Join Sue Adams and discover the magic of a tiny Mpumalanga village called Kaapsehoop…
Pictures: Sue Adams and Linda Louw
When a horse looms out of the mist in Kaapsehoop, best you know they have right of way or you might get trodden on. After all, these wild horses have been here for more than 100 years since the time of gold prospectors and the Anglo-Boer War.
As tame as the horses might seem, Christo Germishuys, who runs Kaapsehoop Horseback Trails, shakes his head in frustration when I say I’ve heard they like Cream Soda. “These horses are actually feral – their ancestors were once tame but these now run wild,” he explains. “And people do stupid things like feed them and let them put their heads into cars. They just need their own place in the sun – or mist as often happens up here.”
Christo has the reputation of being a horse whisperer but he laughs at that. “I think it’s a fancy new name for horse communication. The Native American Indians worked hard at understanding their horses and herd structure and behaviour. You just need to be prepared to learn.”
With his long hair and lean, rangy features, Christo looks like the ultimate horseman. Horses and kids love him which says it all and his horse trails are legendary. From a one-hour ride to a five-day trail he will tailor-make whatever suits you. His horses are beautifully trained geldings and there is nothing wild about them. Riding along the Kaapsehoop escarpment with the Lowveld spread below you like a Basotho blanket, and the chance of seeing wild horses and endangered Blue Swallows, must rate up there with flying with angels. There is a mystique about this place that’s hard to describe.
Originally named Duiwel’s Kantoor by passing hunters, because of its then sinister atmosphere, it was renamed Kaapsehoop when they discovered gold. In the late 1800s, it was a gold mining camp in the hills above Nelspruit and Barberton, but almost disappeared when the alluvial gold ran out. “When they tarred the road in the early 1990s the town came to life again,” says Rudi du Plessis. “I lived down in the valley but used to come camping and exploring as a kid. I always knew I would live here.”
While his wife Petro serves the best pancakes in town at the Koek ’n Pan, he looks after the Komatiland Hiking trails. Sitting restlessly on the stoep is obviously not a normal way for Rudi to spend a morning. His eyes light up as he describes the day walks among incredible sandstone rocks along the escarpment, waterfalls and overnight trails.
Rudi is passionate about the archaeology and history of the area. “In TB Bulpin’s books he says the gold prospectors in the last century found ancient broken reefs. Imagine who might have mined those? There are lots of mysteries in this place,” he announces. “Look at these wild horses. They come and go and disappear into the mountains. We are not sure exactly where they came from and how many there are.” While we watch, a horse steps into the fountain outside a guest house and drains it. The proprietor tells me ruefully that he sometimes fills it twice a day.
When I enquire further about other mysteries I am told about Adam’s Calendar. Johan Heine, a fire-fighting helicopter pilot in the area noticed that the rocks along the escarpment seemed to be carefully positioned. He and Michael Tellinger explored further and they are convinced that the rocks were placed in such a way as to create an ancient calendar possibly 70 000 years old. Believe it or not it makes for a good story, and anything feels possible in this village. If you want to know more, Rudi or Enos Zulu can take you on a tour.
Enos can also tell you about the endangered Blue Swallows that arrive here every year to breed. But for the last two years they have not arrived and no one knows where they have gone. The villagers anxiously hope they will reappear this summer. Just one pair of swallows would make the villagers’ summer.
Horseback trails, hiking and bird watching make Kaapsehoop sound busy, but it’s a sleepy little village where you can just kick back and chill. There is no doubt that people who live here have chosen to do so. Kaapsehoop might be famous for the wild horses but it’s worth taking the time to chat to the locals. “I used to earn money but now I am rich,” says Kim Dias whose brightly coloured glass mobiles hang outside his workshop, De-Liteful Glass Works.
With his gentle smile and ‘lots of time’ attitude he epitomises Kaapsehoop. Originally a technician from Pretoria he chose to come and live here where he makes stained glass windows, lamps and jewellery. His cat purrs contentedly on the workshop bench and if Kim could purr I am sure he would too.
Mary Ross and her mother, Rita Gouws, of Soul Creations are gold- and silversmiths who work out of a small workshop in their home. They have a strong belief in the properties of the stones they work with and happily spend ages helping me choose a special piece for a friend, ensuring we incorporate her birthstone. It could have been the strong cup of coffee, but I swear I could feel the vibrations from the surrounding crystals and stones as Mary and Rita wave me goodbye.
Don’t expect Disney and a tour guide with a flag. The history and mystery is here but it’s for you to discover. The Gold Commissioner’s house has been restored but the old jail is crumbling and overgrown next door. An old claim notice lies discarded on a corner and who knows if the coco pan on the side of the road is an original. Amazing rock formations are scattered everywhere and you might not discover your own ancient calendar, but it’s a good place to let your imagination run riot.
Eat, stay and play in Kaapsehoop
- EAT: Bohemian Groove Café – A great place on top of the mountain for a long Sunday lunch with delicious food and live music. Salvador Bistro – A casual atmosphere with a fire burning, where the locals come to play pool and the pub grub is abundant and tasty. Koek ’n Pan – Superb pancakes and waffles, and a great place to take the kids. The owners are full of information about the village, and there is a small craft shop on the premises.
- PLAY: Kaapsehoop Horse Trails – Forest trails and views from the escarpment. Christo has a special affinity for horses and makes riding as safe as possible. Adam’s Calendar – What was once possibly an ancient mysterious calendar on the edge of the cliff, with strange rock formations. Guide Enos Zulu also knows much about the endangered Blue Swallows. De-Liteful Glass Works – The friendly character Kim Dias makes beautiful stained glass works of art. Soul Creations – Silver- and goldsmiths who craft their jewellery with much love and thought.
- STAY: There are lots of options, including cute self-catering houses. www.kaapsehoop.com If you love a sense of history stay in The Royal Coach which is one of the original coaches used for the Royal Tour in 1947. Silver Mist Country Inn is comfortable, old world and romantic, and log fires and the visiting wild horses add to your stay. There’s a beauty spa across the village lane.