Say Drakensberg and the Midlands come to mind. But don’t forget the northernmost tip of the range; Limpopo’s Magoebaskloof is a cool winter adventure destination.
The drive to Magoebaskloof can be entertaining or awful, depending on the route. Choose the regulation N1 and R71 and things are all kinds of tedious from the get-go. A much better idea is the R25, R555 and R37 from Bronkhorstspruit in the south, entering Magoebaskloof through the Bewaarkloof Nature Reserve.
Get orientated – Haenertsburg
Haenertsburg, the unofficial Magoebaskloof gateway, is a tiny dorp in the mountains with a bit of a frontier town vibe to it. In winter the pubs and restaurants offer warm refuge to travellers, mist from the surrounding peaks hiding the colonial cottages and antique shops (magoebasklooftourism.co.za).
To get a good idea of the area, start with a 70km circular route out of town, along the R71, down the steep valley, back along the winding R528 George’s Valley road to town. It’s scenic and gives you a good idea of the lay of the land. After that, branch out, hit the forestry backroads and the real entertainment begins.
Hitting the forestry roads: Debegeni Falls
Follow the R71 heads down the escarpment, through the Magoebaskloof Pass, which has enough switchbacks, vistas, overhung forest stretches and misty dips to lift it beyond a Natal Midlands drive, well into the territory of an Eastern Cape Bloukrans or Storms River drive. The first interesting dirt road turn-off is to the Debegeni Falls, deep in the Woodbush Forest, a mostly indigenous swathe. Five kilometres off the R71 up a rutted but passable logging road, the falls are well worth the effort, a cascading series in three parts, with beautiful pools in between and a sensitively designed picnic area among the trees. It’s a special place and not often crowded.
The Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour
Next on the list is the Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour, good for the kids. The zipline involves a two-hour, 11-slide experience with platform viewpoints over three large waterfalls. Keep an eye out for Syke’s or Samango monkeys. (R660pp, canopytour.co.za).
Fish like a pro
Fly fishers are welcome to practice catch and release at Dap Naude and Bramasole Dam, or Mountain Fly Fishing log cabins, which all welcomes day visitors by appointment. It’s best to contact the Haenertsburg Trout Association for updates on open lakes and river conditions (rod permit fee costs from R150pp, htatrout.co.za) or stay at accommodation that boasts suitable waters, such as Zwakala River Retreat or Bramasole Guesthouse.
Get a meal and a drink at the Zwakala Brewery afterwards – remember to book a table in advance on the weekend. In peak seasons, the restaurant is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm. zwakalabrewery.com
Hit the hiking trails
There are hikes for all abilities in the area – the most leisurely day hike is probably the five-kilometre Louis Changuion trail, which winds through the Afromontane grassland around Haenertsburg. A little more arduous is the Swartbos Hiking Trail from the Magoebaskloof Hotel, which offers a choice of two- or four-kilometre routes. Indigenous flora, plenty of birdlife, both are memorable treks.
More challenging are the multi-day hikes through South African Forest company lands. Options range from two to-five-night expeditions and can begin from either the De Hoek, Woodbush or Broederstroom Huts. The five-day route covers 63 kilometres, the two-day routes roughly 20 kilometres. From R155pp, safcol.co.za
Bring a bike
Lots of choice here, as you’d expect. Check out the Magoebaskloof Tourism website for a full list, but recommended are both Cheerio Trout Lodge and Magoebaskloof Adventures’ offerings. Permits (R40 per day and kids under 12 are free, magoebasklooftourism.co.za) allow access to five trails of varying difficulty. Starting from the Coffee shop at the legendary Cheerio Gardens, the 22-kilometre Green Route is the most challenging with technical downhill single-tracks through lush forest. Beginners are best-suited to the 17-kilometre Yellow Route, which consists of fairly flat farm roads with a few single-track twists thrown in.