Forest walks Zwakala River Retreat

The mountains are calling! Our two favourite Magoebaskloof getaways

Magoebaskloof (meaning Magoeba’s Valley) is a pocket of lush, afro-montane greenery full of indigenous plants and wildlife in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. It is the very northern tip of the Drakensberg mountain range and is known as the Land of the Silver Mist for its famous blanket of cloud that envelopes the peaks and valleys. Samango and vervet monkeys, chacma baboons, bush pigs, porcupine and bush buck are some of the larger mammals found dwelling in the forest, and let us not get started on the birds! If you’re a keen birder, Magoebaskloof is one of the best spots for forest birding in the country, and its proximity to the Kruger National Park makes it a convenient addition to a classic safari experience in the Lowveld.

About 1.5 hours’ drive west of the Kruger’s Phalaborwa Gate you’ll find yourself in the country’s “fruit bowl” having driven along an undulating road that progresses from acacia thornveld and mopane to the green slopes of the Wolkberg. This is where fertile soils produce the best avocados in the world, along with blueberries, macadamia nuts, bananas, litchis, and mangos. Magoebaskloof pass winds its way out of the “bowl” and into the higher slopes where some of the rare indigenous forest remains. Here, beneath the silver mist, the water is crystal clear, rocks are laden with moss, and big, old trees are entangled with vines. The forest floor is a patchwork of sunlight and shade, and there is peace in the air.

There are hiking trails winding up and down and throughout the lush mountain slopes, and there are waterfalls and pools of fresh water sprouting along many of them. Mountain bikers will find themselves a challenge in Magoebaskloof, where an annual event sees fit riders gather to take on the mountain trails.  Visitors can fish in nearby dams and lakes, while birdwatching can take place from the comfort of your very own mountain cottage veranda. There is the diminutive village of Hanaertsberg nearby where a handful of good, honest restaurants serve up the mountain’s finest grub, and there is Limpopo’s famous Zwakala brewery nestled off the beaten track. Folks travel from far and wide to enjoy the unique energy of this local brew house, so make sure you pop this item on your Magoebaskloof agenda!

Now that you know what’s on offer in the glorious Magoebaskloof mountains, allow us to let you in on our two favourite places to stay.

Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages

Situated at the end of a winding dirt road in the indigenous forest, Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages feel like a hidden secret. There are three little cottages – Robin (a six-sleeper), Trogon, and Narina (both two-sleepers) – all separated from one another to allow for privacy and quietude. They have been renovated from old buildings that have stood on this working avocado farm for generations, giving them charm and character. Water is heated using an old fashioned donkey boiler, which is lit every morning and afternoon, and bedrooms are made up with layers of cosy blankets, which keep the nightly mountain chill at bay.

Mark and Bridget Harman live in the main house on the property with their three Jack Russells, Ringo, Thula, and Zimbila.  Mark’s passion for birds and knack for handiwork has given each cottage the perfect little bird-watching veranda. Bird baths bring the waxbills and the finches and the mannikins, while sugar water feeders attract jewel-toned sunbirds and white-eyes. As these feathered beauties whirr in and out of sight, you are likely to hear the deep resonant sound of samango monkeys in the nearby forest. And all you need to do to get right amongst it all is to put on your shoes and step out the door. Mark has signposted a number of hiking trails and directions to view points on the property, so just pick one and enjoy!

The cottages are all self-catering and have quaint, equipped kitchens and private braai facilities. All three cottages have totally amazing star-gazing bath tubs! Yes, a hot bath under the stars in the chilly mountain air is definitely on the agenda. The beauty of these cottages is that they feel like a home. Unpretentious, simple, and cosy. Come with your loved one or with a handful of good friends, or treat yourself to some blissful me-time and spend a few nights away with the fairies.

Watch it all unfold in this video capturing the magic of the forest…

Zwakala River Retreat

Zwakala means “come closer” – a perfect description for this farm-style destination that seems to lure you closer to nature. The pure, inspirited energy of this riverside retreat is rejuvenating and nurturing and you’ll leave feeling like your troubles have been washed away with the river. There are five cottages, most of which have been renovated from farm buildings, like the old tobacco shed and a honey harvest room. All occupy shady spots beneath towering pine and blue-gum trees and are equipped with simple, comfortable amenities and exude beautiful, country-style charm. Only two of the cottages have electricity, while the others are refreshingly au natural. Paraffin lanterns, gas stoves and fridges, and solar-powered lighting make sure you’ll have everything you need, but can also take the opportunity to simplify your life during your stay.

The Broederstroom River runs right in front of the accommodation and offers some spectacular trout fishing opportunities for keen fishermen. If you’re not into fishing, take a swim in the crystal clear waters and feel rejuvenated by the tumbling waterfalls. Packing a blow-up floaty device is highly recommended (paired with an ale from the Zwakala brewery also on the property!) One Sunday a month, the farm’s function venue – Mina’s Art Cafe and Farm Venue – comes to life as a day of live music, organic food, mountain-brewed beer, and blueberry gin-and-tonic ensues.

The Tooley family runs the Zwakala operation and they are a part of every element. From the simply divine riverside cottages, to the home-cooked gourmet burgers that go like hot cakes during those Sunday soirees, to brewing the now-famous Limpopo lager. Guests can opt to disappear into the woods and read by candlelight, or choose to join in with the festivities and dance and drink until the sun sets. The choice is yours!

Here’s a little insight into Zwakala from Head Brewer, Luca Tooley:

Photos belong to Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages and Zwakala respectively.