Instead of rushing through to Kruger, take time out to enjoy these destinations in the ‘Slowveld’.
Action, adventure and elephants are what Hazyview is all about. My favourite activity is the elephant interaction at Elephant Whispers. If you have never touched an elephant’s foot or felt the tip of his soft questing trunk then you haven’t experienced real Africa. The elephant guides are well informed and if you want more you can ride the elephants.
+27 (0) 82 498 4683
For those into action there are many choices. River rafting, tubing, mountain biking and quad biking are all on offer, and winter in the Lowveld just means that the sun always shines and the days are warm enough for swimming. Both Sabie River Adventures and Induna Adventures offer a range of activities to get the adrenalin pumping.
Sabie River Adventures
+27 (0) 13 492 0071; +27 (0) 82 773 8762
+27 (0) 82 463 2334
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I have friends who come from Gauteng every year just to play golf in this wonderful setting. Warthogs have to be chased off the greens and vervet monkeys chatter in the treetops. Sabi River Sun Resort has an 18-hole course and Kruger Park Lodge (013 737 5000) offers a 9-hole course. Other accommodation options are Casterbridge Hollow Boutique Hotel, self-catering or hotel rooms, on the Sabie River with a good restaurant where you can watch the hippos. Summerfields Rose Retreat and Spa is also on the river.
Don’t forget Le Patissier (083 647 9876) for good coffee and cake and a great deli.
As you near Nelspruit, heading East on the N4, there are mountains on your right that are often shrouded in mist, and the quaint little town of Kaapsehoop that nestles on top. On a misty day, walk among the weird and wonderful rock formations and then pop into one of the cosy pubs to warm up in front of a fire. If the weather is crisp and clear, as is often the case in winter, walk or horse ride along the edge of the escarpment where your stomach does an occasional flip-flop at the steep drop below, and the wild horses run free. Kaapsehoop Horse Trails will give you a variety of cosy cottages to stay in. If the weather is misty there is nothing better than Sunday lunch and live music at the Bohemian Groove Café.
This little town is on the edge of the escarpment so you never quite know what the weather will do. If it’s misty and cool, there is nothing better than stopping off at the famous Harrie’s Pancakes for a feast. While in town look around the shops – there are some real jewels. And if you need a place to stay then the arty, quirky Graskop Hotel (+27 (0)13 767 1244) is a real treat.
One of my favourite stops for a spectacular view is the Panorama Chalets with its low-key tearoom. I have never been brave enough but the Big Swing at Graskop Gorge Lift Company across a gorge on the edge of the cliffs will get your adrenaline pumping. For great shopping, try Delagoa Arts and Crafts.
4. Sudwala Valley
Don’t rush through as the views are spectacular. Take a deep breath and get into the mood of the ‘slowveld’. For those who like to go deep and dark, Sudwala Caves (+27 (0) 83 446 0228) are well worth a visit. Only 15km off the N4, the caves are more than 240 million years old and are the oldest known caves in the world. They were used as a refuge by the Swazis, the Boers stored ammunition in them during the Second Anglo-Boer War and rumour has it the Kruger Millions could be buried there. Open seven days a week from 8am to 5pm.
Mankele Mountain Biking is along the same road and is a weekend visit on its own. It’s considered the Mecca of serious mountain biking in the Lowveld, and the downhill runs are not for the faint-hearted. It caters for the family and has a lovely river for swimming and tubing, and walks for those not keen on a bike. Self-catering, fully equipped log cabins are available for rent at a very reasonable rate.
5. Pilgrim’s Rest
Take your time in a village awash with history. To absorb it all you need to wander through, visit the museum (+27 (0) 13 768 1060), have a drink at a local pub, pan for gold in the creek and even post a letter at the original post office. Join Pilgrim’s Rest Tours ([email protected]; +27 (0) 82 522 1958) and see it all. The Tourist Information Office here is superb so make sure it’s your first stop in the village. I go back again and again and every time I find something new or meet a new character worth getting to know. Great accommodation is available at the Royal Hotel (+27 (0) 13 768 1100).
6. The Panorama Route
Get yourself a good map and drive north out of Graskop on the R532 and you will come to some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa. You could not find a more apt description to a viewpoint than God’s Window and, although winter in the Lowveld is hazy, you are unlikely to have mist. Bourke’s Luck Potholes is the starting point of the third biggest canyon in the world and the walks around here are beautiful. Then take a drive to the Three Rondawels viewpoint for views down to the Blyde Dam. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times as the light on the cliffs is breathtaking. I have once flown by helicopter over the escarpment and, although it can be stomach-churning stuff, I will never forget it. We stopped for a picnic on the edge of the world and swooped low over waterfalls. In my book this is a real must.
+27 (0) 83 625 6991; +27 (0) 82 924 7920
Voted Town of the Year for 2012/2013, Sabie’s biggest claim to fame is its waterfalls with evocative names like Lone Creek and Bridal Veils. Not only are the falls themselves beautiful but the area is worth exploring. Take a picnic and stop alongside the little creeks and rivers that have ferns dripping over the edge into crystal clear water. This is an area just to wander and enjoy the scenery. Merry Pebbles Holiday Resort and Caravan Park is ideal for a family holiday, hiking trails and mountain biking. It has fully equipped, self-catering units and an à la carte restaurant.
If you love history, do the Heritage Walk through town to get a feel of the Gold Rush days and imagine the transport wagons rumbling through, Jock and Percy Fitzpatrick striding down the street to the first Stock Exchange and the tall tales of gold and fortunes made and lost that were told in every pub. The restored houses and buildings along the way are exceptionally well preserved.
Be careful of gold fever getting a grip on you if you go gold panning with Danny Brink, ex gold panning champion (contact the Barberton Tourism office for more information). Once you start it’s hard to stop as the big nugget is always going to be in the next pan you wash. Leaving the sunlight and going into an old mine is not always easy but Andrea Botha’s tour of the Tiger Trap Gold Mine gives you a sense of what it was like in the old days (Barberton Odyssey, [email protected]).
The town is surrounded by the oldest geological formations in the world, and the two-day Queen Rose Hiking Trail is stunning in winter when it’s not too hot, and can be done as a day walk or overnight (contact Barberton Odyssey for more information). You can also visit the museum at Sheba Mine ([email protected], 082 491 2963).
Accommodation options are the Royal Sheba Guest House ([email protected]; +27 (0) 13 712 4564), the Gold Nugget Guest House (+27 (0) 71 689 9114). On the R40, 12 km from Barberton, the Lovely Jubley (+27 (0) 82 941 0005) serves plain simple home-style pub food and there’s a dam where the kids can fish.
+27 (0) 82 959 6670
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9. Kruger National Park
There is nothing quite like being the first out of camp in the early morning with a flask of hot coffee and rusks beside you. I have been going since childhood and I still have that sense of excitement when I see something special. For those who want something different and find it hard sitting in a car all day, Kruger now offers many other options. Walking trails are hugely popular and because you go back to the same camp every night you only carry a day-pack. Many camps offer night drives – when others have to be back in camp you smugly drive out with a ranger and a spotlight. Each camp has its own special attraction. Pretoriuskop has a spectacular swimming pool built in the rock, which kids love, Skukuza has a wonderful museum and Lower Sabie is set on the river. Make sure you do your homework. I often think it’s better to stay in one or two camps rather than move too much
+27 (0) 12 428 9111
10. Nelspruit & White River
Nelspruit and White River are growing so rapidly they have almost met. Chimp Eden run by the Jane Goodall Institute is a haven for chimps misplaced from their natural habitat. Many have been rescued from captivity across Africa and are now in large open enclosures. Each chimp has a special story and it is heart-warming to hear the stories of survival and how the chimps have been rehabilitated by dedicated staff. It is 15km from Nelspruit on the R40 to Barberton. Make sure you do a one and a half hour tour at feeding times to get the most out of your visit (013 745 7406).Every time I ever take visitors to the Lowveld National Botanical Garden they are overwhelmed at its beauty. This really is a hidden jewel, one that is a green oasis even in the middle of winter. The lushness here will be welcome to those who are in the middle of a dry and dusty Highveld winter. The Rainforest Canopy is one of my favourite areas. Check the opening times before you go (013 752 5531).
Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, as you head north out of White River, is a beautiful shopping centre set in an old mango orchard. This is a great place to stop for a meal and pick up a few curios and presents, as well as see some of the Lowveld’s best art and crafts (013 751 1540). If you stay overnight, go to an art movie in the old movie theatre, with its plush seats and old style that will take you back to your childhood. You are spoilt for choice here when it comes to food and drink and, if you are lucky, the Casterbridge Music Development Academy might have some live music. There are many accommodation options like Chimp Eden Boutique Hotel (087 806 4909), Kavinga Guesthouse (www.kavinga.co.za), Heuglins Guest House (013 751 1319).
Words and Photography Sue Adams