South Africa's hidden Haenertsburg
October 23, 2016
Hitting the road
If you take the Great North toll road of South Africa, from Johannesburg through Pretoria and into Limpopo, and you travel on towards the Magoebaskloof mountains, you will stumble upon a magical place. Surrounded by misty valleys and hills that are clothed from top to bottom in forest greens, a place named Haenertsburg lives. From the highway you can see the tiny hamlet on a hill: politely laid out with its single main road and few adjacent streets harbouring homes and gardens.
My folks and I decided on Haenertsburg after a long term at varsity and anticipated quiet and true South African nature in abundance! We were accompanied the whole way by heavy, dark clouds and together with the wintery bushveld that ran alongside the road, our first impression of Limpopo was rather bland. We travelled past townships built amidst the grey-green landscape where cows grazed beside the roadway and hungry dogs scurried around. Then the mist began to thicken. Beneath its white blanket the ground started to swell, forming hills and valleys. When the mist finally cleared, we were in a different world. Green, wet and lush! For the rest of the way to Haenertsburg we were simply in awe of the beautiful forest trees that guided us.
The Cheerio Gardens
Before turning into the little town we decided to visit the Cheerio Gardens. Only a few kilometres from Haenertsburg itself, this magnificent place is a definite must see for anyone visiting or even just passing through. Big, untamed and beautiful, the Cheerio gardens grow at the end of a twisting dirt road. About 20 hectares of greenery grows wild, and is dotted by vibrantly coloured azaleas: Hot pink! White! Red! Even the flowers of a soft lilac colour bloom in clouds against the wild, green background.
There are paths that run through the gardens, creating a scenic tour of the dams and rich variety of plants that grow there and at the end of your walk you can enjoy some refreshments at the Cheerio gardens deli. The gardens are most spectacular in spring, showing off their blooming cherry trees and azaleas for the annual spring festival.
The hamlet on a hill
As I mentioned before, Haenertsburg is small. But walking the street on which the town is built makes one realise just how small it is. On one side sits the “Pennefather” where antiques and collectable from the late 1800’s can be found. Six picturesque cottages stand beside it depicting the romanticism of the era when gold was discovered in the area and Haenertsburg founded. A final door to the past can be found at the “Memory hold the door” bookshop. This quaint store not only keeps adventures and stories in its papery heart, but also a warm fireplace, a piano that welcomes you and sweet treats in glass jars placed all around the store.
On the other side the main street is fringed with eateries and a grocery store. I suggest having lunch at Minkie’s: inside it is warm and friendly and their seats serve a wonderful welcome after a long ways travel. And for dinner? The Iron Crown pub is highly recommended by the locals.
Day two was set aside for exploring the outdoors. We woke up to the sun shining through the last tethers of clouds and watched the morning wake slowly through the windows of our rented cottage. By the time we had laced up our hiking boots and rubbed sunscreen on (everywhere), the sun had stepped out in his best dressed shine! With a final glance at the map we purchased at the Pennefather, we began a hike through Haenertsburg.
We joined the trail that walked past protected grasslands and climbed towards their cemetery. From there we had the most spectacular view of the surrounding valleys, hills and rivers. The grasses were green and full of life, and the hills stretched right up, uninterrupted until they reached the sky: it was an intense, clean blue. Wisps of moss hung from the arms of the watchful trees that guarded the graves. By the time we left the cemetery the day had turned hot and we were all grateful for the camel-packs of water each of us carried.
The path led us further past pine forests, and more forever-views. We even passed some unexpected friends of the bovine type; they are incredible!
Take note: it is vital to wear good hiking shoes when taking the trail. The ground is uneven and sometimes the path as untamed as the fields of grass around it.
Follow the yellow feet
Yellow footprints on signposts show the way; you’ll pass points of interest like “Jan’s knoll” and the “Bubbling Brook”. At “Patrick Point” a charming assortment of logs offer seats in the shade of a moss trimmed tree, and the view is stunning.
The full trail covers about ten kilometres; through forests with old trees that crowd and climb over each other to reach the light, and spiders webs that catch the faces of people who pass by. It’s a long, hot walk, but with the beautiful views it is completely worth it.
Fresh, local lunch
Where the path ends back in Haenertburg’s main street, vendors are always happy to sell you a bag of fresh fruit. Together with a trip to the grocery store for some warm, fresh bread and a pot of homemade jam, you can finish the day with a simple meal straight from the locals.
The Debegeni Falls
Our third and final day took us to places surrounding Haenertsburg. Through narrow roads that wind from Haenertsburg and alongside the Magoebaskloof mountains, we made our way to the Debegeni Falls.
Between Haenertsburg and Tzaneen, and hidden amongst tall, leafy patrons of the forest, the 80 meter high waterslide rolls. Tables and benches are arranged around the pools of water for a quiet picnic, and here and there artists sit painting the view. Over the lip of rock the water spills slipping down faster and faster into a pool below. The water is clear and cool – ebbing lazily against the banks after its tumble. Where we sat at one of the picnic benches sipping coffee, we could see others dipping into the refreshing pools below the fall. Sunlight danced off the ripples in the water and played in patterns across the floor, where sunken leaves slept, covered in algae. Some leaves were still bright: lying like red and yellow fish in the shallows.
The air was filled with the happy sounds of laughter and water. Butterflies waltzed through the air, dragonflies perched on the tips of ferns and tiny bugs zipped between the sunbeams. Our break had come to an end. But, oh! What a spectacular end it was.