The land of Modjadji, the Rain Queen

Limpopo, South Africa’s most northern province, is a place of mystery where visitors can unlock the key to ancient tribal cultures while sampling breathtaking natural beauty.

This is prime African bushveld – wide open expanses of beautiful flat scrub, dotted with small acacia thorn trees and marked by curious granite outcrops and inselbergs.

Towards the eastern highlands of Limpopo, the topography changes to include more traditional mountain peaks, especially around Magoebaskloof and Tzaneen – two hidden jewels of this beautiful province.

Magoebaskloof is the home of a breathtaking cycad forest and is the realm of the Modjadji and their legendary Rain Queen. It was the Modjadji and their beguiling matriarch who were the inspiration for F Ryder Haggard’s immortal novel “She”.

The Modjadji cycad forest near Magoebaskloof

The Modjadji people have a rich cultural and historical heritage and still use the cycad forest as a venue for traditional ceremonies. The village of Haenertsburg, a short drive down the breathtaking Magoebaskloof pass, is also steeped in history.

It is named after Carl Ferdinand Haenert, a pioneering German-born farmer who was the first farmer to plant coffee in South Africa.

Haenert was also caught up in the 1871 gold rush, discovering the precious metal in the Houtboschberg in 1877 which sparked a mini gold-rush in the area and led to the founding of the village.

After the rush ended, the village stagnated until a demand for structural timber in the years following the First World War kickstarted a thriving industry in the surrounding forests.

Today, Haenertsburg is becoming a thriving tourism centre, with arts, crafts and fruit and nut plantations attracting visitors from far and wide.

Writer John Buchan made the village his home, and his books, of which Prester John is perhaps the best known, chronicled “The land of the Silver Mist”.

Far below Magoebaskloof lies the picturesque town of Tzaneen. Here the lush rainforests of the Modjadji give way to endless hills and dramatic summits in this, the northern reaches of the majestic Drakensberg, whose name literally translated means “dragon’s mountains”.

The beautiful Drakensberg tower over Tzaneen

This area is a prime birding spot. Lovers of feathered things will not be disappointed on the range of species waiting to be spotted, more than 370 of them to be exact, including the elusive Narina trogon, crowned eagle and scaley-throated honey guide.

Accommodation options here are topped by one of South Africa’s best kept secrets – The Coach House. Located in the charming village of Agatha, a short drive from Tzaneen, the hotel is set in extensive wonderful gardens filled to overflowing with azaleas and camellias of every hue and variety.

The Coach House stands near the site of a staging post built in 1892 and used by the Zeederberg Coach Company to rest and change their teams of mules and oxen before tackling the final step along a torturous coach road leading to Thabina, Leydsdorp and the Lowveld.

As befits its history, the furnishings are opulent yesteryear with some fabulous antique pieces matched by tasteful reproductions like the beautiful brass-bound military chests in the bedrooms.

Pathways through the gardens link the hotel rooms to the other facilities such as the croquet lawn and the pool area. The Agatha Spa is set below the rooms on two levels with uninterrupted views of the valley and those ever-present mountains.

Here there is a sensorium which boasts its own dining area, large heated jet pool and gymnasium. It’s all indoors but in warm weather the sliding wooden doors open out completely to let the outdoors in.

The Coach House offers the ideal base from which to spread your wings with a range of activities on tap, perhaps the most impressive of which is a township and cultural tour, offering a completely authentic glimpse of what life is really like in the townships, villages and rural settlements of the Letaba district.

A visit to a local sangoma is top of the list of things to do.

The tours take in the history, political and otherwise, of the area’s tribes, as you discover how the past has shaped and moulded the landscape. Guests visit the ancient kraal of Shangaan chief Muhlava II, to meet a local sangoma and to pay respects to Chief Never Die, who did, and who is buried in his own mausoleum.

Also included is a visit to a traditional shebeen in the heart of a local township.

It’s the perfect way to wind-up a visit to this amazing part of South Africa.

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