Copyright 2018 Traveling Circus
SO MUCH TO EXPERIENCE IN THE HEART OF LIMPOPO
The Capricorn-Letaba region has a million reasons to fall in love with Limpopo, there is something for everyone, from young couples or solo-travellers to families looking for multi-generational fun. Stretching from the gateway to the area – Polokwane in the west, to the great Letaba River, beyond the Letsitele valley in the east, the area makes for a spectacular road trip from the scenic escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg mountain ranges where the altitude reaches 2300 metres above sea level and then drops dramatically into the Lowveld.
The Magoebaskloof Pass is a dramatic way to descend into the valley, and the tale goes that Chief Mampokhu Makgoba, leader of the BaTlou tribe, was surrounded. Over a thousand Swazi impis and 800 burghers sent by Abel Erasmus had eventually tracked him high into his mountaintop domain above Tzaneen in the north of the country. He and his 500 fighting men were discovered hiding in the dense kloof and, vastly outnumbered, Makgoba was killed. His head was chopped off and brought back as proof that he had finally been defeated.
Today, Makgoba’s kingdom is better known for the spectacular scenery to be glimpsed through towering pines clinging to the sheer mountainside as you take the roller-coaster ride down the hairpin bends of the Magoebaskloof Pass into the lowveld. The precipitous pass winding through the kloof regularly detours trucks with heavy loads into the undergrowth as it did in the 1890’s when the Zeederburg Coaches travelled the frightening descent from Haenertsburg to Leydsdorp with a team of mules, horses and even zebras.
Early residents of the Magoebaskloof area were pioneering folk who were lured north by fortunes to be made in forestry, agriculture and, briefly, gold. The descendants of these intrepid families are still living ‘on the mountain’, and everybody knows a Stanford, Eastwood, Turner or a Thompson. These Mistbelt forests of Woodbush and Magoebaskloof which enticed the woodcutters to the area, also offer some of the best forest birding in the country and this is also the home of some of the country’s ‘Champion Trees’ – the biggest of their kind. What a privilege to spend time with these forest giants.
The Woodbush Forest is the second-largest indigenous forest after Tsitsikama, and the 14-kilometre drive takes you down to the Debengeni Waterfalls – a scenic picnic spot where the Grey Wagtail can be spotted. Get in touch with South Africa’s top local Bird Guide, David Letsoalo or Paul Nkhumane to help you tick some forest bird specials. The eastern lower slopes and valleys of Magoebaskloof provide reliable sites for the elusive Bat Hawk and Green Twinspot. This area is also renowned for its trout-fishing waters and exciting mountain-bike trails for all levels as well as The Tour de Limpopo and the Magoeba races.
The famed Cheerio Gardens is where Sheilah (Box) Thompson planted acres of azaleas and ornamental cherry trees. The attention she lavished on her garden has resulted in a living tapestry of colour in spring when the azalea and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The pathways meander through banks of flowers in a million shades of pink and the garden, as well as Sequoia Garden next door attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Don’t miss the exhilarating Canopy Tours over waterfalls and gorges and a whole lot of other adventure sports to enjoy. A must-do is a visit to Zwakala Craft Brewery where awesome people, award-winning beers, gourmet burgers and home-made ice cream make for a winning combination at this, the northern-most brewery in the country. If you are lucky, you will be there for the Neighbourhood market, which happens four times a year and brings together the best foodie treats of the area, live music and atmosphere in abundance. Spend a lazy day under the trees and enjoy! The Wegraakbosch Cheese Farm is a wonderful treat of downy geese, inquisitive goats and contented cows roaming around the lush farm where Nipper, Sylvie and their team make organic cheeses in a copper cauldron over a blazing fire.
Magoebaskloof hosts the annual Cherry Blossom Spring Festival as a celebration of the best Magoebaskloof has to offer. You will need a giant basket to carry all your tempting treats starting with Persian preserves from Kuhestan Farm; Magriet’s famous rusks or chunky kiwi jam which is pure addiction in a bottle; more-ish cheeses from the Wegraakbosch organic farm and blueberries you can pick yourself at Blueberry Heights and have delicious food in the lovely Mountain Café. The annual Berry Festival where you can pick handfuls of deliciousness, and the Food and Wine Festival with blueberry gin, craft beer, the best wine and food are not to be missed. Head to the heart of Haenertsburg for fabulous food at The Eatery, or excellent pub grub and locals with tales of derring-do at the Iron Crown Pub while at Colleen Pirie’s Red Plate or Once Upon a Thyme restaurant, you can watch village life pass you by on Haenertsburg’s main street. Of course, it is obligatory to have tea and scones on the patio of the Magoebaskloof Hotel, gazing out over Makgoba’s head to the lush green valley below.
Wind your way down to the lowveld, just a few degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn, mainly along the R71 road, which links Polokwane, Haenertsburg, Tzaneen and Gravelotte. This area is a great place to stop at a Farmstall and buy sub-tropical fruit before you head off to the legendary Modjadji Cycad Forest, home of the mystical Rain Queen. In 1886, Henry Rider Haggard was inspired to write the classic novel, She, which follows Horace Holly’s adventures into a lost kingdom in the African interior where a mysterious white Queen, Ayesha, reigned with absolute authority and was known as ‘She who must be obeyed’. Her ‘royal garden’ is made up of 1000-year-old cycads – the oldest and most significant concentration of a single species of cycads in the world, some growing up to 13 metres high with cones weighing up to 34 kilograms. These living fossils were flourishing over 200 million years ago and may even have been munched by dinosaurs. Intrigued? Discover more of Limpopo… fall in love!