Verlorenkloof, a 160-hectare spread with beautiful stone crofts, is in a valley settled about 800 years ago by a tribe long lost, so an odd thing must have happened to them too. It is a place for flyfishing, so it was odd that I never caught a trout. Not such a good thing, but then that’s a reflection of my skill. Our companions fared better.
Nick Jaff, best fisher of our group, had a Malachite Kingfisher sit on his rod. How odd is that? “I was so excited, my rod went up and down and bent this way and that. But he [or she] just rode on it, probably thinking it was a branch blowing in the wind,” Nick said, with a chuckle.
We didn’t get a picture of that but I took a photograph of this jewel of a bird a few weeks before our trip to Verlorenkloof. One of South Africa’s greatest birders, Geoff Lockwood has been to Verlorenkloof many times. He likes it so much he has often done a Birding Big Day there.
Photos of Verlorenkloof birds can be found: 10 Best birds in Verlorenkloof
A spirit-lifting “Lifer”
Genets are shy creatures. So it was delightfully odd that a very hesitant one, soon after sunset, carefully crept on to our croft’s veranda and took a bit of sausage from my hand. Odder was getting a picture with my slow aim-and-shoot camera of it doing just that. “Great camera,” everyone marvelled, no praise for the photographer.
During our extended weekend at the beginning of spring, we saw 67 bird species, dawn and dusk birding competing with flyfishing. Had we been dedicated we could have cracked 100. Right outside our door, a ‘lifer’ lifted my spirits as much as a Klippies and coke could, when a Bushveld Pipit fossicked around the tap and grabbed a grub. Took a few pictures, pored over Newman’s to identify it.
Our friends told us they had a Crowned Eagle chick on the nest near their croft, and we sped off to see it with our guide Joseph Methupe. Then we ambled down to the rock pool, where Greater Double-collared Sunbirds flew to our feet to sip the spill, chattering excitedly and ignoring the odd bunch of binocular carriers. An Amethyst Sunbird joined us briefly.
At the river a pair of African Black Ducks flew past, and our fishers saw Giant Kingfishers, Black-headed Orioles, White-fronted Bee-eaters, Brown-throated Martins and White-throated Swallows darting about. Joseph spotted a Cape Grassbird for us, and we heard a Croaking Cisticola before seeing it with two other cisticolas, a Neddicky and a Lazy Cisticola.
A Red-throated Wryneck flew around and around us, perching on every tree, and we kept spotting Stonechats, Speckled Mousebirds and Yellow-mantled Widowbirds. The persistent ‘tink tink tink’ of the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird enabled us to spot it, and a highlight was three Southern Bald Ibises in the veld.
So far 186 species have been recorded on the estate. Six are endemic to South Africa and 17 to Southern Africa. The six are the Ibis, Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Drakensberg Prinia, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Cape Weaver.
There is so much to do at Verlorenkloof, a spectacularly beautiful place surrounded by high cliff faces bearing the geological striations that show great age. The forested kloofs of the Steenkampsberg invite you to walk along the stream beds that wind through the trees, and the botany is as fascinating as the biology.
A treasure chest of stories
The estate has 142 tree species, 483 plant species (not that I tried to count them myself but we trust the botanists), six trout dams and six kilometres of Crocodile River. It has 142 kilometres of mountain-bike trails and 48 kilometres of hiking trails.
A working dairy makes delicious yoghurt, and even the cows are beautiful. There’s horse riding and so much history that palaeontologists vie with archaeologists and historians to write books about the place. Owners Heidi and Eric Johnson have a treasure-chest of stories about it, and both are warm hosts who run the place like clockwork.
It’s in a province of remarkable rocks and history. Rock formations are dated at three-and-a-half billion years old, among the most ancient on our planet. They have microscopic traces of the world’s oldest life forms, according to the book Mpumalanga: History and Heritage by Peter Delius and Michelle Hay.
Archaeologists and sociologists say that in the 18th century as many as 40 000 people were living on the escarpment between Lydenburg (Mashishing) and Machadodorp (eNtokozweni), their rock terraces still clearly identifiable from the air. The walls were so strong and well-built that many still stand today, some of them on Verlorenkloof, the valley obviously a lovely place in which to live.
The smell of coffee
On Sunday morning we celebrated a 45th wedding anniversary with our friends, Nicole and Nick Jaff, who had a splendid cake, champagne and a breakfast of the farm’s yoghurt, fruit, a whole salmon, and freshly baked bread with creamy butter, all enjoyed with the smell of coffee and a view across the valley into the mountains.
At the picnic spot on the estate we met the Orford family – and they too were celebrating a 45th wedding anniversary. Odd to have two celebrations of the same ilk in crofts next door to each other.
There was a whole tribe of Orfords here from Botswana, England and Johannesburg and, when I was introduced to Margie, a bell went off as I realised she was the great crime author, who wrote Like Clockwork, Water Music, Daddy’s Girl and Blood Rose. Born in London, she grew up in Namibia and lives in Cape Town.
In the evening before the visit of the skittish genet to our veranda, a bushbuck came to our croft, gently nibbling on the grass. We fed it a carrot while trying to keep monkeys at bay. Our method for scaring monkeys is an old pump-action water-gun, which shoots a long stream towards them. Not sure what they think it is but they run. Around our croft each day, a Cape Robin-Chat chirped and hopped, welcoming us and the day.
Go to Verlorenkloof. It is an unusual and special birding place, besides all its other attractions. Odd things occur there – making it extra special.