Words & pics Bridget Hilton-Barber
The boeremeisie of yore has cast off her crimplene for good. Once a conservative rural backwater, the town of Hoedspruit has blossomed in the past few years to become the trendy new heart of the Limpopo Lowveld - or the Slowveld as it’s known around here. There’s been a delicious outbreak of delis, restaurants, wine shops and galleries – all of which combine very well with the hot, slow surroundings and the blue views of the northern Drakensberg mountains beyond.
Hoedspruit has long been the gateway to the Kruger National Park and a number of famous reserves like Klaserie, Timbavati, Selati, Balule, Thornybush and Sabi Sands. In the old days, the most you could expect passing through town itself was the proverbial thatched boma-style bar serving Lion lager and steaks the size of knee blankets. Today however, you can do peri-peri prawns a la Mozambique, head for sushi and fine wine, have a quick shot of sexy African coffee with some free wi-fi, or handpick your picnic basket fare from a designer deli.
We based ourselves at Raptor’s Lodge on the edge of town – a series of charming self-catering bushveld townhouses, where warthogs scuttle by and the mornings are filled with birdsong. “Great lodge”, wrote someone in the visitors’ book, “I stayed for five weeks”. We had a mere weekend – but the lovely thing about Raptor’s is that it’s right around the corner from the Safari Wine Club, where we headed eagerly the next morning to stock up.
The Safari Wine Club services many of the surrounding bush lodges and restaurants and has been one of the best things to happen to Limpopo wineheads. A wine without meal is called breakfast, said the sign in this fabulous shop – but we decided to disregard this shabby advice and went for a late breakfast and a bottle of Fat Bastard chardonnay at the lovely Hat & Creek restaurant in town.
Outdoor dining under trees or on the generous porch, the Hat & Creek is the best upmarket restaurant in Hoedspruit with a fusion menu with fresh seasonal ingredients and dishes like grilled prawns, salmon stacks and fillet. The owners of the restaurant are soon launching a new wine called Rhino’s Tears, which beautifully symbolises the conservation mindedness of this town.
The name Hat & Creek is a play on Hoedspruit – which means hat creek in Afrikaans. An early pioneer, goes the story, was so delighted with his decision to settle here that he tossed his hat into a nearby creek - which sounds a bit tame for these parts if you ask me, this being Big Five country and all. Anyway it was very hard to tear ourselves away from the Hat & Creek. But we managed to push on eventually for an afternoon sundowner cruise on the Blyde River.
As the corks popped, the fish eagles shrieked and the hippos honked, the cruise took us past amazing views of the canyon and the fascinating tufa waterfall that plunges down the northern slopes near the Strijdom tunnels. Tufa waterfalls are fabulous quirk of nature – the waterfall flows underneath a hard outer shell, a combination of magic and millions of years of water running over dolomite rock. The one out here is known as the Kadishi Tufa Waterfall and also as the ‘weeping face of nature’.
The next day we dropped by the Madham Café and Food Emporium and assembled our designer picnic basket for a jaunt into Kruger. This funky deli in the Spa Centre is a foodie’s delight offering locally sourced cheeses, choriços, pickles, dips, olives, freshly baked bread, fairtrade coffee, local honey. The Madham has a sister shop called Madcows (in the Rockfig Lifestyle Centre) that sells a range of sustainably sourced design, homeware, arts, crafts, clothing and décor. The “mad” part they say, stands for Making a Difference.
The closest gate into Kruger from Hoedspruit is Orpen gate, which takes you straight into lion country – wide open grasslands that attract some of the biggest herds of grazing animals in the park. The Timbavati River road – a dirt road to Phalaborwa gate is one of the most scenic in the park. But we opted for a shorter gentle loop - and tried not to eat the entire Madham picnic basket before we got to Rabelais Hut, a small museum and info centre some 9km away.
There’s a lovely waterhole nearby, where we stopped to see a couple of bokkies slaking their thirst and then trundled off along the H7 which meanders along the Timbavati River, a gorgeous drive. We stopped at Bobbejaan Krans (20km away from the gate) where we flattened the picnic fare and sat watching elephants moving through the bush and pods of hippos floating like giant aubergines.
Apart from the Kruger, there’s plenty to explore around Hoedspruit – like the Bombyx Mori Silk Farm where you can see silkworms doing their wild thing, or Tshukudu where you can have a morning walk with rehabilitated and orphaned wild animals. We decided to stick with the wine safari theme and headed for a long lazy lunch at overlooking the Olifants River. The Three Bridges does fabulous pizzas and soul food. We perched ourselves in the shade of a moringa tree and sank into that wonderful sense of possibility that goes with being in the bush with a good view.
For more information:
• Hoedspruit info - www.hoedspruit.co.za
• Raptors Lodge - www.raptorslodge.co.za
• Safari Wine Club – www.safariwineclub.co.za
• The Hat & Creek – www.thehatandcreek.co.za
• The Madham Café and Food Emporium – www.madcows.co.za
• KNP – www.sanparks.co.za