Michael Lutzeyer, from award-winning Grootbos private nature reserve near Gansbaai and member of SA Tourism’s board, boasts how Grootbos lets your brain to breath with its views that extend to the horizon, taking in the lighthouses at Danger Point, Hangklip and Cape Point.
Well, brain-breathing views are commonplace in the Waterberg and driving there is a spectacular part of the experience.
The Waterberg is about three hours’ drive from Johannesburg and its only town is Vaalwater at the southern end.
Rupert Baber, chair of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, describes it best:
“Vast, remote and serene, the Waterberg Mountain Range stretches as a series of seemingly impenetrable barriers across the horizon… It is an immense storehouse of cultural, archeological and biological diversity and a key catchment area of the Limpopo river basin. The habitat is referred to as Waterberg Moist Mountain Savannah and consists of sour bushveld on sandy, leached soils; steep slopes, cliffs and bare rock faces; and riverbeds and wetland areas.
“The currently known plant species total 2015, and the Waterberg is home to a great array of bird species, including the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world. When my ancestors first arrived in the Waterberg in the 1890s, most of the mammals had been shot to oblivion. By contrast the Waterberg of today teems with game. It is home to several rare. endangered or threatened carnivore species, including wild dog, brown hyena, aardwolf, honey badger, leopard, African wild cat, serval, striped weasel and African civet. Other rare mammals include roan, sable, black and white rhinoceros, hippo, pangolin and more.
“The Waterberg is one of the best parts of South Africa for star gazing due to its phenomenally low level of light pollution. It is indeed unsual to find an area so close to an economic hub which still retains the impression of open spaces, unscarred by human settlement.”
The late afternoon I drove to Windsong Cottages was the first time I felt that I was really in Africa, although I’ve lived in the Western Cape all my life. The vegetation is so different to anything I’ve experienced before. But then, the moment you arrive at Windsong Cottages, you feel completely at home.
It’s comfortable, unpretentious and relaxed — exactly what one expects of great farm accommodation. And, from R180 per person, it’s also affordable.
It’s a great place for kids, between the popular trampoline and the best playground I’ve ever seen – the huge Children’s Adventure Village. Children are really welcomed and catered for here.
We met locals from Gauteng as well as Irish guests staying there. Everyone just loved the place and it is a regular destination for the Gauteng group — a family getaway with great fishing. There is a 15m heated pool, hiking trails, quad biking, horse riding, canoing and Phillip Calcott’s famous star tours. Using an advanced modern telescope and astronomical video camera his guided tour will introduce you to the amazing Waterberg night sky – from the comfort of your chair, and in colour. You can either chill out or go and explore, and they do offer game-viewing too.
Right next door, if you can find it since they don’t seem to believe in clear signposting, is one of SA’s gems.
Horizon Horseback Adventures & Safaris is remarkable. Shane and Laura run a really slick operation — great accommodation, great food, the most varied rides imaginable, warm friendliness that brings people back over and over again. and of course the 70 horses for the eight–ten people they prefer to accommodate at any one time.
At £160/day, it’s not cheap by SA standards but that includes all meals and two rides a day. Guest Lisa put that in perspective for foreign visitors — she and her husband had gone riding in the UK for two hours in the Lake District and that cost them £120.
Most of their guests are from the UK, followed by European countries and the USA. And over 30% return!
Guests dine together — breakfasts on the stoep of the main building, lunches at a long table under the towering trees on the lawn alongside the dam, and dinners inside. A spirit of cameraderie develops and new friends are made.
Imagine catching a plane at Heathrow in London at 6pm, arriving in the Bushveld at lunchtime the next day, and before 24 hours have passed you’ve already been for your first ride and encountered giraffe 20 metres away. Two young women arrived while I was there and experienced exactly that. Two weeks prior, they were still thinking of a skiing holiday when they saw how highly-rated Horizon is for an adventure holiday.
But, if I had to choose someone to be my host for a few days of rivetting conversation, it would be Andrew and Rachel Poole at Moonriver Bush Bungalows.
Sometimes one meets someone and immediately knows that this is someone you would really like to get to know better. Andrew and Rachel are two such people. Both have an intangible zest for life and there is little that Andrew has not done.
So it’s not only views and long vistas that allow city brains to breathe, but stimulating people too.