Thohoyandou is in the far north-eastern corner of the province where the gods and ancestors of the Venda people still wander the earth. The town was once the capital of the former homeland of the Republic of Venda and is still the commercial, administrative and legislative centre of the Venda people. Named after an earlier ruler, Thoho-Ya-Ndou, whose name means “Head of the Elephant”, the town lies in the southern part of Venda on the main road between Makhado (Louis Trichardt) and the Kruger National Park. According to local legend, this great ruler vanished into thin air one night when everyone was asleep and was never seen again.
Venda is a land of mystery and legend where the secret holy places of the Venda are still revered, but it is also a prodigious banana, tobacco, maize, coffee and tea-producing area.
Adventure And Sport
Angling: The Nzhelele Dam and Nature Reserve, 55 km north-east of Makhado (Louis Trichardt), is popular with anglers, as is the Nwanedi Nature Reserve with its twin dams — built just above the confluence of the Nwanedi and Luphephe Rivers which then flow north towards the great Limpopo River.
Hiking: A marked-out hiking route through the Mphaphuli Cycad Reserve enables visitors to appreciate the vast number of fascinating species of cycads that grow there, as well as to see animals such as baboons, vervet monkeys, steenbok, duikers and bush pigs. A bush camp is available for environmental education purposes. The reserve is near Makonde Village, about 30 km north-east east of Thohoyandou, off the Mutale Road.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Dzata Ruins and the Museum of the Drum: In the Soutpansberg, about 45 km north-east of Makhado, the Dzata Ruins and the Museum of the Drum, the ancient home of former Venda royalty, lie in the Nzhelele Valley. Dzata has great significance for the Venda people, to such an extent that their chiefs are all buried facing this place. Believed to have been the first settlement of the Venda people, the ruins date back to 1400 AD. The site has been proclaimed a national monument. The site lies just off Road R532 between Thohoyandou and Makhado.
Thulamela Site: The site, near Pafuri in the Kruger National Park, has yielded evidence of gold smelting activities from as far back as 1300 AD.
Tshimbubfe Archaeological Site: The Tshimbubfe site has iron furnaces dating back to 1250 AD. Visitors can arrange visits to Tshimbubfe through the local tourism office.
Lake Fundudzi: The lake is on the Mutale River at the foothills of the Soutpansberg and lies the Thathe Vondo Forest. Fundudzi is unique in that it is South Africa’s only true lake. All the country’s other “lakes” are either fresh water lagoons or pans. Lake Fundudzi was created in ancient times when a landslide blocked the course of the river. It measures 5km by 3km and is infested with crocodiles. The lake is enveloped in magic and mystery and no one swims here because it is also believed to be the home of the white python. The offering of sacrifices to this god was believed to ensure good rains for the crops. A ceremony that is very special to the heart of the Venda people is the “python dance” (domba) performed by bare-breasted young Venda girls. Outsiders are now allowed to see this unique ceremony, but permission to visit the lake can only be given by the Priestess of the Lake. Contact the Soutpansberg Tourism Office to make arrangements for a visit.
Lwamondo Hill: The hill is situated near Road R524 between Makhado (Louis Trichardt) and Thohoyandou. It is home to a troop of baboons that are regarded as sacred by the Venda people. The early Venda people believed that the baboons saved them from their Swazi attackers by acting as an early warning system. Even today, whenever they are disturbed, the baboons race up the mountain, making an incredible noise. The hill is named after the Lwamondo clan, whose stronghold it still is.
Phiphidi Falls and Guvhukuvhu Pool: The sacred falls are some 75 km north-east of Makhado and the Enchanted Pool is about 20 km east of Nzhelele. The local African people believe The Pool to be the home of the Zwidutwane or water spirits. People often leave offerings to these spirits at the edge of the pool. Visitors are urged not to disturb or touch these offerings and to respect the beliefs of the local people.
Tshakuma Traditional Village: The village extends an invitation to visitors to experience the richness of Venda culture and heritage and to buy from the sculptors and tradespeople who offer their products for sale.
Entertainment And Shopping
Pafuri Picnic Spot: Pafuri is a magnificent picnic spot, as well as one of the best bird-watching spots in the country.
Sagole Spa and Village: The village of Sagole lies in the north of Venda, about 110 km south-east of Musina and its hot springs attract many visitors. A local herbalist and diviner may be visited by prior arrangement.
Fauna And Flora
Levubu Tree Park: The tree park is in the gardens of the Dutch Reformed Church in Levubu, about 30 km south-west of Thohoyandou.
Makuya Park: Several small but beautiful nature reserves surround the town. The 16 500-ha Makuya Park is adjacent to the north-western boundary of the Kruger National Park, about 160 km east of Musina. It offers spectacular scenery in a tranquil environment and is only accessible on foot or by 4×4 vehicle. Many of the larger species of animals, such as elephants, buffaloes, lions, hippos and leopards, can be seen in the area. The rustic tented bush camp in the park offers very comfortable accommodation.
Mphaphuli Cycad Reserve: The reserve is located on the Mutale Road near Makonde Village, about 45 km north-east of Thohoyandou. The more than 1-600-ha reserve protects a large number of rare Modjadji cycads.
Nwanedi Nature Reserve: This reserve features the beautiful scenery of the Soutpansberg foothills, the impressive Tshihovhohovho Falls with their lovely rock pools where bathing is safe, and three dams that are rich in fish. Other attractions are San rock art and a variety of animals such as white rhino, giraffe, zebra, kudu, nyala, hartebeest, bushbuck, eland and impala.
Nzhelele Nature Reserve: The reserve began as a small 25-ha reserve on a peninsula in the Nzhelele Dam, about 55 km north-east of Makhado. Today the reserve covers some 1 400 ha and is a popular spot for angling.
Thathe Vondo Forest: The forest lies next to Road R523 between Thohoyandou and Makhado and encompasses Thathe Vondo Tea Estates, the Sacred Forest, Mahovhohovho Falls, Mukumbani Dam and Lake Fundudzi. The Tshivase people consider the forest to be sacred and believe that white lions protect it. Nobody is permitted to walk in the area between Thohoyandou and Makhado. Visitors have to obtain permission before visiting this area and, because the local people believe that hikers may disturb the spirits, only cars are allowed in this area. The VhaVenda folk are not permitted to walk in the forest, as the forest houses the burial place of the chiefs of the Thathe clan.
Big Tree: The Big Tree is the largest baobab in the country and about 25 km west of Sagole Spa and 55 km east of Tshipise. The trunk of this tree has a circumference of 43m, making it the largest baobab tree in South Africa.
Tshatshingo Potholes: The potholes are one of the scenic attractions on the Mabuda-Shango Hiking Trail, which starts and ends at the Thathe Vondo Plantation in the indigenous forests north-east of Makhado (Louis Trichardt).