2018 was a tad tough and when December rolled around once again we woke up too late, knowing that we needed to get away for a few days to recharge, but had not booked to go anywhere. We realised we’d have to wait until early January. We live in a house with extended family and a bit of down time is necessary every now and then.
Chris grovelled around on the internet and came up with a couple of places. He called me to come and look when I was busy hefting rocks in the garden. I sighed. Really. Now?
They all seemed very attractive and we settled on The Birders’ Cottages in Magoebaskloof for two days. To be honest, I’d only looked with half an eye and was later somewhat horrified when Chris proudly announced that he’d booked the highest cottage on that bit of the mountain and forwarded me the instructions of how to get there.
Aaaargh! I hate high mountain roads. I’m not a 4×4 fan and my last experience of the rolling , lush Limpopo hills was just nasty. Nico and I got lost on the way to Penge during the roll-out phase of the heat-stress mining game and we ended up on a teensy back road with spiders and baboons.
To my credit, I said not a word to my lovely husband. Thought I’d pull up my big girl broekies and deal with it all in an adult manner when the time arrived.
We left bright an early on Sunday morning. Chris had wanted to take the byways instead of the highways, but we ended up taking the N4 anyway. Fortunately for us, the other side of the road was filled with end-of-holiday cars and our side was mostly open, apart from plenty of big ass trucks.
We stopped for breakfast in Haenertsburg, thinking we might also find a deli and stock up on some interesting goodies—sadly not, although Chris did find a little gem in the book store – a genealogy dictionary!
We drove past the turn off and decided to continue on to Tzaneen to fill up with petrol. We still had an hour to kill before the two o’clock check-in time. I peered through the driver’s window trying to get an idea of where we were going to be staying and gasped when I noticed some cottages perched precariously on the mountainside.
“Holy crap! Is that where we’re going?” I screeched in alarm.
“Um… no… I don’t think so,” responded my lovely husband calmly, negotiating the twisty turny bends of the twentieth steepest pass in South Africa.
“Hope we don’t bump into Lynne and Neil—they’d kill us if they knew we were in their dorpie and didn’t let them know,” I said to Chris as we filled up, shiftily eyeing out the people in the petrol station. I had no clue where my long-time friend stayed but Tzaneen did not look like a very big place. We had made plans to visit them for a night after our stay in Magoebaskloof.
We did our business in Tzaneen, laughed hysterically at the ‘Beware of Hippo’ sign on the outskirts and trekked back up the mountain, stopping here and there because we’d realised we only had one very tiny loaf of bread, since the deli thing had not panned out. Turned out none of the farm stalls along the road had interesting bread, but there was a place right opposite the turn off that we needed to take and we thought we’d try that.
We parked and climbed out of the car. The sound of two million six hundred and ninety seven cicada’s echoed around the farm stall, assaulting our ears. It was like hearing crickets on crack.
The place was more or less closed due to a power outage, but we did check out the most delightful little nursery attached to the farm stall. I longingly eyed out a carnation pot, but realised it was not the time to be buying plants.
“Come back and have the best coffee on the mountain!” were the dude’s parting words.
Chris sped across the highway and turned into the road leading to The Birders’ Cottages. It was nicely tarred and I heaved a huge sigh of relief—a tad prematurely. It quickly turned into a winding, twisty, grass-verged dirt road, not quite a track, but close. Gulping, as I checked out the steep inclines on the passenger’s side, I quickly fumbled in my bag for my cell phone and glued my eyes firmly to the screen.
But the scenery was so incredibly beautiful I had to look anyway.
It had been raining and the road was a bit squishy. There were some steepish inclines and once Chris misjudged and had to roll back down and start again. We’d been warned not to go anywhere near the owner of A45.3 as they had absolutely nothing to do with The Birders’ Cottages.
Chris was a bit confused. He’d originally worked out that it was around two and a half kilometres from the main road to the cottages, but we saw a sign for 4.5 km quite early on and my heart sank further into the foot well.
The cottages were well signposted and eventually we crept our way to Narina’s parking spot. It was all green and lush, freshly washed with rain. We weren’t entirely sure how the whole key thing worked, but it turned out to be pretty simple, the sliding door slid open; the keys were on the table. We raced around the cottage like big kids, delighting in everything we saw.
Must confess I had delusions that because it was high up in the mountains it would have scary bits of woodwork with spiders lurking in crevices, waiting to pounce. Not a single one of either. There were platoons of mozzies, armed and ready to bite, but the excellent cottage owners had that one covered—tins of Peaceful Sleep stood sentry, waiting to annihilate those pesky little critters.
One of the features that had appealed to Chris in the first place, apart from the obvious attraction of remoteness and the lovely hiking opportunities, was the outside bath. My husband is a fan of baths. He can wallow for hours in our shitty little bathroom.
We both stood at the door and gaped; lying grandly in a bed of frothy greenery, open to the skies, yet surrounded by an unobtrusive wooden fence for total privacy, was a magnificently huge bath. There were bottles of Radox perched on the side and the whole thing looked like it had escaped from a magazine page.
We had bite to eat, then decided to go for an exploratory walk. Chris had looked at the map, but you know what it’s like with a new place, it does not always make too much sense when you don’t quite have the lay of the land. We headed off to the Waterfalls. That took two seconds (unless we took the wrong path) and so we turned tail and headed off towards the river walk. It’s like a tropical rain forest walk (not that I’ve been on one of those—but I imagine that must be similar).
We gaily traipsed up hill and down dale, delighting in the waterfall and hopping back and forth over the river. We discovered, to our mirth, when we got back to the cottage sweaty and gasping an hour later, that we had pretty much done the longest walk! A dip in the splash pool restored our body temperatures and we decided to have an early braai to avoid yours truly falling asleep at the table like I did the last time we went away.
We had a choice of braaing in the little rondavel attached to the cottage, but opted to have our fire outside. True, the mozzies did try to make off with our ankles, but I discovered some citronella incense sticks stashed in the kitchen that kept them at bay. The attention to detail in the cottages is truly amazing.
We spent most of that evening ogling the most enormous pine tree. Okay, it’s not so big but it is immensely tall. We wondered how old it was. Chris hauled his physics brain out and dusted off the holiday cobwebs. He paced around a bit and decided it was probably not more than sixty or seventy years old. But sneakily we both figured it was really a hundred years or more.
By the time we’d eaten it was thinking about raining again.
We didn’t wait for total darkness; we ran that bath and hopped in, giggling like children at the sheer luxury of being all warm and toasty under the water, whilst it drizzled on our faces. The steam kept the mosquitoes away, although we could see clouds of pesky creatures hovering, they did not bother us in the slightest. We could see the same tall tree and resumed our pondering, accompanied by waterfall music and other night sounds. Eventually the water cooled down and it started to rain in earnest. Reluctantly we went inside.
It rained all night. I can vouch for that because I’m a terrible sleeper and despite the fact we’d had a long day, a bracing hike, good food and a fabulous relaxing bath—sleep eluded me. Chris, on the other hand, slept like a log.
It was still raining the next morning, but that did not deter the birdy choir from serenading us. I leapt up, yanked open all the blinds and generally made a fair bit of noise thinking it was time to get up. Chis blearily asked what time it was.
I snorted out laughing when I discovered it was only 05h15. We went back to sleep for an hour.
I’m not a good gas person, so Chris figured out how the stove worked and boiled the kettle, although I pointed out later that we were a bit stupid because there was indeed an electric kettle.
“Nope!” exclaimed Chris. “They are trying to get these cottages off the grid as much as possible and we’ll go along with that.” Apart from using the lights and one power point to charge our cell phones and Chris’s lap top we did exactly that.
Chris figured out how to get the wood-burning fire inside going and we hung around the cottage all morning, congratulating ourselves on having done the river walk the day before, just in case it never stopped raining. It wasn’t really cold but the fire added atmosphere. We’d decided, if it stopped, that we’d walk to the main road and have some of that ‘best-on-the-mountain-coffee’ that the dude had boasted about. Plus maybe he’d have some bread.
The drizzle finally abated around midday and we took off, fully expecting that the road would be a five kilometer hike. The air was crisp and the scenery simply majestic. I soon realised that the road was not half as scary as I’d imagined the day before. We also gathered that it definitely was a lot less than five kilometers, more like the original two and a half. We figured those signs were for something else, the Warrior camp maybe?
Some monkeys and a lone buck entertained us along the way.
It turned out the farm stall was closed on a Monday, but we’d thoroughly enjoyed our walk and were not the least bit disappointed—there was plenty of coffee at the cottage. Chris fried up some chops for a late lunch and we sat outside enjoying the bird life.
They are not called The Birders’ Cottages for nothing. There are literally hundreds of birds flitting around.
I had a nap. The rain held off and we had another braai for dinner
The next morning I giggled wildly when I saw all the paraphernalia on the sink in the bathroom. Ice-cube tray, the whisk and a wooden spatula!
“Sheesh Chris, if anybody saw this they’d think we’d had some kinky session last night.”
In actual fact, I’d used the spatula to mix the hot water with the cold in the bath—the wood-burning geyser is extremely effective. Chris had whisked up the water to make bubbles, and we’d thrown ice-cubes into the bath to try and cool it down enough to get in. This time we’d also taken a bottle of ice-cold wine, instead of the red wine from the night before.
We’d lain there scheming how we could possibly have such a thing at home. Eventually the prognosis was not bloody likely—if the family didn’t spot us, the neighbours would, or the birds would poop on us for sure.
I’d posted a pic of the outside bath on Instagram the day before, an author friend, Julia Blake, had commented “That is something I’ve never ever done and I’m so British I’m not sure I ever could bath outside. Or is it just I know my luck. I’d be lying there and some tourist will blunder in who took a wrong turn back down the road, oh, and they’ll also know my mother.” I tried to explain that was not very likely in this particular place. By the way, her latest novel, The Forest, would be the perfect book to read in such a place.
It was one of those clear crisp gorgeous days, and for the first time, we saw the sun. We decided to go for a pre-breakfast walk and took the Valley View path first, a steepish hike through a majestic Yellow Wood forest, but doable for a city dweller like myself. The view was totally worth it. Chris and I are not big selfie takers—as you can see —but we did have a go at taking one up there.
Then we trekked along the Yellowwood path. It was wet, squishy and a tad spooky in places with sun glinting on mossy boughs and spider webs. As a keen amateur gardener I kept pointing out plants to Chris that we have in our garden, but they are about a tenth of the size. The lushness of the vegetation has to be seen to be believed.
On our way back to the cottage for breakfast and a shower, we were treated to the brilliant sight of a Knysna Loerie pecking away at the top of a tree. I must add, my lovely husband has since downloaded the Roberts Birds multimedia app for android and is becoming a bit of a birder in our own tree-filled garden!
We left our lovely cottage on Dragonswyck Farm just before 10h00 and had an interesting episode on the drive to the R71. Coming around a bend we encountered a dude in a smallish truck—probably on his way to stock up with avocados, seeing as it is avo country. Chris hugged the side as much as possible. The dude kept on driving, making ‘get-out-of-the-way’ motions with his finger, indicating that we should climb further up the side of the road. Chris tried, he really did, but it a steep bank and we only have a Tucson not a freaking tractor. With not a glimmer of a smile, the dude inched his way past us, so close that Chris had to twist the side mirror in to avoid it being snapped off. Not the friendliest of locals—we assumed he belonged to A46.3.
On our way down to Tzaneen we took a slight detour to the Debageni Falls and dunked our feet in the crystal clear pools. There were very few people around, but there was evidence that the place had been heavily populated over the holiday season. I damn near had a heart attack when I stood on a long green water snake on the way in, and thereafter kept a wary eye out on everything in case it wiggled. We later found out that they are not very common little critters and we were lucky to see it.
A lovely relaxing afternoon and evening was spent with our long-time friends, Lynne and Neil, in Tzaneen. They were most impressed that we had finally managed to visit, after empty promises for more than five years. They live on a beautiful smallholding and their litchi trees were dripping with fat juicy litchis. We did not hold back—they’re my favourite fruit in the whole world and I’d never eaten them straight off the tree before. Our timing was perfect because the fruit pickers came the next day and stripped every last dangly bit of fruit from the trees.
Funny how small the world is, we discovered that one of their sons was friends with the owners of The Birders’ Cottages and he had just made a charming video for them.
After plundering Lynne’s stunning garden—snippets of exotic stuff like air plants, bromeliads, ferns and lilies—early the next morning we hit the road and took the long way home via the Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window. Three provinces in one day: Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng!
We left home early Sunday morning and returned at sunset on Wednesday, only three days away, but our souls and spirits were restored, ready to tackle a new year.
Must say I was a tad disappointed when Chris sent me an email a few days later with info pilfered from his new bird detection app. I’d been envisioning that Trogon and Narina were dragony names, seeing as the farm’s name is Dragonswyck. Being a writer with way too much imagination, was busy plotting and planning a story based on the farm involving fiery beasties.
Turns out that a Narina Trogon is a very pretty bird!