On the slopes of the mighty Wolkberg, part of the northern Drakensberg Mountain Range, lies the picturesque village of Haenertsburg – capital of the “Land of the Silver Mists”. The town was named after Carl Ferdinand Haenert who discovered gold in the area, a discovery that started a gold rush to what became known as the Woodbush goldfields. Established in 1886, the town continued to grow steadily even after the gold rush was over, owing to the flourishing timber industry and fruit such as avocado, kiwi and nut (macadamia) farming endeavours.
It is the ideal retreat for people who feel the need to be swallowed up in the cool restful arms of nature. When the legendary morning mountain mists give way to sparkling sunshine and clear mountain air, people are inspired to poetry and the natural beauty of the area and the unhurried pace of living give rest to the weary.
Haenertsburg is particularly pretty during spring when the cherry trees and azaleas bloom against the backdrop of Iron Crown Mountains
This is also the area that inspired the literary geniuses John Buchan and Rider Haggard to write their famous books King Solomon’s Mines, Prester John, She (about Modjadji, the Rain Queen) and Allan Qurtermain — the last three of which were all based on actual people.
Adventure And Sport
Bifrost Mountain Retreat Hiking Trails: These trails take hikers through forests and over mountainous terrain to a waterfall or to the top of the Iron Crown. More relaxing, moderate walks are organised by the Cheerio and Wegraakbos Farms in the area.
Dap Naude Dam: Nestled in the tree-covered folds of the mountains, the dam can be reached via a scenic drive off Road R71. There are shady public picnic spots below the dam wall but access to the dam and to the trout-fishing facilities should be organised in advance through the Haenertsburg Trout Association.
Ebenezer Dam: This tranquil dam boasts a majestic backdrop — the Iron Crown – the highest peak in the Wolkberg Mountains. The dam is stocked with bass, bream, sharp-tooth catfish and trout. Boating, angling, picnicking, scenic drives or pleasant strolls will add to the enjoyment of a relaxing day at this dam. Rafts are available to cruise the dam but a special treat not to be missed is a cruise and overnight stay on the houseboat “Sunset Queen” Houseboat.
4×4 Trails: The area surrounding the town has many 4×4 trails.
Lesedi and Louis Changuion Hiking Trails: The Lesedi (two to four hours) and Louis Changuion Trails (11 km) present challenging but rewarding climbs.
Magoebaskloof Hiking Trails: These trails start at the De Hoek Forest Station and offer two circular three-day trails. The 36-km Dokolewa Hiking Trail and the 50-km Grootbos Hiking Trail take you through aromatic pine and indigenous evergreen forests, offer spectacular views from mountain heights, crystal-clear waterfalls and valleys covered with tree ferns. The Grootbos Trail takes three days to complete and should only be attempted by the very fit.
Mountain-biking: Enthusiasts can choose between relatively easy or more challenging mountain biking routes in the area.
Mountain Fly-Fishing and Trout-fishing: These angling activities can be enjoyed at various spots in the area. Contact the Haenertsburg Trout Association for trout-fishing permits for Troutwaters Dam. Devotees can also fish in the sparkling waters of Ebenezer Dam.
Rooikat Hiking Trail: The trail traverses the New Agatha plantation some 18 km from Tzaneen. Plan to spend about five hours on this 11-km circular route and leave your car at the Forester’s office.
SAFCOL Big Five Hiking Trail: The SAFCOL (South African Forestry College) Magoebaskloof Big Five Trail consists of a five-day trail network through indigenous forests and icy mountain streams.
Wolkberg Wilderness Hikes: Although no official hiking trails have been laid out in the spectacular Wolkberg Wilderness Area, nature lovers can follow the jeep tracks and paths used by Wilderness officials. Permits are required to explore the area and day and overnight visitors have to adhere to strict rules. Swimming is allowed but not angling or hunting or the making of fires. The best time to visit is from April to August.
Horse-Riding: There are also several horse trails which go through the beautiful wilderness areas.
Wegraakbosch Dairy: The dairy gives demonstrations of how cheese is made in the traditional Swiss manner. Visitors may observe, taste some of the cheeses and of course, buy some of their favourites.
Entertainment And Shopping
Events: The town is renowned for its Cherry Blossom and Azalea Festival, Craft Fair and Orchid Exhibition which is held every September. Every autumn, in April and May, the Autumn Music, Art and Cultural Festival is held. Several choirs and dance groups then celebrate the cultural diversity of the province.
Fauna And Flora
Arboretum: Located in the Market Square, the Arboretum contains over 400 different species of trees, laid out in five rings, symbolising the Olympic logo. Each ring contains the plants and trees of a different continent.
Bird life: The birds are certainly dedicated supporters of the idea to keep the area as free from human influence as possible. Feathered jewels such as the Knysna and purplecrested loeries add their song to the sounds of the forest. More than 187 species of birds have been recorded in the mountains.
Flora: The forests and grasslands of the Haenertsburg area are home to a large variety of plants and ferns. Over 200 orchids have been identified here and arum lilies grow naturally in the area. Aloes can be seen on the mountain slopes and the rare aloe, Thompsoniae, is only found in this region.
George’s Valley: The spectacular George’s Valley, with its indigenous forest, waterfalls, kloofs and lakes links the mountains of Haenertsburg, Magoebaskloof and Agatha. Often shrouded in mist, it is something special to be there when the sun breaks through the mist and clears the picture.
Houtbosch or Woodbush Forest: One of the province’s largest indigenous forests hides in the misty heights of Magoebaskloof. The forest has been proclaimed a nature reserve to protect its wide diversity of trees – yellowwood, white stinkwood, lemonwood, ironwood, cluster fig, wild peach and forest bushwillow, to name but a few. The tallest tree in South Africa – a 97-metre-high bluegum tree (Eucalyptus saligna) thrives in this fertile soil. Dainty orchids cling to the trees, which also shelter masses of bright orange clivias. The densely wooded mountain slopes and the soft mist in which they are often shrouded enhance the wild, unspoilt beauty of the area and offer shade and shelter to leopards, oribis, tiny red duiker antelopes and rare samango monkeys. Also protected within the boundaries of the reserve are the renowned Debegeni Falls, a series of 24-metre-high falls that cascade into a pool. Motorists can explore the forest along the Forest Scenic Drive and, for the more adventurous, there is the Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail.
Magoebaskloof: The scenic, forested pass of Magoebaskloof is a lush tropical paradise of breathtaking evergreen tea plantations, indigenous forests, pine plantations and colourful flowering trees and shrubs. To truly appreciate the beauty of the area, stop off at spots such as the Magoebaskloof Picnic and Lookout Spot, which overlooks the valley. Magoebaskloof Pass is named after Makgoba, the leader of an African tribe that occupied the area during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The pass Iies between the town of Haenertsburg and the Lowveld town of Tzaneen and is on the R27 National Road linking Polokwane (Pietersburg) and Tzaneen. This spectacular pass, winding down the escarpment, is one of South Africa’s most scenic routes and is linked to two lovely scenic drives, Georges Valley Drive and Forest Drive.
Wolkberg (“Cloud Mountain”) Wilderness Area: Wolkberg is a proclaimed wilderness area, offering incredibly beautiful scenery and vegetation so varied and beautiful that it is worth a visit on its own. The area covers more than 20 000 ha and is the largest untouched wilderness area in the province. Many ferns and plants thrive in the moist conditions, covering the forest floor in green. Find carpets of pink Brunsvigia (candelabra flower) in bloom during January, Watsonia transvaalensis with its tapering spikes of slender tubular flowers in February and carpets of blue indigenous orchids flowering in March. Another interesting spot in this natural wonderland is Cycad Valley with its approximately 4 000 Modjadji cycads, the largest cycad of the 17 South African species of cycads. The Mohlapitse River has several waterfalls and potholes that are worth a closer look. In addition, in the valleys and on the southern and south-eastern slopes of the Wolkberg Mountain Range lie some of South Africa’s most beautiful indigenous forests.
History And Architecture
Haenertsburg War Memorial: This memorial was erected in memory of the local residents who died in the Makgoba War, the Anglo-Boer War, the two World Wars and the Border Wars. The sentiment of the memorial is unique – it honours the memories of all those who died in these wars, regardless of which side they fought on. Fragments of one of the destroyed “Long Tom” guns that were used by the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War to protect the pass against the British can also be seen here.
John Buchan Memorial: This memorial was erected in honour of the famous Scottish writer whose novel, Prester John, was inspired by the Magoebaskloof area where he once dwelt. His memorial affords a beautiful view of the Ebenezer Dam.
King Mamphoku Makgoba: From the silvery mists rise stories of legendary characters whose spirits still seem to dwell here. One such was King Mamphoku Makgoba, slain by the Swazis when he defied the Boer government. The king’s head was cut off and presented to the Boers as gruesome proof that he was indeed dead. His grieving people buried his body in a place that will remain secret until his head is eventually returned.
Long Tom Guns: The “Long Tom” guns were an essential part of Boer strategy during the Anglo-Boer War. The Boers eventually blew up two of their own guns in the Haenertsburg area to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy. Visit the site where one of these was blown up.
O’Connor Memorial: The memorial was built in honour of a former District Officer of the area who planted the bluegum trees that now lead up to the site of his memorial.
Old Agatha: The famous Coach House Hotel was named after the wife of the Mining Commissioner. During the gold rush days, the Zeederberg Coach Company used the rough inn as a staging point. When malaria plagued the travellers too much, they moved the inn to an adjoining farm and called it New Agatha.
Debegeni Falls: The magnificent Debegeni Falls, a series of 24-metr- high falls that cascade into a pool lie in the protected Woodbush forest reserve.
Iron Crown Mountain and Serala: The mountain in the Wolkberg Wilderness Area has an ironstone ring around its peak and therefore its name is very applicable. Serala is one of the largest wilderness areas in the province and accommodation facilities are available.