ECO DESTINATION OF CHOICE
“Magoebaskloof is a home of wanderers… people who have been searching for home and have found it in the heart of the mountains,” says Tamla McMahon of Thomac Essential Oils, a family business in the heart of Limpopo’s newest eco-destination of choice.
Hidden in the misty mountains of Magoebaskloof, lies Cheerio Road. The minute your tyres hit dirt, you will feel the freedom of country roads and the promise of an adventure. Glimpses of homesteads almost hidden from view are intriguing and enticing… speaking of years gone by and the pioneers, hardy woodcutters, traders and adventurers who made these wild places their home.
Twenty-six-year-old Tamla McMahon recently returned to the family farm and says: “Looking back on my journey so far it seems I was definitely destined to come back home. I was born in this beautiful area and, every time I left, I always had a yearning to come back. The area has a magnetism to it… if you ask anyone who has visited this beautiful place, they will tell you that they will never forget Magoebaskloof and its people.” She elaborates, saying: “This feeling is especially strong for us locals who have been here our whole lives because there is an amazing sense of community and unprecedented natural beauty along with a sense of freedom.”
This is indeed a magical world. Driving off the main Route-71 and onto the meandering gravel road just opposite the old bluegum tree with intriguing Celtic-inspired carvings made by artist and blacksmith, Toban Kahn McMahon, you will find the distillery and home of Thomac Essential Oils, the heart space of Julie McMahon, who has been passionate since she was a child about the indigenous medicinal plants from which her father, Clifford Thompson, extracted essential oils. Thomac is the only producer worldwide to harvest Helichrysum splendidum sustainably from the hillsides surrounding the farm and press the plants into essential oils.
Julie’s husband, Mark says: “The process of harvesting and extracting Helichrysum splendidum essential oil, more commonly known as Southern Immortelle, is a very low-footprint operation, with the bulk of the plant being wild harvested using sustainable methods and the only by-products are distilled water, plant humus and a little wood smoke. What set out as a business idea turned into a journey towards health and wellbeing, being led by the plant itself.” This inspiring family, with roots deep in the very soil of Magoebaskloof, believes in living in harmony with nature and with people, which shows in everything they do.
A stone’s throw away, Julie’s brother, Nipper Thompson, lives a life close to nature on the Wegraakbosch off-the-grid organic cheese farm. Downy geese, inquisitive goats and contented cows roam around the lush farm where the Thompsons and their team make organic cheeses in a copper cauldron over a blazing fire. Like Tamla and Toban, the fourth generation of Thompsons, Michi and Raymond have returned to the family farm and are deeply committed to the conservation of this beautiful place.
As citizen conservationists, we know that eco-travel should be all about feeding your senses with the best there is on offer at your destination.
The real flavour of a place comes through in the unique food experiences you have… with produce that is organic and home grown with love. With the ‘Farm to Fork’ and ‘Eat Local’ movements gaining momentum around the world, travellers now want to know more about where their food comes from and how to support local producers.
In Magoebaskloof, the unique local flavours are of the Wegraakbosch slow-food accredited organic cheeses… or moringa beer from the inspiring young brew master, Luca Tooley at Zwakala Brewery. It’s in the cordials from Kuhestan, the sweet-treats at Magriets, the berries you can pick straight from the bushes at Blueberry Heights or pop into your gin at the Mountain Café after a divine lazy lunch. Or… if the driving came to an end when you reached your forest-mountain hideaway, you can call up Cicadas Cuisine to stock your fridge or bring a chef’s basket with the best of local fare.
But let’s face it, a road trip through Limpopo is never complete without a padstal. There are so many reasons to take a left off the main route and pick up the freshest local produce delivered that day and scan the shelves for the local flavour of the home-crafted, eco-friendly and handmade. The Magoebaskloof Farmstall and Café on the winding Route-71 to the lowveld, is firmly focused on local produce and ethical products. Manager, Angie Paterson feels that it is “essential to shift people’s paradigms if we want to nurture our planet”. Her vegan ‘Beyond Burger’; the fabulous Fair Trade Coffee and reuse-or-recycle packaging will make every responsible traveller’s heart sing.
Magoebaskloof Farmstall also stocks proudly local products like Baocare baobab oils and Rhino Beetle Gin, handcrafted in the heart of Limpopo province using only local botanicals with unusual flavours from Turkish delight and cotton candy to naartjie and litchi. And, if you are lucky with your timing, you can join the locals at the Magoebaskloof Farmers’ Market on the first Saturday of every month and enjoy the most delicious treats from the area.
It is not only the food that makes Magoebaskloof a paradise for the eco-traveller… think rugged mountains with their heads in the clouds… waterfalls tumbling down sheer cliffs… falcons catching the thermals and wild flowers covering the grasslands like a colourful carpet. The area is one of spectacular natural beauty whether you are hiking through the Wolkberg Mountain Reserve with the Mountain Company or abseiling alongside waterfalls with Magoebaskloof ME.
You can mountain bike the network of trails through the picturesque farms around Cheerio Road or try a more technical route on single-track forestry roads and mountain passes.
If adrenaline is your buzz, you would want to ‘soar like an Eagle’ through the Letaba River gorge on 11 ziplines over waterfalls at the Magoebaskloof Canopy Tours but if you favour a more serene option, you can choose a meditative fly-fishing session or team up with South Africa’s top local bird guides, David Letsoalo and Paul Nkhumane, to go birding at the Haenertsburg Grasslands or in the second-largest indigenous forest in South Africa, the Woodbush Forest.
For those who favour a retreat to the eco-activities, book in with the ‘foot fairy’, Colleen Ballenden for a treat for the feet at her tranquil Reiflexology Centre based at the lovely Stanford Lake Lodge or if you need to regain your balance and heal body, mind and soul, book a healing session with Glynnis Steyn at her Vibrant Health Transformation Centre with soulful views into the valley below.
Of course, one of the most important elements of a destination for a responsible traveller is the connection to people. Walk down the tree-lined main street of Haenertsburg and you will feel as if you have discovered a town from the days of old, when people greeted each other on the streets, where a lazy weekend stretches endlessly ahead of you and time stands still. Wander through the gold-mining-themed Pennefather shops and the charming Memory Hold-the-door Bookstore. Stop in at Blackburne Leather for gorgeous handcrafted hats, shoes, belts and bags or the newly-opened Earth by Nature retail consortium where you will find local products like Black Rabbit Design, Boerboel Wear and the Plant Fundis all under one roof. Browse through the art, interior design and orchid rooms or treat yourself to a massage and facial.
At the heart of this quaint hamlet of Haenertsburg, amongst a host of other great dining options, is The Eatery on Rissik, a deli and restaurant where ‘local is lekker’. The shelves are lined with proudly Limpopo jams and condiments from local farmers, the veggies are from Wegraakbosch organic farm, eggs and chicken are free range and locally-sourced… the coffee is from the Allegraine Dairy and the pork products are from Mockford Farms. Community food producers provide flavourful, seasonal food you can trust and a more sustainable ideal to ‘eat for the future’ of a healthy planet.
The Eatery is a favourite space for locals to meet for a coffee next to the cosy fireplace or spend a virtual-workday on the sunny, glass-walled patio, so there is always a buzz when you pop in for a home-made pie or to collect your picnic pack of delicious deli-treats, freshly-baked breads and sweet delights to take on your adventures exploring the area. The Whacker family-owners are always innovating with a sushi bar; themed events and a festive cocktails and wine bar and it feels great to support a business which helps local family farms to survive and thrive.
Accommodation options abound in Magoebaskloof, from soul spaces like Zwakala River Retreat; Cheerio Gardens Cottages or Sequoia Garden Retreat to off-the-grid havens like Graceland Eco Retreat overlooking the Kudu’s River Valley. You can choose a centrally-located option in Haenertsburg like Earth Creations B&B, where the ceramic and glass-artist owners offer pottery and mosaic classes. If a farm stay sounds like an interesting option, you can book into the tranquil Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottage on a working avo farm; the Herb Cottage at Tupelo Honey Farm; Boschoek Farmstay in Tzaneen or Kuhestan Organic Farmstay on the doorstep of Woodbush Reserve.
A real treat is Bramasole Luxury Guesthouse in the heart of Magoebaskloof, with its 15 unique rooms, each one beautifully styled with artifacts from the journeys Melanie and Robin McIntosh made to Paris, Hanoi, Manhattan and Santorini. As an architect, Robin has brought all of his experience and passion to creating the guesthouse and new self-catering cottages, Loch Lomond and Kyoto, tucked into the hillside with glorious views out onto the forest beyond.
The four self-contained units offer independence and privacy while the main lodge gives visitors a sense of being a much-loved friend staying in the McIntosh home. Decor details and a unique colour palette add to the refined service and attentive hospitality but also transport you into a different world which, as the dynamic and welcoming manager, Vuyelwa Mphambela, observed, is a great advantage during the travel lockdown since “you don’t even need to book a flight… you can just come to Bramasole!”
At Bramasole, Italian for ‘yearning for the sun’, you can do as much or as little as you like… the guesthouse is central to a myriad of activities in Magoebaskloof and you can kayak, bike, bird or walk around the beautiful gardens but you could also just soak up the sunset at the glass house at the edge of the lake or curl up next to a cozy fireplace and take some time to restore your spirit.
Further afield, in New Agatha above Tzaneen, Granny Dot’s Country Spot is a well-known, welcoming and warm-hearted home-away-from-home with rooms appropriately named Love, Courage and Dream overlooking the Wolkberg mountains. Granny Dot’s is set on an avocado farm close to the bat hawk nesting site, the Agatha Crocodile Ranch and the delightful King’s Walden Garden Manor, where picnics in the world-renowned historic garden allow you to soak up the heady views.
Magoebaskloof has always attracted people who feel the close connection to the earth. Megan Baragwanath’s family has been in this area since 1904, when her great-grandfather, Orlando Baragwanath, settled here. She feels that mountains, waterfalls and indigenous forests have a special energy which she connects with and she offers the same opportunity of healing and connection for visitors to Magoebaskloof. She believes: “All natural beings are sentient and they each play a role in the holistic ecosystem of life on this planet, so that each and every one of us can exist in a balanced way.” She loves learning about the ancient knowledge of the natural healing properties of medicinal plants like her Bulbine balm or Mina’s Artemisia afra Mu-tea and believes that they play a vital role in healing and assisting us to live to our full capacity. Megan started her website, Sanfern Downs based on the premise that “we can coexist in a way that is good for us all.”
Nature’s Way Online Holistic Health Shop has a similar ethos of bringing together like-minded holistic individuals in one place and promoting products like Hazel Roskelly’s eco-products made with love and attention. Her locally-produced, beautifully-packaged Hazel’s Harvest range of handmade fragrant soaps, sausage tree cream or lavender and baobab nourishing balm are a must. Passionate about environmental education and awareness through tourism, Nature’s Way owner, Lisa Grosel, also offers eco-travel day trips around the province, integrating natural living close to nature with the joy of the great outdoors.
Susannah Cole-Hamilton is another eco-savvy person playing her part in supporting local with her online initiative, Fresh from the Farm. Whether it is the divine flavour of a ripe avocado; the heady fragrance of blossom-infused honey; buttery macadamias; the taste bud tingle of dried naartjies or the subtle scents of herbal tea, Susannah and her team from Boschoek Farm make it possible for you to enjoy all the flavours of the area long after you head home.
Limpopo Province is best known for the Kruger National Park, the country’s wild heart, but If open skies, magnificent mountain scenery, immersive activities in nature and slow food deliciousness are enough to make your spirit soar, head off to the misty mountains of Magoebaskloof. Join the tribe of wanderers who call Magoebaskloof their eco-destination of choice. Breathe the clean forest air… soak up the views….make friends with the mountain-folk and savour the organic, orgasmic flavours of this soulful space. You won’t be the same person when you leave.
Love Limpopo came into being because of a deep love for the people and places in this incredible province… a celebration of the deep and ancient rhythm of its collective heritage. Love Limpopo is not just a destination marketing platform to help travellers find responsible accommodation and immersive cultural, nature, wildlife and adventure experiences in spectacular places … It is a movement… a way to connect the threads of our ecosystem, live better and build a more sustainable tourism landscape.
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