In Haenertsburg there are riches of another kind in them thar hills. . .
Words and Pictures: Lisa Martus
In the early glow of sunrise, the world seems golden. Cherry trees are thick with blossom, azaleas burst in a palette of pink, and light streams through the trees. It is spring and Haenertsburg in Limpopo is at its best. But, of course, the hamlet is better known for riches that had their origins in the Gold Rush of the 1880s.
Established as a mining base after the proclamation of the Houtboschberg Goldfields in 1881, the village was named after Carl Ferdinand Haenert from Germany, a big game hunter who arrived there, never to return home. When gold was discovered in the Northern Transvaal, Haenert jumped on the bandwagon and led the rush around Haenertsburg.
According to local historian Professor Louis Changuion, during the rush ‘of the 186 inhabitants of Haenertsburg and surroundings, only 16 were women. . . The rest, 131, were adult men’. Everyone was hopeful of making the big strike and leaving the misty mountains rich beyond wildest dreams. Eight mining companies sprang up, including the Pennefather Gold Mining Company that worked 60 claims.
‘By and by we descended on the little township of Haenertsburg,’ recalled Scottish writer John Buchan, after his visit to the area in 1902. ‘Beyond Haenertsburg, the Iron Crown mountain comes into full view, with its green sides scarred and blackened in places with the works of goldseekers. To the left rose the crags of the Wolkberg, and far behind the lines of the Drakensberg itself. To the north the true Woodbush country appeared, an endless park laid out as if by a landscape gardener.’
It is this spectacular natural beauty that attracts people to modern-day Haenertsburg and inspires many to give up the stress of the city and settle into the gentle rhythm of country living. I find one such person hanging out with her pig at the Pennefather complex in the heart of Haenertsburg. Linda Wilkinson shows me around her brainchild – a street scene straight out of the mining boomtown era. Six quaint cottages with red tin roofs, fireplaces and verandahs bear the names of men who had a lasting influence on the town.
Flanking the corrugated iron cottages are two similarly styled trading posts named after Haenertsburg mining companies in the 1890s, New Found Out and Never Despair. These nostalgic shops are packed with collectibles, antiques and unusual goodies. Old-fashioned sweets beckon below retro signboards with cherub-faced children advertising such novelties as mint-flavoured chewing gum, white soap and Graham crackers. China tea sets jostle with old medicine bottles, shoe horns, Singer sewing machines and horse-hair brush sets. Outside are old cocopan mining carts on their narrow tracks, as well as 20lb weights and an old mule cart.
Linda spent her childhood in Haenertsburg. “I remember heading off to the Tank Trap Store and Wiggel’s Shop for Wilson’s toffees and Wick’s bubblegum and watching the adults dance at the Vroue Lanbou Unie’s dances in the Village Hall. We had such freedom.”
Linda moved back to Haenertsburg after selling her business in Polokwane. “I visualised the romantic, treasure-hunting era of gold mining, the reason for Haenertsburg’s existence.” She bought Wiggel’s building to transorm into a bookshop. “It had to be ‘old time’ and cosy, keeping the feel of The Pennefather. Working on a tight budget, I had to make do with ‘old’ things, numerous trips to scrap yards, handy friends and everyone’s old wood that turned into bookshelves and balustrades.”
Her quaint Memory Hold-The-Door bookshop takes its name from John Buchan’s autobiography, and focuses on rare, collectible and out-of-print books as well as those by local authors like Louis Changuion, and many on the Anglo-Boer War and the area. Add to that koffie en boerbeskuit at a cosy fireplace, old trunks that might have held the worldly goods of a hopeful prospector and scales to weigh his fortune, and you have a winning formula for the stream of visitors who feel the pull of history, and the tranquillity and dramatic natural beauty of the town.
Put Mathilda into the mix and quaint quickly becomes quirky. Linda explains how this headstrong portly pig became part of the Pennefather family. “For years I have had a print on my wall of a pig family and I knew that sometime I would get a little black pig. No-one could have prepared me for Madame Mathilda. Pig wants what pig wants! She wanders off whenever she gets a gap, often in the direction of the local pub. I have heard so much genuine laughter since her arrival – I think she knows she should entertain visitors.If you’d told me when I was a child that I would have a bookshop in the building where I bought my Wilson’s toffees and a pub-trotting pig for company, I would have called you crazy!”
But as Linda strolls down the peaceful main street with her porky companion, greeting friends and neighbours as she goes, I know she has struck gold.
Where to eat, stay and play in Haenertsburg
- The Iron Crown Pub and Grill, named for the highest peak in the area, is always packed to the brim with locals enjoying great pub fare. 015 276 4755
- The Red Plate has a selection of light meals and is the perfect spot to watch the village folk go by. 083 305 2851
- Picasso’s – Warm up next to the fire on misty days or sit on the deck and enjoy the buzz and the varied menu. 084 819 4095
- Wegraakbosch Organic Cheese Farm – On your way out of town, stop at this roadside stall to choose a cheddar or a multchi. 082 853 8754
- MaGriets B&B is situated in the centre of town, with great loft rooms with views, and tasty home-made treats. 015 276 4762
- Kaya Khutso is a thatched lodge offering en suite rooms and privacy, comfort and style. 015 276 4726 / 084 581 0320
There are splendid hikes, trout fishing, birding and mountain bike trails through superb scenery.
- Cheerio Gardens explodes into colour in spring. 083 355 0835
- Sequoia Gardens has 20 acres of gardens, much lightly cultivated woodland, some intimate and formal. 083 659 1227
- There’s the adrenalin-pumping Canopy Tour on 11 ziplines through gorges and over waterfalls, or try other adventure sports like kloofing, tubing or abseiling. 083 866 1546 or 015 276 5096
- End your stay with a magical sunset cruise on the Ebenezer Dam. 083 284 5163 / 082 893 0790