It takes a rather unusual person who — to support the launch of a friend’s new book — will undertake an epic 31-day walk from Inhambe in Mozambique to Schoemansdal near Louis Trichardt in the foothills of the Soutpansberg mountains.
And that’s what Louis Changuion did in 2002. He retraced the 900km journey of 19th century Pastor Montagne, a Roman Catholic priest, on foot, wearing a cassock. (And Montagne certainly did not do it all on foot. He would have been carried in a hammock by porters for much of the way.)
Schoemansdal was the main centre of the Boers in the north and they had contacted the Portuguese seeking a seaport they could use. Pastor Montagne in Inhambane, then Mozambique’s capital, volunteered to to visit Schoemansdal to see what the Boers needed. Apparently, he’d had an affair which resulted in a child, and he welcomed the chance for an extended absence from Inhambane.
It wasn’t long after that Schoemansdal was evacuated on instructions from Pretoria. The war between Boer and Venda was not going well and, since the safety of Boers in Schoemansdal was risky, Pietersburg (Polokwane) was established as the main town for the north.
But Changuion, then professor of history at the University of the North (now University of Limpopo) and a very fit and keen hiker, had prepared a schedule and stuck to it. He arrived in Schoemansdal in August 2002 on the day the book was launched.
Louis Changuion’s walk
Changuion moved to Haenertsburg in 1971 when he accepted a teaching post at the University of the North. He didn’t like Pietersburg and… well, who wouldn’t want to live in nearby Haenertsburg?
One of the attractions of Haenertsburg and Magoebaskloof was the opportunities for hiking and it was this that led to Changuion’s first book — on hikes — which, he says, is the first hiking book published in South Africa. One of the hiking trails around Haenertsburg has been named the Louis Changuion Trail and starts at the village hall.
And so he started celebrating the area that had become his new home. His literary output continued with works such as Silence of the Guns : the history of the Long Toms of the Anglo-Boer War; Uncle Sam, Oom Paul en John Bull : Amerika en die Anglo-Boereoorlog; and Pietersburg 1886 – 1986.
His imprint on Haenertsburg is the Long Tom Monument — the open-air museum in the village which commemorates all the wars which involved local inhabitants — the Makgoba War, the Anglo-Boer War, the World Wars and the Border Wars.
He also influenced the aesthetics and character of The Pennefather complex in the centre of the village — self-catering accommodation and a few shops — which celebrate Haenertsburg’s gold-prospecting past.
It’s largely because of Changuion that Haenertsburg is arguably the only town in the whole of Limpopo that really celebrates its heritage.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Driving into Phalaborwa at about 8am, the first thing that struck me was the haze in the air. And this was not a heat haze, it was dust from the mines. Phalaborwa is another one of Limpopo’s towns that today owes its existence to the copper and phosphate mines that surround the town.
The second thing that struck me while I explored the town before my first meeting was the sense of order that’s rare in Limpopo. It’s clean, architectural eyesores are few (not that there’s any great architecture) and even the informal trading in the town centre was obviously managed. Was this evidence of a mining company influencing a municipality?
Phalaborwa lays claim to being the tourism capital of Limpopo and its tourism info office, funded and staffed by the Palabora Foundation, is the most efficient — by far — that I’ve come across in Limpopo. Mark Glanvill and Rosa-Leigh Kruger are real assets to the town.
Phalaborwa’s Marula Festival in February each year is one of the highlights of Limpopo’s events calendar. Another attraction is the fact that one of Kruger National Park’s gates in only 800 metres from town. And with the opening of the Giriyondo border post, you can now drive through to Mozambique.
The region’s challenges are considerable. Ba-Phalaborwa municipality has a population of 156,000 and 18% are unemployed. Only 41% of the 15-65 age group are economically active.
In the Phalaborwa district (population 111,650), 33% are under the age of 15; 66% under the age of 34; 40% have no income and 20% earn less than R500 a month. Some 23.5% are HIV-positive.
My visit starts with Malesela Letsoalo, director of the Palabora Foundation (founded in 1986). Until 2001, Rio Tinto’s Palabora Mining Company (PMC) contributed 3% of its after tax profit to the Foundation. But then, someone at Rio Tinto was very clever and had the foresight to plan ahead. With lean years looming while the company moved from open pit to underground mining, the Foundation received a lump sum grant of R176 million so that it’s work could continue using the interest earned, supplemented by other donors (European Union, Oxfam, Foskor, Sasol Nitro and others).
Of course, given that PMC made a profit of R1.4 billion last year, it’s obvious to ask if they got off lightly. Not really. The Palabora Foundation would have gone unfunded for a few years if the 3% formula had been retained. It meant they could plan ahead and attract a broader donor/participant base. And that’s not the last donation PMC will make. Discussions on the mine’s ultimate closure have already started and that will also carry a significant lump sum payment to the community.
Now that’s all good and well, but what’s the money doing? So many foundations thrive on doing “good work” but the results are hardly lasting. The Palabora Foundation focuses on education, combatting the impact of HIV/Aids and entrepreneurship.
Opportunity to excel
Educational results can only be regarded as spectacular. The grade 12 pass rate is over 90% with over 75% gaining university exemption — far higher than the Limpopo average. The focus is on mathematics, science and technology. A special programme selects students with high-achieving potential, offering extra tuition which leads to bursaries, usually to study engineering.
Programmes start with early learning and extend to school learners, teachers and governing bodies for about 50 schools in the region.
I was singularly impressed by everything the Palabora Foundation is doing — courses in construction, computer-literacy, sewing, arts and crafts. And those attending are not just school-leavers or others needing to improve their skills. Mine employees close to retirement are also encouraged to attend so they have skills to occupy them productively when they leave the mines.
Mark Glanvill & Matee Seduma
Later that afternoon back at Bollanoto Tourism Centre, I met with tourism’s Mark Glanvill, Chris Kruger (Palabora Foundation and chair of the Trade & Tourism Council) and Matee Seduma (head of the municipality’s local economic development). If the Foundation has been the catalyst, Seduma is rising to the challenge, and that’s why this former schoolteacher left the profession. There’s a vibrant and informed dialogue about driving tourism but, Seduma notes, when he asked Limpopo Tourism for their business plan, he was told there isn’t one (except in someone’s head).
Rio Tinto has changed my attitude to mining companies. As a Capetonian, appreciating how God-given assets and nurtured agricultural environments have created one of the world’s great destinations and SA’s best city, mines are an anathema. They rape and despoil the land and the benefits they offer are temporary. Or are they? What Rio Tinto is doing suggests not. It has shifted the focus of the whole region. The Ba-Phalaborwa municipality has set its sights firmly on a tourism and wildlife focus, and the importance of entrepenurship.
Something else unique to a mining company has permeated the town. Mines are safety conscious and cleanliness is part of the safety ethic. Phalaborwa reflects this (unlike some other Limpopo towns where mines play a lesser role in their communities). Mines also practice strict financial controls – and that’s probably why the Palabora Foundation really does give more bang for the buck in a province renowned for corruption and lax financial management.
And there’s a lesson for the ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema — the private sector always gets more bang for the buck than the government ever can. And yes, there is sometimes an attractive face to capitalism.
I went for my first game drive in a golf cart… on Phalaborwa’s Hans Merensky Estate… and saw giraffe for the first time as well as hippopotamus, crocodile, warthogs and impala in a matter of about 10 minutes on a golf course. Surely that says it all… where else in the world can you do that?
I’ve been longing to see a real giraffe since I arrived in Limpopo — more than lions or anything else — and I wasn’t disappointed. I was taken around by Mark Glanvill and no sooner had we come across a group of buck right in front of one of the houses on this spectacular golf estate…
… than we came across the first group of giraffe. It really was a matter of just turning my head to the right!
Hans Merensky Estate is to Phalaborwa what the V&A Waterfront is to Cape Town, but in some respects it is even more impressive because of its uniqueness. It started as facility for Palabora Mining’s staff but was sold because was not a core function of the company. The buyer turned it into a golf estate with a hotel and ±80 houses. A new investor is currently upgrading the whole facility. Their slogan is the apt “Golf in the Wild”.
So if you’re easily distracted while putting, this is not for you.
There was game everywhere. It was a spectacular drive around a golf course.
The Estate borders the Kruger Pational Park and there is a gate which is opened at night. Tracks in the morning show that lions do come through.
The only sour taste was being chased off the Estate by an officious manager who demanded the film from my Sony digital camera after trying to drag me into his argument with Mark! He claimed to have worked at Ferryman’s Tavern at the V&A Waterfront, but obviously learnt nothing about the importance of tourism.
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).
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.
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 Lord 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.
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.
Magoebaskloof has a mystical charm about it and it has attracted free-spirited and eccentric people for 100 years who value the nature of their surroundings.
One of these is Colleen Ballenden, whose family has lived on their property in idyllic surroundings for a century. When Robin McIntosh of Intersect Architects and Bramasole Guest House discovered my interest in architecture, he told me I must visit her because she is, for him, the most interesting person in the area.
She practices Foot Relaxation Therapy and Foot Reading from a house that just speaks “peace and relaxation” — the perfect place for this.
She and her ex-husband started building the house in 1974, starting with two rooms which grew when electricity arrived and as they pursued new interests. It’s built around a gem of a courtyard, which she says was influenced by a year she spent in Greece.
The main living area looks out, through a mishmash of windows, onto stunning views. The wood-burning stove is still used every day and also heats water.
Everyone asks how that clay roof has managed to stay there. This is the "reading room". If someone waits for Colleen while she is busy with someone, they wait here - drawing, reading or generally just chilling out.
The bed in the therapy room is unusual — it has a view.
The ground outside slopes at window cill height, perfect to gaze out upon while lying back.
Don’t be suprised to see small inquisitive buck grazing outside.
It's the artifacts, views and details that make the house so appealling.
The Growth Centre is a short walk away. It started life as Footprints Pre-primary School in 1977 — Colleen trained as a teacher but couldn’t get a job at the local school, so she started her own. Today it’s a place for a different kind of learning — a place where children and adults come closer to nature. It’s a reading room, with plenty of outdoor places to sit quietly.
A place for personal growth
There are guided walks in the indigenous forests — fairy walks for children while adults gain an appreciation of nature. It’s a magical place!
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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!
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.
If you’re coming from Johannesburg, the road to Tzaneen takes you past the outskirts of Polokwane, Limpopo’s capital, and then east. Surprisingly, it’s a proper dual carriageway with a wide median down the middle — not something I’ve seen very often around here – probably because I avoid toll roads because I they show how government shifts its responsibility of providing arterial infrastructure onto taxpayers and tourists!
(You can also fly to Polokwane International Airport on scheduled flights, but I’m not sure where the “International” bit comes from. First Car Rental has a branch there so rent a car from them. They offer great cars, great value, great service and they’re really very friendly.)
Polokwane to Tzaneen takes about an hour and, if one continues another hour along Route 71, you come to Phalaborwa and the Kruger National Park. (Yes, most of the Park actually lies in Limpopo.)
Leaving Polokwane, you come across “village” after “village”, all within the greater Polokwane metropolitan area. It’s scary… Polokwane’s urban sprawl goes on for kilometre after kilometre. If Polokwane municipality aims to provide uniform service delivery and services throughout its area, it will bankrupt itself or its citizens with this kind of land usage.
It’s an interesting drive though and could be a fascinating tourist route. On the way back, I want to photograph some of the eye-catching shops along the road. Maybe I’ll meet some interesting people too.
The road takes you past Zion City at Moria which makes the news every year — over five million people travel there at Easter, in early September and over Christmas for religious celebrations.
The Zion City Church was formed by Engenas Lekganyane after a revelation he is said to have received from God in 1910. Followers believe that the church’s leader (today it’s Lekganyane’s grandsons) stand between the congregation and God; and that, like Christ, can perform miracles. Hmmm… yes.
The dual carriageway ends at Moria. Could it have been built just for those three annual events? Limpopo Tourism say the province’s tourism benefits greatly but I’m not so sure. Pilgrims arrive by any means of transport available and the visit is singularly focused. Apart from fuel and food, and the requirements for staging massive events, few tourism rands get spread around. If anything, all other tourists are discouraged from visiting the province at those times. Limpopo Traffic advised CapeInfo not to travel at these times.
But that’s also where the road starts taking you into the mountains. The scenery changes so dramatically you could be in a different world.
Moving from Polokwane to Mopani municipal districts also had another very noticeable contrast – spotless roads with tidy road verges and strategically placed roadside picnic spots in shade. For the first time in Limpopo, I had the feeling that this municipality really cares. (I was so impressed that I was compelled to pop into the municipal manager and mayor’s offices in Tzaneen to tell them. Well done guys!)
The vegetation is typical bushveld as you climb the winding pass and then — all of a sudden — you’re in forests with vistas of dramatic mountain after dramatic mountain. This is where the Drakensberg escarpment ends!
Descending the first pass you come to the small village of Haenertsburg … in the Land of the Silver Mist””. I’d never heard of it before but watch it become a “must-visit” route destination. Old-timers may resent a new-found tourism status, but they should watch their property values climb!
I drove past it the first time thinking, “pretty, but not worth a detour.” My host in Tzaneen, Adri Kruger of Tzaneen Country Lodge, told me I must visit Martin & Jen at the Iron Crown Pub & Grill. She was right — this is one of those places that defines a town. What friendly owners, what a buzz and I will be back… and so will many others I guess. It also made me venture further into the village.
The road dips into another valley and overlooks the spectacular Ebenezer dam, shimmering blue surrounded by green forests. Then another ascent brings one to Magoebaskloof, named after King Makgoba, leader of the Tlou people who defied the Boer government from 1888–1895. He was eventually killed by Swazi impis employed by the Boers when they failed to take his mountaintop domain.
Approaching Tzaneen, one enters one of the most intensely farmed areas in SA’s northern provinces. Some facts about the greater Tzaneen area are telling:
It’s known as the fruit basket of South Africa, growing mango, avocado, tomato, banana, tea and the whole basket of citrus.
The area has been rated one of the wealthiest in South Africa.
It’s won South Africa’s Cleanest Town of the Year award.
Tzaneen, on the banks of the huge Tzaneen dam, must be the greenest town I’ve ever seen. Only the commercial centre seems to stand above the canopy of trees that covers the town. It’s the second largest town in Limpopo (population 80,000), and serves the greater Tzaneen area which has a population of about 700,000 people. This shows in the CBD which has excellent shopping.
Notes on photographs
I will replace and add to the pics on these pages when I get better ones. If anyone can help with stunning photographs of the area, they are really appreciated and will be credited when used. Getting great pics means being at the right place at the right time which is rather difficult when you’re just passing through. Good lighting is everything in the harsh sunshine.
I did go into the Tzaneen info office to see if they have a photo CD and ask for further information on the area. All I got was generic info on Limpopo! Not helpful at all, nor any warm welcome.
A polarising filter is essential for photography in Limpopo. I haven’t managed to find a 62mm one yet for the Sony A200 DSLR which takes magnificent photographs.
I finally realised why Cape Town is a global centre for film and advertising film shoots — it has unique lighting (and named one of the top five blue sky cities of the world). An architect friend had just completed a building in Cape Town with a dusky pink Marmoran finish. It really looked good so they decided to use it again for a building they were doing in Johannesburg. They put a test panel up on the Joburg building but… what was dusky pink in Cape Town appeared a dirty grey in Johannesburg!