Mushy Mossy Magic In Magoebaskloof
Magical, mysterious and misty Magoebaskloof in the Limpopo Province between Tzaneen and Polokwane is a lush green mountainous area carpeted by an indigenous evergreen subtropical forest and vast plantations. Mist, rain and humidity are how I would describe the climate. Definitely seductive.
The enchanted forest where fungi, ferns and ancient trees bedecked in mosses thrive must be home to fairies, goblins and gremlins. Crystal-clear streams flow and cascade into rock pools and waterfalls downstream.
While Butch navigated tight corners, S bends and steep inclines, I had an opportunity to marvel at the tallest Saligna Gums or the Magoebaskloof Giants. They are the tallest, straightest trees in Africa, I’m sure.
Although native to Australia, Eucalyptus saligna, commonly known as the Sydney blue gum or blue gum, is a medium-sized to tall tree endemic to eastern Australia. It has rough, flaky bark near the base of the trunk, smooth bark above, lance-shaped to curved adult leaves, flower buds in groups of seven, nine or eleven, white flowers and cylindrical to conical or cup-shaped fruit.
This lush forest is a haven for nature lovers, especially those who love long hikes, birding and adventurous mountain biking—Have you ever thought of tying the knot under a canopy of trees or renewing those vows while a gentle breeze sways swathes of gossamer leaves in a gentle dance? Yes? Then this is the place to do so. Romantic with an old-world charm Magoebaskloof will captivate you.
Negotiating slippery dirt roads is what Butch is good at; his concentration is remarkable, and never do his eyes wander to admire the views, a good thing when one is on an unknown muddy dirt road in Magoebaskloof. My shouts of “look at the view and the trees” fell on deaf ears. Just as well, in 4x4, hubs locked, we crawled our way to our camping spot for the night at Zwakala Retreat and Brewery.
Only one of a few campsites, we were advised to take the one on the stream, which turned out to be a raging torrent, not that it bothered us. We set up our chairs, took a steak from the deep freezer for our braai later. After a quick recce of the river and the rapids we strode up the brewery for a pint. Butch deserved it.
The Brewer, Luca Tooley is charismatic. He reminded me of an old friend Archie. Mischievous, fun-loving, daring and game for any adventure— he is a breath of fresh air, oozing personality. Luca’s spontaneity and openness endeared him to us immediately. We live in an age of anonymity and guardedness, and he lacked both.
During our travels, it is customary for me to be the purser, I carry the boodle, almost the Money Mule, but ours is legal. Butch often, when presented with a bill, says, “I’m a kept man!” and unceremoniously passes the chit over to me. I loved the response he got from the barman. “Butch, I will aspire to be just like you!”
We chatted to the owner of this captivating piece of land high up in the mountains, Rob Tooley, who takes things easy, travels a lot, loves Africa and couldn’t think of anywhere else he’d rather live than under a thick blanket of mist. The Brewery dog a reminder of Kobe, who wandered/guarded District brewery in Canada.
Rumour has it that in Modena Italy it is customary for parents to purchase a vat of Balsamic vinegar when a child is born. When the vat and child have matured, at 21 years, the vinegar, now thick and sweet is presented as a gift to the child. The angel's share is approximately 15% of the original quantity. Rob, does the very same thing with the whiskey he distils. He says his grandchildren will enjoy the finest 21 year old single malt whiskey from his oak barrels.
Instead of staying two nights, we decided to move on to level ground. Our weather App predicted inclement weather, and Butch thought the steep gradients, mud and slush might be a tad stressful, especially in a six-tonne truck on very narrow farm roads. Of course, locals flapped their hands and said the Yr App is seldom correct and the chances of rain are unlikely. It did rain later that afternoon, but we were parked in an open field at the bottom of the mountain by then. Zwakala Retreat offers visitors many options, celebrate a special event there, go hiking, cycling or just contemplate your navel. Relax or keep busy, do some yoga, meditate or read next to a stream.
The outdoor shower built using local stone was a treat. Spacious with piping hot water overlooking the river and rapids I could've stayed under the jets until the water ran cold.
You might spot exquisite tree carvings if you keep your eyes open in a forest. It was a first for me. In a novel I’d recently read, one character was a tree carver in Norway.
How extraordinary they were too. I never knew that carving living or dead trees seemed to be a thing. It makes sense, and if I had a thread of artistic talent, I might take up a chainsaw like Shane Christensen and wield it at trees. Have you ever carved your or your sweetheart’s name into a tree? Humans have been doing these strange and enchanting things for aeons.
According to anthropologist Augustin Fuentes, the leading factors that contributed to humankind’s evolution are creativity and cooperation.
A circular drive is all it takes to get a picture of this heaven on earth. We had a few suggestions and recommendations, and I had read about a Pancake House in Haenertsburg that would do very nicely for coffee at ten.
Haenertsburg is named after Carl Ferdinand Haenert, who was born near Erfurt in Germany. He came to South Africa in 1857 to hunt big game, fell in love with South Africa, and never returned to Germany. He initially settled near the historic town of Schoemansdal and was the first coffee grower in the Transvaal.
A quick spin through the village and then coffee, I asked Butch. Quaint, arty and neat as a pin, we thought. Gardeners were busily sprucing up their gardens, digging, mowing and planting seedlings. A retiree’s dream destination. We learned that many farmers in the area owned a townhouse (dorpshuis) there. Motorbikers on breakfast runs began filing into eateries while locals attended the Saturday farmer’s market.
In keeping with the Black Forest and local tradition, the wooden building on the hill invited guests to enjoy the views and breakfast or coffee—a popular weekend destination. We’d have pancakes and not traditional cooked breakfast being enjoyed by the guests at adjoining tables. You’d think a pancake is a pancake, but there are pancake levels, e.g. fluffy, rubbery, light or thick, like Canadian pancakes. Ours was cold and day old. Very crepeish and disappointing indeed.
The delightful petit German lady selling cheese in her tiny Swiss Chalet-like farmstall made up for everything, and we tasted and tried her delectable range of locally produced cheeses. She cut our portions using a huge cheese knife, wrapped them in white baking paper, and told us a little about herself. Everyone has a story, and we have time to listen on our journey.
Magda De Jager, co-owner of Tzaneen Print Company, suggested visiting Krabbe Fontein on the Schultz farm at the foot of the mountain. We did, and while waiting for our Roosterkoek, their speciality, we asked the Chef/Owner of the restaurant whether we could wild camp, and Raeme agreed we could.
I sighed with relief, we’d done enough driving for one day, and I needed to linger a bit longer. The Allerbeste deli and eatery are beautifully curated, and the shelves are stocked with exciting store cupboard items. We filled a basket with Piri-Piri sauce, Ice tea cordial and delectable moreish Macarons. I returned for more.
The menu is exciting, and guests can choose a roosterkoek or avocado for the Banters, or a slice of panini. Fillings and toppings are listed and feature many variations: salmon, avocado, meat, saladings and interesting garnishings. A novel idea and perfect for a quick lunch stop or after a hike or bike ride on one of the numerous tracks offered. Coffee is a specialty and Krabbe Fontein roastery boasts its own unique blend of coffee which can be purchased to take home.
Thank you, Raeme, for having us stay. We loved our lunch and the bag of goodies I brought back to the Honey Badger, and our exploratory hike into the foothills was exhilarating and just strenuous enough after a hearty lunch to work up an appetite for coffee and cake. While rifling through my fotos I found I'd captured a Blister beetle in all its glory. He didn't do the damage to Butch's bottom though.
You said you don’t want Krabbe Fontein to become a tourist trap and would like it to keep its exclusivity, but I think the world should know about your lovely establishment. Your beautiful gardens, the way you’ve executed the renovations to the spaces around the burnt and abandoned sawmill and the tasteful way you’ve decorated Allebeste Deli. Your choice of menu is avant-garde and unique. Congratulations.
While we were traipsing around, we met fascinating people Miral, Sanel, Maria immediately come to mind. Their short visit to admire our precious Honey Badger was delightful, and we were charmed by the girls’ spirit of adventure. Miral, your turn awaits, I’m sure. The Honiballs will stay with us as we travel, knowing how much they yearn to do something similar. Besides, the cartoonist, their great-cousin T.O. Honiball, was a famous Rawsonville character. P.S Girls you remind me of a very dear friend Natalie who lives in London, seeing you brought her vividly to mind. Like you she's fiercely passionate about everything she applies her mind to. Thank you for introducing yourselves your hugs of kindness were just what the doctor ordered.
The gardens we passed during our travels in Magoebaskloof were a reminder of gardens known to me in Elgin and Grabouw, large sprawling gardens with an abundance of water where everyting stuck into the ground flourishes. Roses, hydrangeas, Japanese maples, flowering cherry trees and azaleas. Some bulbous plants which I struggled to grow come up by the hundreds in the veld. Without any interference everything rooted grows prolifically.
Speaking of which, if Circles In The Forest by Daleen Matthee wasn’t set in the Knysna forest, this location would do perfectly.
Later, after a sudden rainy spell, there was a knock on my window. Bester du Boisson, a local character, chatted up a storm. Nighttime had descended on us, but he kept us entertained. I wondered whether his wife wasn’t about to send out a search party. Saturday evening, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Bester is an avocado farmer and says if we keep our avos at 1-3c (our fridges operate at no 5 setting best) the ripening process stops. Therefore our avos should keep for longer. Only remove the one you need to use from the fridge at room temperature to ripen. No need to cover a cut avo it will keep perfectly back in the fridge.
The following day we packed up and headed to the Kruger Park, from where we’d go through the Giriyondo Border Post into Mozambique. Of course I couldn't resist the informal roadside stall. We stopped and bought some oranges, we were in citrus country after all. The gift of half a pampelmoes was pure nectar. I wish there were more of them about. The chap we bought our goodies from spent some time in Kyalitsha in Cape Town, we were both happy to meet up and swop stories. He also finds the Cape too cold in winter.