When you think of a getaway or holiday, Limpopo might not be the first thought that pops into your head. It sure is not the first thought that popped into my head, until recently that is.
What a lot of people are not aware of or tend to forget is that Limpopo is home to one of South Africa’s many mountain ranges known as the Soutpansberg mountain range. This mountain range forms part of the UNESCO designated Vhembe Biosphere Reserve which ensures wildlife and indigenous forests as far as the eye can see. It is also home to forestry owned eucalyptus and pine plantations. It also houses the Hanglip Nature Reserve is a well-known part of the mountain range and it is this reserve my family and I go to quite often. The reserve is the ideal excursion for any nature lover.
Where to find it
If you intend on exploring the Soutpansberg mountain range and, more specifically the nature reserve, you can do so in the small town of Louis Trichardt (also known as Makhado Town). This quiet little town is split by the N1, which is a national road in South Africa that stretches from Cape Town to Beitbridge on the border of Zimbabwe. It is approximately 1 hour’s drive from Beitbridge and about 4 hours’ drive from OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg. From this town, you can easily access the mountain range’s hiking trails, mountain biking trails, and a beautiful picnic spot.
We usually take Forestry drive, which takes us to the gate of the Hanglip Nature Reserve. There is a small entrance fee of R5 per person, which I would say is extremely cheap for the sights you see and the calming effect the forest has on you.
The drive up to the picnic spot is a very scenic drive and it has called for a multitude of impromptu ‘photo shoots’. From going off the beaten path, into the bushes to find a bridge over a trench, which turns into a crisp stream in the rain season, to following the bell of the local herd of Nguni cattle to sneak a shot with the camera of the majestic creature, all on our way to the picnic spot.
The picnic spot
Even though I have visited this spot multiple times, it still takes my breath away every time we go there. The picnic spot is tucked away in the forest and will make you believe that you are surrounded by fairies and gnomes. You can easily reach this picnic spot by car, so getting a picnic basket to the spot is not a hassle. Be sure to pack something to drink because hydration is always important and it tends to get hot.
The picnic spot has a braai area (which is a South African version of barbeque) with benches and ablutions, although whether you can call it that is debatable, as it is a few huts housing long drops. Thus, if you are planning on staying at the picnic spot for a while and you don’t want to brave these huts, be sure to go before you leave your accommodation.
There is also a spot with a few swinging vines, some of which even form a swing-like seat. Having grown up watching Tarzan, I felt it was my duty to test whether the vines would’ve been able to carry the weight of a human being. To my surprise, it did and swinging on the vine made me feel like a child again.
Hiking in the forest
If you feel up to the challenge there is a two-day circular trail you can hike known as the Hanglip hiking trail. This trail ends at the Hanglip hut just underneath the Hanglip lookout. If you cannot see yourself hiking the Hanglip hiking trail, you can opt for shorter trails through the forest which range from one to three kilometers.
From the picnic spot, you can take a short trail into the forest. This trail splits into two different trails, one of which takes you through a part of the forestry eucalyptus and pine plantations and the other takes you to a beautiful grass clearing with a spectacular view. This is usually what our hiking consists of. Even though these trails are short, they have surprised us every time.
The forest is rich in bird life, which ensures that you stumble upon a few feathers here and there. You should not be surprised to find porcupine needles lying around, as these little (or sometimes big) ones wander around the forest. If you look at the path close enough you might also see the footprints of a few bucks and the wild growth of the intertwined plants and trees gives the forest an almost magical feel.
Hanglip, which is sometimes mistakenly called Hangklip, is one of the mountain range’s various lookouts. This lookout is visible from the N1, which gives you an idea of how amazing the view from there has to be. Hanglip is a mountain peak which reaches a staggering 1719 meters above sea level and is so spectacular that, on a clear night, you will be able to see the lights of Musina. Musina is the country’s northernmost town, approximately 80 kilometers from Louis Trichardt. The wind can get a bit chilly up there, even on the hottest of days, so be sure to bring something to keep you warm.
This is also one of the spots I have visited multiple times and it is the spot that made me realize that I am not as okay with heights as I thought I was. On misty days Hanglip is always completely covered and one is sure to see nothing but the mist from up there, but it provides the most spectacular views on a clear day. Looking out over Albasini dam, the forestry plantation, and Louis Trichardt, you truly realize how small you are and how beautiful things can be if you just take a look from a different perspective.
On our most recent visit there, I finally plucked up the courage to climb on the rocks and get extremely close to the edge. I can say, with all honesty, that I was awestruck and the beauty of the view definitely overpowered the knots in my stomach. We waited for the sunset and were greeted with the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.
Even though Louis Trichardt and the Hanglip Nature Reserve is off the beaten path for most people, it is an experience I would recommend to anyone, as I often find myself driving around our small town, looking up at the mountain and feeling a tug at my heart to return to the forest and the views.