternoon/evening and the main acts didn’t finish until about 7:30 p.m.

Salif Keita at BushfireMalian star Salif Keita (right) performs on Sunday evening. I loved his music although I was disappointed he only played two songs.

Sipho Hotstix MabuseThe best act of the whole weekend was, of course, the last: Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse. I was having too much fun to take pictures during Hotstix’s set; Thanks to my new friend Yoav for snapping this one.

Bonus tip:

Bring your camping chairs into the tent at night. Mine got stolen, or misplaced, presumably by a drunk person who needed a place to sit and didn’t know any better.

This is basically all you need to know to survive Bushfire. I’m a wimp about camping and festivals so if I can do it, anyone can.

Thanks to my dear friend Ruth for sharing her tent and enduring my whining without complaint. And thanks to Petra, Sian, Marcus, Yoav, and all of our other campmates for including us in their lovely group.

Bring your fire!

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18 Comments

  • Reply tenneymason May 30, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Wow! This sounds fantastic. Showers??? Flushable toilets???

    • Reply 2summers May 30, 2018 at 7:14 pm

      Yes Dad. Even you could camp at this festival.

  • Reply violetonlineisonline May 30, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    time to go to Swaziland I think!

  • Reply autumnashbough May 30, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    As my husband says, “we’re hotel people.” But if you have to go camping, a place with clean toilets, showers, and music would be nice.

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2018 at 10:18 am

      Hahaha. I’m usually a hotel person too but Ruth is occasionally able to convince me otherwise.

  • Reply Nikki May 31, 2018 at 6:17 am

    Great write up. I have long been tempted by this festival. The only others I have ever been too are Afrikaburn – which is incredible obviously, and recently, Splashy fen. I too was dreading the toilet thing but Splashy had them pretty sorted and at AB the long drops with Karoo views are amazing. Now you are a seasoned festival goer you should try them! I did write about them too if you want some tips.

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2018 at 10:17 am

      Seems like all the festivals are getting better with their services, with the possible exception of Oppi 😂 I’ve always been tempted by Afrikaburn too. Will check out your site!

  • Reply Lani May 31, 2018 at 7:46 am

    I actually have had positive experiences with music festivals, but I understand why you wouldn’t. (see: drunken behavior and loud music!) And now that I think about it, I went to some great music festivals when I was MUCH younger. Hahahhaa.

    This one looks great though! It’s always wonderful to come together for music and to hear and see something new. xo

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2018 at 10:16 am

      Hahaha. I’ve never been very tolerant of this kind of thing, even when I was younger. But thus festival is worth the hassle.

  • Reply Tumi May 31, 2018 at 9:43 am

    You’ve really captured the ambiance of Bushfire. it is by far my favourite festival.

    One thing that stood out for me about Bushfire is that it is super kid friendly It has a dedicated family camping site and a zoned-off play area once you cross to the festival.

    I didn’t have kids when I went to Bushfire, so I can’t give you my experience in that regard. But it’s definitely something I’m willing to give a try now that I have my own little family.

    Thanks for the tip about the border post, Oshoek is pure madness. And of course staying till Monday 🙂

    • Reply 2summers May 31, 2018 at 10:14 am

      Yes! I also meant to mention the family-friendliness. The family camp is great – I wandered into it by accident once and wished I had kids so I could stay there.

  • Reply foxtrotindigo June 4, 2018 at 11:22 am

    One of the few festivals I haven’t been to yet and now you’ve tempted me. It’s going on my list. I’m
    going to try the Okavango Delta Music Festival this year. Excited.

    • Reply 2summers June 4, 2018 at 1:21 pm

      Ooh, I didn’t know there was a festival in the Delta – that sounds awesome.

  • Reply Randolf Jorberg June 14, 2018 at 2:05 am

    I went to Bushfire the last two years and had amazing times, loving the the music, that creates this inclusive vibe you rarely ever get at other events. Your tips all hit the nail on the head.

    Regarding Afrikaburn: don’t go, if showers (or diversity) matter to you, as they simply don’t exist.

    • Reply 2summers June 14, 2018 at 7:13 am

      I’m glad you like my tips! And thank you for giving me an excuse not to go to Afrikaburn 🙂

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