Tag Archives: Route 71

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.

Of feet, fairies and a fantastic house

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.

Colleen Ballenden

Colleen Ballenden

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.

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.

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.

Therapy room

Therapy room

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.

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

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!

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.

Route 71 to Tzaneen – a different world

[mappress]

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.)

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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.

Iron Crown Pub & Grill in Haenertsburg - an essential stop on Route 71

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.

Magoebaskloof

Tzaneen produce

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!