Category Archives: Accommodation

Land of the Silver Mist

Back to Route 71 that links Limpopo’s capital, Polokwane, to Phalaborwa, right on the border of the Kruger National Park — a distance of ±300km.  I explored Magoesbaskloof briefly when I stayed at Bramasole Guest House and met with a remarkable lady.

This time I would explore further, using Haenertsburg as a base.  On our first drive along the R71, I was told to stop in at the Iron Crown Pub & Grill, so I already knew that this tiny village of fewer than 200 houses has something going for it.

Magoesbakloof is known as the Land of the Silver Mist.  This photograph gives some indication of why… mountains, ravines & valleys, forests, lakes and mists.

Stanford Lake in Magoesbaskloof

I was being hosted by Linda Miller who was looking after The Pennefather, which I had noticed during my drive up the main street on my first visit to the village.  It’s a complex of two trading posts and six self-catering cottages that celebrate Haenertsburg’s historical mining era.

The cottages draw their names on Haenertsburg’s history — Karl Mauch, Ferdinand Haenert, Doel Zeederberg, Rider Haggard, Long Tom and Prester John — and the trading posts from the long-gone mining companies.  The building style is as it was then — Victorian using corrugated iron for walls and roofing — but certainly far better appointed than any miner’s abode!

The cottages do look tiny from the outside (I was really puzzled by them on my first fleeting visit) but they are remarkably spacious and comfortable.  Linda also manages Magoebaskloof Tourism and is very knowledgeable about the area.

Spacious, comfortable and quaint self-catering cottages at The Pennefather

It may be a village, but Haenertsburg and Magoesbaskloof  surrounding it is one of Limpopo’s gems.  I’d rate it as one of South Africa’s finest destinations and as strong a destination as any I know in the Western Cape — its strength stems from a collective effort rather than single lodges, etc,  that are the norm in Limpopo.

You can easily spend a week here and find you haven’t done all you set out to do.  The area clearly caters for tourists, and many of the locals are tourists who decided to make it their home.  It’s these successful city businesspeople who have turned sleepy hollows into vibrant communities in so many small towns throughout South Africa.

Convivial host and SA's first streaker

Magoesbaskloof has no shortage of eating places.  I mentioned the Iron Crown Pub & Grill in the village in an earlier post.  It is a destination in its own right.  But the Pot & Plow out of town surprised me too.  A bustling pub & pizzeria that was full of young people the night I was there. I returned the following day to find it also has a popular outdoor area.

That’s when I met Gary Barnes — Pot & Plow’s convivial publican — and Gavin Stanford, who’s claim to fame is that he was South Africa’s first streaker during a boring cricket match at The Wanderers in the 1970s.

I was also invited to join Stuart & Linda Miller for supper at the Red Plate in Haenertsburg.  Just after we all ordered, there was a power failure!  Not unusual I was told.  And Red Plate came up with an alternative menu they could deliver on… and it was very good.

When you explore the area, don’t just follow the R71 because the R528 (which is an alternative route to Tzaneen) is just as scenic and you’ll need to take that to see the Ebenezer Dam and Woodbush Forest Reserve or to go on a canopy tour.

Roads to Cheerio Gardens and Wegraakbosch Organic Cheese Farm lead off the R71.

Two sights in the village shouldn’t be missed. There’s the Long Tom Monument — an the open-air museum in the village. The museum commemorates all the wars which involved local inhabitants and includes the Makgoba War, the Anglo Boer War, and the Border Wars.

The other is the ultimate resting place — the Haenertsburg Cemetery!

Resting place with a view: Haenertsburg cemetery

There is more on Haenertsburg & Magoebaskloof in our destination pages.

A haven in Pietermaritzburg

We decided to stay in Pietermaritzburg for Indaba rather than stay in the bustle of Durban.  A wolf likes quiet.  We didn’t regret it for a moment.

We stayed at The Jays in the leafy suburb of Clarendon — an establishment favoured by business travellers — that offers bed & breakfast or self-catering.

John & Jane Kassner were perfect hosts, knowledgeable about the area with advice on where to go.  The room was very comfortable and the last time I slept in a bed this comfortable was at the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town!

Akela loved the walks (and smells) of the very pretty streets in Clarendon.  Streets are immaculate and sidewalks manicured.  The one morning we encountered a whole group of monkeys who gathered in the tree above us, chattering away.  Did they realise Akela is a wolf?  I don’t know but Cape Town’s baboons certainly do and treat her very differently to dogs.

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A very comfortable bedroom with one of the most comfortable beds I've slept in for a long time.

The City Hall, constructed in 1893, destroyed by fire in 1895, rebuilt in 1901. This magnificent example of Victorian architecture is the largest red-brick building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Pietermaritzburg is a fascinating city, especially for anyone with an interest in architecture. Founded in 1838, it’s the capital of KwaZulu-Natal and is a major producer of aluminium as well as timber and dairy products. Sadly, while the suburbs are still delightful places, the CBD needs to take lessons from the Cape Town Partnership on city management and rejuvenation.

Pietermaritzburg’s tourist office needs a kick in the bum and seems to be a total waste of rate- and taxpayers’ money, if funded by local government.  We emailed asking for information but have yet to receive any reply.

Superlatives in a superlative setting

I went to sleep to a chorus of frogs worthy of an orchestra.  The lake at Bramasole Guest House in Magoebaskloof lay across the lawn from my bedroom, while the other side looked into an ancient indigenous forest.  The trees are like none I have ever seen with names like Forest Cabbage Tree (Cussonia sphaerocephala) and Jackal-coffee (Tricalysia lanceolata).

Bramasole lies alongside a dam and nestled against an ancient indigineous forest. Kenya prefers watching the camera.

I had anticipated something special after visiting their website and discovering that the owner is an architect – Robin McIntosh of Intersect Architects.  I worked with architects and planners for 25 years on projects like Mitchells Plain, St George’s Mall and the V&A Waterfront, and started Architecture SA in 1978 (becoming the journal of the Institute of SA Architects the following year).  Architects and planners can be the most enjoyable people to work and socialise with.

I wasn’t disappointed!  He bought a truly spectacular property before prices started rising which just had a massive shed — a really massive shed.  It had been used variously for breeding rabbits, as stables, growing magic mushrooms, and storing trucks.

The old shed and its new lease of life as Bramasole

The interiors by Melanie McIntosh and sister Kathy Moulder are stunning.

Robin says that using the old shed meant it could never be a pretty building, but that’s only half true… from the moment you arrive you are aware of QUALITY and attention to detail.  But it is a surprising building to find in rural Magoebaskloof.

But stepping inside is breathtaking.  The spaces, materials used and quality of the furnishings are superb.  This is four star, but it’s four star that’s also exceptionally well designed.

A few things set Bramasole apart.  It is self-catering and it has the best self-catering facilities I’ve come across in a comparable establishment.  It also offers bed and breakfast.

Then, Bramasole’s setting showcases the splendour of indigenous Africa.  The bedrooms look straight into a dense forest that almost seems a set for samango_monkeyLord of the Rings.  We saw a really cute, young Samango monkey (rare, CITES Appendix II) but a rooibok had been on one of the paths we took not long before we were there. Birdlife is prolific and a birder’s dream.  But it was the variety of trees that fascinated me most.

Walking in the forest is escaping into another world

The suites and bedrooms are luxurious and stylish. If you appreciate good taste, this is the place for you. Each of the five rooms has a different theme, so pick your fantasy.  And best of all, Bramasole offers real value for money - from about R450 a person.

Magoebaskloof itself is a very special place.  Haenerstburg, a charming village, is just a few minutes away. The area offers an abundance of activities and interesting people.

The scenery is spectacular - the view across Bramasole's neighbours.

More than accommodation – hospitality at its best

Limpopo's warmest welcome - "Good morning, did you sleep well?" boomed out at me as I passed a hive of activity as breakfast settings were being laid out.  I just had to photograph the beaming smile and find out that it belonged to Judith.

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TZANEEN COUNTRY LODGE is an oasis run with impeccable warmth and precision.

You can either use it as a base to explore Mopani’s varied attractions — it’s only 45 minutes from the Kruger National Park and the second biggest Baobab tree in SA, 30 minutes to Magoebaskloof, not to mention nearby elephant rides, etc, etc — or just relax and be pampered at the Lodge.

Exquisite dining, a very friendly pub, great bass fishing & bird watching, a range of hiking trails, horse riding, quadbikes, cycling, canoeing, the spa or just relaxing next to the pool should keep boredom at bay.  There’s the Mangela tea garden, local produce & curio store next door, with an Animal Farm and spectacular party place for kids.

Tzaneen Country Lodge

So why is it that 65% of all their business is corporate?  It’s a pattern I seem to be coming across frequently in Limpopo — if you don’t offer game viewing, you’re peripheral to the tourism mainstream.

Something Elaine Hurford said at the start of these travels stuck in my mind and will become something of a benchmark.  “Capetonians will happily travel 5–6 hours to Knysna and Plettenberg bay for weekends, so why won’t they travel 3½ hours to Prince Albert?” she asked.

Tzaneen Country Lodge is 4½ hours drive from Johannesburg, less from Pretoria.  It’s winter climate is superb, already attracting “swallows” (the human variety) from Cape Town and even Klerksdorp who spend their winters there.  So why not more weekenders from Gauteng?  It seems that provincial tourism marketing initiatives need to attend to this.

dsc05825_trailsI get up early to take photographs before the light gets too harsh.  And these walks reinforced the experience of unbelievable warmth.  Judith is mentioned above, but just before I saw her I walked past a worker’s cottage.  As I approached, a worker came out.  “Good morning, how are you?”  (Not the usual “Good morning, how are you, I’m fine thank you” that comes out with meaningless clockwork that I experience elsewhere.)   But then he went on to tell me that if I take a path to the left, I will cross a wooden footbridge that leads to an interesting walk.  Now that is what makes for great tourism experiences!

The early mornings were also filled by a sense of activity — sweeping, raking, cleaning, preparing — all to make Tzaneen Country Lodge look better than best.  An old TV ad for Australia Tourism stuck in my head as I saw all the activity and thought, “so where the hell are you?”

I’m sure many will be aghast that I show a foreign tourism ad while writing about SA destinations, especially one that was so controversial (banned in the UK).  Does the fact that it was successful count, that it became a viral ad hyperlinked by millions, including Travels with Akela now?  But the fact is, right here we have a world-class attraction many more South Africans could be visiting.

Tzaneen Country Lodge has about 50 suites and the rack rate starts at about R385 per night.

Faan Kruger - a passion for green tourism

GREEN TOURISM

I spent the best part of Saturday with an amazing man.

He arrived on his mountain bike and apologised for being late. “It’s like having your own municipality here,” he says.  And he’s not far wrong.  His mini-empire includes the farm where it all started, the Lodge, the Convention Centre, a service station, a Friendly Grocer and bakery, a liquor store, the Mangela Tea Garden with local produce and curios, animal farm…

Faan Kruger became a mango farmer in 1990.  He had pioneered black housing with his company, SA Home Construction Co, in the 1980’s when legislation changed to allow black home ownership and banks were able to grant bonds. He entered the tourism industry “by mistake” — he bought adjacent properties with existing buildings in a pre-emptive move to avoid undesirable development.

So what to do with it? As so often happens, a guest house seemed a good idea. But Faan was better placed than most to do it — he is a stickler for detail, he describes himself as “a plodder, (wife) Adri is the dreamer.” Throughout the day, he was either on his cellphone or jotting down notes when something caught his attention.

Faan's grandchildren with Akela

He says he is a recluse and anti-social, but that’s not true. He is enthusiastic, passionate, a very warm host and fascinating in discussion. He does, however, live for his projects. But, approaching 64, he says he’s winding down to spend more time with his grandchildren who obviously mean the world to him.

Two things influenced him greatly — his mother, who was “green” before the phrase became commonplace, and working in Europe as a labourer after school.  In Switzerland, he only got to bath once a week at the railway station, and used dirty clothes as extra padding in his sleeping back to keep warm.  “That experience made me appreciate the lot of labourers, and I always make sure that they are properly looked after,” he says.

He returned to SA at the age of 24 to study development economics at Wits.  “I started off wanting to change the world, then the country, and now I’m happy with my immediate family and maybe 5km around me,” he says.  He treats staff exceptionally well and they have all grown immensely as a result.  Guest interactions with staff demonstrate that.

His construction company was headed by the late David Skosana, long before the days of Black Economic Empowerment, who had started as a bricklayer.  “Everyone here has come up through the trenches, everyone started with a pick or shovel — even people who are today the site electrician or plumber” he notes.  Faan cannot praise David enough: “he was the man I model myself on; I would have nominated him to run the country any day.  He had absolute authority without ever raising his voice.  He had an aura about him.

“This hotel is his legacy.”  In quiet times, the construction company was used to build the hotel.

If Faan learnt about energy conservation and minimum tilling of the soil from his mother, he has taken it to new levels.  “Wil jy die Here help?  Het die son hulp nodig?” he asks a labourer as we inspect the refurbished staff quarters. (Do you want to help the Lord?  Does the sun need help?)  An external light bulb had been left on.

Tzaneen Country Lodge was one of the first establishments to use solar water heating.  Evaporative coolers are used wherever possible.  There are no septic tanks — water is recycled to SABS standards for return to rivers.  Sixty percent of the agricultural land has been returned to indigenous forest, where over 3,000 indigenous species of flora and fauna have been re-established.

But his biggest joy comes from the fact that virtually all buildings were recycled — not that you could tell.  It’s only when he shows the before and after pictures of sheds, kilns and out-buildings that now form part of a four-star hotel or what must be a five-star conference venue, that one is truly amazed.

He claims that it’s the greenest hotel in Limpopo, if not South Africa.

He was scoffed at when he started, but he and Adri have made what some thought a crazy vision, a world-class attraction.

“Around us is fine scenery of vast contrast, highland and lowland, forest and savannah, cool and moist, hot and dry, all within a radius of 50 kilometres.  The elevation ranges from 500–2000 metres.  We are on the doorstep of major fruit farms and the biggest concentration of game ranches in southern Africa.

“Jurassic Park is on our doorstep. The Modjadji Cycad Reserve is the largest concentration of a single cycad species in the world. We have the second largest baobab in our country, the largest remnant of indigenous forest in our country, mountain grasslands and spectacular views.”

Inviting, isn’t it?

And Adri tells me that if you have a 4×4, the sea is only three hours away.  Now that’s worth investigating too!

Across the road, the latest addition - the huge and very upmarket Tzaneen Convention Centre. It has one of the best amphitheatre's I've ever come across, on the banks of a dam. Adri plans a Tarentaalfees here, which is sure to be a winner.

Mr Tzaneen Country Lodge

Schultz Mnisi - born to the hospitality industry - chef, head waiter, butler & guide supreme

SCHULTZ IS A STAR among the many stars at Tzaneen Country Lodge.  He is, says Adri Kruger, “Mr Tzaneen Country Lodge” and he looks after everything when she and Faan go away.

Many returning guests ask if he is available when they make a new booking and ask if he can look after them.  In the day and a half that I got to know him, I realised that he is an example to anyone who has any interest in working in the hospitality and tourism industries.

He enjoys interacting with people as much as he enjoys serving them and attending to their needs… and the experience they gain from staying at his establishment.  It is Schultz who maks sure that the experience is memorable.

He came to my room one evening to say that he hadn’t managed to get some Mopani worms that he so badly wanted me to taste.  (Phew, thank goodness!)  But that he would try for next time I come. (Maybe I should try them.)  Guests who do try them are given a certificate… is that a shield of honour?

He explains that you eat them with pap and sheba (mielie meal porridge and a tomato & onion relish), and only need a tiny bite of Mopani worm between each mouthful of pap.  “What does it taste like?” I ask.  “Prawns,” he says, “I should have taken you into Tzaneen where you can buy a teacup size of worms for R15.”

He explains the process they take to market… they are shaken or plucked off Mopani trees, then boiled for a long time, then dried for a few days.  A factory has been built in his home town of Giyani about 100km north of Tzaneen where locals can bring in the worms they collect from the trees.

I had read that Mopani worms have three times the protein of beef, but I’m sure they would be more palatable given another name!

Schultz enjoys exposing visitors to his culture — be it those worms, local life or tribal dances.  I’d go back just for the insight he can offer.  He belongs to the Pedi tribe and started explaining the tribal differences in Limpopo; something I would love to understand.

He was born and educated in Giyani, but finished matric in Johannesburg where his parents moved.  He went to the Hotel School in Ga-Rankuwa, Limpopo, where he studied to be a barman and a chef.

His practical years were spent at the Rand International Hotel but he stayed on there for 14 years.  When his manager left for Harlequin Rugby Club, he was asked to join him, and he worked there as chef and head waiter for seven years.

Then Guy Matthews brought him home to work at The Coachhouse for two years before transferring him to the Magoebaskloof Hotel, where he stayed another ten years.

Then the Krugers offered him his current job in 2001 and he has certainly made it his own.  He bemoans the fact that so many young newcomers to the hospitality industry leave as soon as they are trained.  He enjoys cooking and checking the food in the kitchen, but enjoys speaking with guests in the dining room the most.  He is the ultimate host.

Letting your brain breathe

Michael Lutzeyer, from award-winning Grootbos private nature reserve near Gansbaai and member of SA Tourism’s board, boasts how Grootbos lets your brain to breath with its views that extend to the horizon, taking in the lighthouses at Danger Point, Hangklip and Cape Point.

Well, brain-breathing views are commonplace in the Waterberg and driving there is a spectacular part of the experience.

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The Waterberg is about three hours’ drive from Johannesburg and its only town is Vaalwater at the southern end.

Rupert Baber, chair of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, describes it best:

The Waterberg - mainly good roads, spectacular scenery and passes.

“Vast, remote and serene, the Waterberg Mountain Range stretches as a series of seemingly impenetrable barriers across the horizon…  It is an immense storehouse of cultural, archeological and biological diversity and a key catchment area of the Limpopo river basin. The habitat is referred to as Waterberg Moist Mountain Savannah and consists of sour bushveld on sandy, leached soils; steep slopes, cliffs and bare rock faces; and riverbeds and wetland areas.

“The currently known plant species total 2015, and the Waterberg is home to a great array of bird species, including the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world.  When my ancestors first arrived in the Waterberg in the 1890s, most of the mammals had been shot to oblivion.  By contrast the Waterberg of today teems with game.  It is home to several rare. endangered or threatened carnivore species, including wild dog, brown hyena, aardwolf, honey badger, leopard, African wild cat, serval, striped weasel and African civet.  Other rare mammals  include roan, sable, black and white rhinoceros, hippo, pangolin and more.

“The Waterberg is one of the best parts of South Africa for star gazing due to its phenomenally low level of light pollution.  It is indeed unsual to find an area so close to an economic hub which still retains the impression of open spaces, unscarred by human settlement.”

Windsong, Butterfly and Bushwillow cottages on the Baber homestead. Kudu Lodge is a large converted farm house 8 km away from the other cottages. Kudu offers seclusion and space for a larger group.

The late afternoon I drove to Windsong Cottages was the first time I felt that I was really in Africa, although I’ve lived in the Western Cape all my life.  The vegetation is so different to anything I’ve experienced before.  But then, the moment you arrive at Windsong Cottages, you feel completely at home.

It’s comfortable, unpretentious and relaxed — exactly what one expects of great farm accommodation.  And, from R180 per person, it’s also affordable.

Windsong's Children's

It’s a great place for kids, between the popular trampoline and the best playground I’ve ever seen – the huge Children’s Adventure Village.  Children are really welcomed and catered for here.

We met locals from Gauteng as well as Irish guests staying there.  Everyone just loved the place and it is a regular destination for the Gauteng group — a family getaway with great fishing.  There is a 15m heated pool, hiking trails, quad biking, horse riding, canoing and Phillip Calcott’s famous star tours. Using an advanced modern telescope and astronomical video camera his guided tour will introduce you to the amazing Waterberg night sky – from the comfort of your chair, and in colour.  You can either chill out or go and explore, and they do offer game-viewing too.

Dr Philllip calcott's star tours take where you've never gone before. That's Saturn and its stunning rings; the Eta Carina Nebula; and NGC 5128, a nearby galaxy - just 150,000,000,000,000,000 km away.

Right next door, if you can find it since they don’t seem to believe in clear signposting, is one of SA’s gems.

True bliss - Triple B Ranch, home of Horizon Horseback Safaris

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Horizon Horseback Adventures & Safaris is  remarkable.  Shane and Laura run a really slick operation — great accommodation, great food, the most varied rides imaginable, warm friendliness that brings people back over and over again. and of course the 70 horses for the eight–ten people they prefer to accommodate at any one time.

At £160/day, it’s not cheap by SA standards but that includes all meals and two rides a day. Guest Lisa put that in perspective for foreign visitors — she and her husband had gone riding in the UK for two hours in the Lake District and that cost them £120.

Most of their guests are from the UK, followed by European countries and the USA.  And over 30% return!

Guests dine together — breakfasts on the stoep of the main building, lunches at a long table under the towering trees on the lawn alongside the dam, and dinners inside.  A spirit of cameraderie develops and new friends are made.

Surely the most varied rides you'll find anywhere.  Apart from plentiful game, there is cattle rustling, lacrosse......

Imagine catching a plane at Heathrow in London at 6pm, arriving in the Bushveld at lunchtime the next day, and before 24 hours have passed you’ve already been for your first ride and encountered giraffe 20 metres away.  Two young women arrived while I was there and experienced exactly that.  Two weeks prior, they were still thinking of a skiing holiday when they saw how highly-rated Horizon is for an adventure holiday.

But, if I had to choose someone to be my host for a few days of rivetting conversation, it would be Andrew and Rachel Poole at Moonriver Bush Bungalows.

Moonriver Bush Bungalows

Sometimes one meets someone and immediately knows that this is someone you would really like to get to know better.  Andrew and Rachel are two such people.  Both have an intangible zest for life and there is little that Andrew has not done.

So it’s not only views and long vistas that allow city brains to breathe, but stimulating people too.