Makhado, known until recently as Louis Trichardt, lies at the foot of the densely forested Soutpansberg Mountains, surrounded by fertile agricultural land and conveniently close to the Zimbabwean border and the Kruger National Park. It is 100 km south of Beit Bridge Border Post.
The town, like so many others in Limpopo, is part of Voortrekker history. Two advance parties of Voortrekkers, led by Louis Trichardt and Lang Hans van Rensburg, reached the slopes of the Soutpansberg in 1836. After a quarrel, Van Rensburg’s group moved further east but were all murdered on their way to Lourenco Marques (today’s Maputo) in Mozambique. The Trichardt group camped near the present site of the town and stayed there for a year until they also decided to travel east towards Lourenco Marques. The group took seven months to reach their destination and more than half of them, including Louis Trichardt and his wife, died on the way. Other Voortrekker groups arrived in the area and, after the Venda people in the area had finally been defeated, the town was proclaimed in February 1899.
Various meanders have been mapped out to provide visitors with access to as many attractions as possible. These meanders take visitors through areas rich in wildlife and indigenous plant life, past sites where arts and crafts are sold. If you don’t want to drive, why not try one of the many hiking trails to discover the natural wonders of the area?
Adventure And Sport
Albasini and Middle Letaba Dams: Enjoy a relaxing day at the water’s edge. The Albasini Dam supplies both the town of Makhado and the Levubu farming community with water. It was named after a renowned local figure of the late nineteenth century, Joao Albasini, a Portuguese-born Italian, on whose farm the dam is situated. The dam is 25 km from town on the Levubu Road and allows boating and angling. The Middle Letaba Dam lies just south of Elim on road R578 to Giyani.
Angling: Enjoy the excellent angling opportunities and the beautiful scenery at the overflow of the Luphephe, Albasini and Nwanedi Dams.
Baobab Hiking Trail: This one-day 25-km route traverses the Tshipise holiday resort. See an ancient baobab tree, historical ruins, big game and many species of birds.
Entabeni Trails: The Entabeni Trails pass through bluegum tree plantations and patches of other indigenous species. The trails have swimming spots, fresh water and overnight facilities. Choose between the three-day, 34-km route and the four-day, 52-km route.
4×4 Routes: Various popular 4×4 trails traverse the area.
Golf: Play a round of golf at the beautiful nine-hole golf course of the Louis Trichardt Golf Club on the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg.
Hanglip Hiking Trails: The one-day, 18-km route and the two-day 20,5-km route start at the Hanglip State Forestry office. Overnight huts are available.
Hiking, mountain-biking: Some people argue that one can only truly appreciate the natural beauty of the mountains and valleys, the lush plant life and the craggy mountainous terrain by committing oneself fully to the outdoor experience. For these people, hiking and mountain-climbing are the best ways of exploring the region and it is certainly true that the area is ideally suited for this purpose.
Hiking: There are hiking trails in the many private reserves in the area and in the Kruger National Park itself. These reserves include the Ben Lavin Nature Reserve, Greater Kuduland, Schoemansdal Environmental Education Centre, Lesheba Wilderness, Lajuma Mountain Retreat and Medike Mountain Reserve.
Limpopo Wilderness Hiking Trail: The 20-km trail between Pontdrif and Platjan, next to the Limpopo River takes three days to complete. Lush vegetation, both large and small species of game and comfortable accommodation facilities are some of the reasons why this trail is popular.
Maduba-Shango Trail: Set aside three days to complete the 55-km circular Maduba-Shango Trail near Sibasa. Overnight facilities are available and the route takes you past traditional Venda villages, a tea plantation and a holy lake.
Mountain climbing The majestic Soutpansberg Mountains offer professional climbers and sightseers an opportunity to indulge their favourite pastimes.
Nyalaland Wilderness Hiking Route: The route lies 140km east of Makhado (Louis Trichardt), near Madziningwe Creek in the Kruger National Park. The route requires two days and is particularly popular among bird-watchers. Elephants are often seen in the waters of the Levubu River and rare species of plants and animals can be found along the route.
Soutpansberg Hiking Trail: The trail is a circular two-day trail on the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg, covering 20,5km. The trail leads through indigenous forests and up the mountain for views of the surrounding bushveld and valleys. The Hanglip section of the trail has an excellent bird-watching site and picnic spot with a spectacular view, as well as trails that pass through the Hanglip Forest (where all the trees are labelled) and criss-cross the scenic wooded countryside.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Ben Lavin Nature Reserve: The reserve has some interesting archaeological sites that date back to 1250 AD.
Bergpan Eco Resort (Salt Pans): The resort derives its name from the salt pans on the north-western slopes of the Soutpansberg Mountain. Rock art paintings dated at about 70 AD can be viewed in a rock shelter above the salt pans. The two pans are called Bergpan and Crystal Springs and are best understood in the company of a tour guide. The pans lie next to Road R532 between Waterpoort and Vivo.
Lajuma San Rock Art Site: The Lajuma site is one of the few outside the Western Cape at which handprints can be seen. Six yellowish handprints are painted across the boulder from the top left corner. Below the two prints at the bottom of this cluster lies another row of red and white handprints. At least another 20 handprints are painted on the right of this row. What makes these prints particularly interesting is that they are much larger than the handprints found in the Western Cape. Below the handprints is a painting of a red elephant, as well as faded images of people and animals. Lajuma is an exclusive mountain retreat offering hiking and climbing opportunities, as well as guided walks to archaeological sites. Other facilities include swimming, mountain-biking, horse-riding, bird-watching and night drives. It takes at least an hour’s walk over rugged terrain to reach the rock art site, which is found on the side of a quartzite boulder in a valley high up in the mountain.
Lesheba San Rock Art sites: The sites are located west of Makhado and Goro on the northern slopes of the Soutpansberg Mountain. Both are equally important rock art sites. Enquire at the Soutpansberg Tourism Office.
Machema Ruins: The Machema Ruins, believed to be the site of early Venda settlements, show marked similarities to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins in present-day Zimbabwe. The Machema tribe was believed to be subordinate to the rulers at Mapungubwe, once the capital of a hugely successful Iron Age settlement. The site at Mapungubwe has rendered conclusive evidence of trade with areas as far north as Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, as well as countries in Asia. These ruins are on a private farm off the Mopane road near Waterpoort. Contact the Soutpansberg Tourism Office for more information.
Medike Site: Medike is by far the most impressive site in the Soutpansberg Mountains and contains images of a large white elephant with a red dorsal stripe, two men painted in red and, at the bottom of the panel, two mysterious but distinctly boat-shaped images. These images are believed to depict geometrical mental images seen by a San shaman in the early stages of a trance. Unfortunately, the panel in the main section of the site is in a poor state of preservation, having been damaged by rainwater. Medike is situated between Makhado and Vivo and directions to the site are obtainable from the Medike farmhouse. Accommodation consists of limited camping facilities, the Murango House and the Dzhiawolala Cottage. The house and cottage have gas-cooking facilities and each sleeps six people.
Verdun Ruins: Verdun is the site of an early Venda settlement, that lies west of the small town of Mopane. According to legend, the ruins are the remains of the home of the Venda chief Matshokotike, which was built here in the early eighteenth century.
Art And Crafts
Art and crafts: The multicultural population of the town produces a wide variety of arts and crafts, such as handcrafted paper, pottery, batik and textiles. The African people in the area are renowned for their woodcarving skills. The arts and crafts and the exquisite woodcarvings can be bought at various venues in town.
Elim Cultural Meander: The meander takes visitors past spots where the people of the Elim region sell pottery and other traditional craft work. The Elim Hospital Museum is also in the area.
Mashamba Pottery Workshop: Mashamba is situated in two homesteads and careful directions need to be obtained to avoid missing it. Some of the potters sell their wares at the Mashamba Village Post Office and just a little further on, on Road R57 to the next village, visitors will see piles and piles of pottery products on either side of the road. The pottery is well priced and there is a wide variety to choose from. The clay is obtained from the nearby river-bed and the potters produce and bake most of their products on the premises. The atmosphere is friendly and the potters are only too willing to show visitors around.
Rivoni Society for the Blind: The articles made by members of this society include sisal mats, candles and diamond-mesh fencing, which are sold at its centre near Elim.
Tsonga Textiles: Tsonga Textiles began as a self-help community project. The creative, boldly coloured textiles made by the local Tsonga people are on sale at the centre near Elim. Follow Road R578 to Elim and turn left at the Shirley Farm Road.
Twanani Textiles and Batik Workshop: Situated at the foot of the mountain on Road R578, the workshop shows visitors how the local women produce their unique textiles, mostly decorated by means of the batik process. From Road R578 turn right towards Mbokota village where friendly villagers will direct you further.
Venda Cultural Meander: The meander leads to the villages and towns where the Venda people live. Get to know them and their culture and see the fruit plantations and the subtropical landscape. The trip can take a day or can be extended to two days.
Entertainment And Shopping
Venda Sun Hotel and Casino: The Casino, 74 km east of Makhado (Louis Trichardt), offers luxury accommodation and gambling with two levels of slot machines. Venda Sun is a destination for the whole family.
Fauna And Flora
Ben Lavin Nature Reserve: The reserve lies south-east of Makhado and has some beautiful scenery, as well as over 150 species of trees and 230 species of birds. The bird species range from the large Wahlberg’s eagle to the tiny lesser double-collared sunbird. Some 50 species of animals can be viewed from strategically placed hides overlooking the waterholes. There are several hiking and mountain biking trails in the reserve. Archaeological sites, dating back to 1250 AD, can also be visited. Accommodation facilities (caravans, camping and huts), a museum and curio shop are available.
Bergplaatz Forest Sanctuary: Most species of primates can be found in the sanctuary in the western Soutpansberg with its crystal-clear pools and waterfalls.
Blouberg Mountain and Nature Reserve: This reserve lies west of Vivo and is particularly popular among bird-watchers. It also has many picnic spots.
Bluegumspoort Meander: The Meander will take you along the summit of the western section of the Soutpansberg Mountain Range. It offers breathtaking views and leads to the Happy Rest Nature Reserve and the Schoemansdal Environmental Education Centre.
Buzzard Mountain Retreat: The retreat is located on the road to Vivo, about 17 km west of Makhado and in the heart of the Soutpansberg. Bird-watching, hiking and mountaineering are popular pastimes but the more passive visitor can simply drive around to enjoy the magnificent rocky scenery decorated with rare plant species such as Modjadji palms and which is also home to the animals that move peacefully among them. Comfortable accommodation is also available.
Fruit and Flower Meander: The route allows visitors to savour the amazing abundance of mainly subtropical fruits that are grown in the area. These include bananas, mangos, litchis, avocadoes and nuts. The patches of indigenous flowers interspersed among the orchards are lovely as well.
George’s Place: Lying 60 km west of Makhado, George’s Place encompasses a natural heritage area that boasts abundant bird life and some 250 species of trees. Accommodation is available in the area.
Goro Game Lodge: The lodge lies between Vivo and Makhado and boasts a Natural Heritage Site, San rock art, beautiful waterfalls and gorges, as well as a wide variety of fauna and flora. Guests can stay in rustic, stone, reed and thatch cottages and have a choice of wilderness walks and game-viewing drives (by day or night) supervised by professional rangers. The reserve contains over 50 species of mammals, including the elusive leopard and Hartmann’s zebra, as well as more than 230 species of birds.
Greater Kuduland Game Lodges: The lodges include Alldays Lodge, Tshipise Lodge and the Sunset Bush Camp – in an area of approximately 10 000 ha. Enjoy watching the large buffalo herds and the soaring eagles or explore the Venda ruins, and return to your comfortable lodgings at night.
Hanglip Forest: The forest is one of the few bird-watching sites in the country where the narina trogon, purple-crested loerie and Knysna loerie have all been spotted. Many trails criss-cross the scenic woods where all the trees are marked. If you feel like enjoying the sounds and smells of the forest in a more leisurely fashion, follow the Forestry Road north of town, drive up the mountain, park at the entrance boom and walk 150m to the picnic site in the forest.
Happy Rest Nature Reserve: The protected reserve, 18 km west of Makhado, is located on the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg and covers an area of 2 700 ha. It stretches from the foothills of the mountains to the top of high cliffs and contains a group of rare cycads (Encephalartos transvenosus) and many other indigenous trees. Most species of South African snakes are to be found in this reserve, as well as kudu, impala, red duiker, bushbuck, leopard, bushpig, porcupine and jackal. The Schoemansdal Environmental Education Centre is located here.
Indigenous Tree Park: The Tree Park is outside the town and is next to the N1 National Road. The park contains 145 species of indigenous trees and forms part of the proclaimed “green belt” area of Makhado.
Kruger Park Meander: The Meander leads to the Punda Maria Gate in the far north of the Kruger National Park, some 140 km east of Makhado.
Langjan Nature Reserve: Langjan Reserve is situated 22 km north of the town of Vivo, on Road R521 to Alldays. One of the unique features of this reserve is the stretch of Kalahari (desert) sand that seems to have crept into this mainly bushveld countryside at the western end of the Soutpansberg Mountains. The sand dunes and archetypal Kalahari veld of the reserve provide a safe haven for the last herd of Kalahari gemsbok (an endangered species of antelope) in the country. The reserve is also home to giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, red hartebees and other kinds of creatures and species. Accommodation facilities (huts) are available and hikers are welcome.
Lesheba Wilderness Area: The Wilderness Area is situated between Vivo and Makhado and is renowned for its romantic natural atmosphere. It has been given Natural Heritage status on account of its magnificent scenery and its rich and varied vegetation, ranging from sandveld to savannah and from vlei to fynbos. The rare plants and giant trees give shelter to a large variety of birds and animals. The area also has some San rock art sites. Lesheba has approximately 14 hiking trails, as well as mountain biking and abseiling facilities.
Medike Nature Reserve: The restricted nature reserve lies some 36 km west of Makhado. The landscape varies from lush riverine bush to high mountain plateaux. There are birds, plants and animals galore and the reserve also includes some San rock art sites. Trails lead past waterfalls, archaeological sites and massive cliffs. The accommodation includes huts, tent camps and bush camps and visitors can also take a relaxing train trip through the Sand River Pass.
Nwanedi Park: The park lies on the Nwanedi River, about 120 km north-east of Makhado, and offers various types of accommodation, as well as conference facilities.
Shi-awera Lodge: The lodge is situated some 30 km from Makhado on the Polokwane (Pietersburg) Road. Exclusivity is guaranteed, as only eight guests are allowed at a time. Enjoy the excellent meals served by the lodge while listening to the sounds of the Bushveld.
Soutpansberg Meander: This meander, also known as the Northern Slope Meander, is a 146-km road, winding among the lower Soutpansberg foothills that also leads to the salt pans.
Witvlag (“White Flag”) Meander: This Meander is named after a legendary white flag that was used to keep the Boers and Vendas from fighting. The meander affords panoramic views from the mountain peaks and takes you through subtropical orchards and forest plantations.
Wyllie’s Poort: The main road from Makhado does a spectacular climb through the Soutpansberg and descends the northern side of the mountains into a narrow gorge known as Wyllie’s Poort. Wyllie was a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers and came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. In 1904 the British Army was instructed to build a road to the north and Wyllie was put in charge of the project. In 1907, the first ox-wagon travelled through the pass. The original road was vulnerable to flooding and in the early 1960s two tunnels, 274m and 457m in length, were driven through the solid rock of the gorge. The tunnels, named after Hendrik Verwoerd, a former South African Prime Minister, now carry the main road through the mountain. Viewing points where vehicles may stop have been demarcated at the entrances to the tunnels. Wyllie’s Poort is still kept open as a scenic drive.
History And Architecture
Buysdorp (“Buys Town”): Buysdorp was the residence of yet another interesting local figure, Coenrad du Buys, who settled in the Makhado area long before the Voortrekkers arrived. Buys was one of nine Afrikaner exiles and British mutineers who fled from the Cape after participating in an uprising against the British. At first he settled in the Eastern Cape in the Xhosa ruler Gaika’s territory, but in 1820, after years of hardship, he left and trekked north, to settle in the Soutpansberg area with his family and followers. He disappeared in 1829 and legend has it that he succumbed to malaria on his way to Delagoa Bay to seek help from the Portuguese. His children and other members of his family remained in the area. In 1885 President Paul Kruger gave the Buys people land to live on and it became known as Buysdorp (Buys Town). His descendants live there to this day. Follow Road R522 to Vivo.
Church of the Covenant: The church on the corner of Burger and Erasmus Streets, is one of only two churches in South Africa that were erected to honour a vow made to God. The church was erected to commemorate a vow made on 16 October 1898, shortly before a proposed attack on Mphephu, the Venda monarch. General Piet Joubert, a renowned Boer leader and commander of the Boer forces, instigated the building of the church. The church was designed by Gerhard Moerdijk and built in 1926.
Elim Hospital Museum: A small museum within the Elim Hospital grounds commemorates the work of Swiss doctors and missionaries in South Africa. The hospital lies on Road R578 to Elim and visits are by appointment only. The history of Elim started when a group of Swiss missionaries arrived in the area in 1870. In 1875, two Swiss missionaries started a mission station at Valdezia and, in 1878, another at Waterval. The area they served stretched from Elim to Polokwane (Pietersburg) and the Mozambique coast. Within a year, the missionaries had also established the first post office in the region. In 1897, Dr George Liengme came to Elim and set up a primitive hospital and when President Paul Kruger heard of Dr Liengme’s reputation as a miracle doctor, he ordered a proper hospital to be built. The building was eventually completed in 1900 and served all the people living within a 300-km radius.
Fort Hendrina: This collapsible fort, made from iron sheeting, stands next to the Library in Erasmus Street. The fort was used in the 1880s and 1890s as protection for the artillerymen and mounted police against attacks from the indigenous people of the area.
Grave of Joao Albasini: Albasini was an important trader in the Soutpansberg area during the latter part of the nineteenth century and lies buried near the picnic site at Albasini Dam. Albasini was a Portuguese-born Italian who settled in the Delagoa Bay area at the time that the white settlers were colonising the area. The Portuguese government appointed him as its Vice-Consul in President Paul Kruger’s Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. Albasini lived in the manner of a medieval lord on his farm, Goederwensch, and gathered around him a group of local people who had left their own tribes. He became the White Chief of the Magwambe group of the Shangaan, who still honour his memory to this day by making an annual pilgrimage to his grave. He died in 1883 and was buried on his farm. Some of his descendants still live in the area.
Historical Meander: The Meander takes visitors to sites of historical interest in and around the town.
Indigenous Tree Park: Several Voortrekkers met their deaths in this area and some of the graves in the Indigenous Tree Park date back to as long ago as 1864.
Kranspoort Mission Station: The building was built in the 1870s and is dedicated to the Reverend McKidd who once did missionary work among the people of Buysdorp. The mission station is still in use.
Lemana College of Education: The college is a national monument and is near the Elim Hospital. It was established in 1908 as one of the first institutions of higher education in the Soutpansberg area.
Louis Trichardt Memorial Cross: The memorial was erected at the point where the Trichardt party made camp after they first arrived in the area. The group immediately built up a good relationship with the local people, for example the inhabitants of Buysdorp. The cross symbolizes the reconciliation of communities from all over and can be visited near the airfield.
Memorial Gardens: The lovingly tended Memorial Gardens provide a tranquil atmosphere in which to remember the victims of local and international conflicts.
Obelisk: The obelisk marks the spot where the Tropic of Capricorn crosses the region, about 50 km south of Makhado on National Road N1.
Schoemansdal Museum: Schoemansdal lies on Road R522 to Vivo and commemorates the pioneering history of the district and of the country as a whole. It is an open-air museum and houses some of the remains of the town’s original structures such as houses, shops, streets and a water-furrow system. One of the Voortrekker groups that left the Cape Colony did so under the leadership of Andries Hendrik Potgieter. In 1848, he established the town of Zoutpansberg, later renamed Schoemansdal, at the foot of the Soutpansberg, about 17 km west of present-day Makhado (Louis Trichardt). By 1855, the town had 1 800 white inhabitants and for 19 years it was the most important trading centre in the area. However, after continuous clashes with the local African tribes, the Voortrekkers abandoned the town in 1867, leaving behind only the deserted buildings. The grave of Andries Hendrik Potgieter can be seen at the cemetery.
Stonehenge: Stonehenge, one of the country’s finest examples of eighteenth-century architecture, is a national monument. The furniture also dates from the eighteenth century and adds to the authenticity of the historic atmosphere. The house is privately-owned and visitors need to make arrangements for a visit. The house is on Snyman Street Extension in town.
Voortrekker Memorial: The Voortrekker Memorial, in honour of the Voortrekkers, was erected in the town in 1988, on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Great Trek.
Waterpoort Railway Bridge: An old metal bridge on Road R532 near Waterpoort spans the Sand River and may be of interest to architects and engineers.
Hanglip: Although the entire mountain area offers some stunning sights, one has to be given special recognition. Hanglip, at 1 719m above sea level, one of the highest points of the Soutpansberg Mountain Range, is a massive vertical cliff from which there are spectacular views of the mountains and valleys. Some people believe that the cliff was originally called Hangklip (“the rock that hangs”) but that a clerk who could not spell, incorrectly recorded it as Hanglip when the land was registered as a forestry reserve.
Maclands Estate: Visit the Estate to see how macadamia nuts and a natural colourant are grown.
Mambedi River Tea Estates: These estates on the Elim/Levubu/Vuwani Road between Elim and Levubu can be visited by appointment.
Mara Agricultural Development Centre: The well-known – and truly South African – Bonsmara cattle were first bred at this centre. The centre lies 54 km west of Makhado.