Limpopo, South Africa

This South African adventure started in the city of Johannesburg and from there we travelled to Magaliesburg. Click here if you want to read this story from the start.

Day 5: from Magaliesburg to Vaalwater

We left Magaliesburg this morning and are heading north towards the Limpopo province. Our driver Nelson (poor man) is driver to 14 women during this trip and we all have a big piece of luggage with us ;). Since there is not enough space in the minivan, he has a little luggage trailer behind the minivan. The last part of the drive is on a bumpy dirt road, so he needs to be extra careful. But he is a really good driver, so we have nothing to worry about. After about a 4 hour drive we arrive at our next destination: Kololo Game Reserve.

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Kololo Game Reserve is located in the heart of beautiful Waterberg Nature Reserve, which is an unique wilderness area. The Game Reserves in this area are home to the Big Five, beautiful mountain gorges, clear streams and bush-veld hills. Kololo borders the “Big Five” area Welgevonden Game Reserve and it is the perfect safari destination: child-friendly, malaria-free and home to a great diversity of wildlife and birds. We are a lucky bunch of travel agents who get to stay here and discover this beautiful place.

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Upon arrival we feel like we are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by beautiful nature. At Kololo harmless wild animals roams free, like kudu, warthog, impala or wildebeest. As soon as we enter the long “driveway” towards the main building, we see plenty wildlife walking around, like zebra and giraffe. We are welcomed by the manager with a cool drink and lunch at the main building, which houses the reception, lounge area, restaurant and behind it is the pool area. We check in and get to see our accommodation for the next 2 nights.

With 2 additional room-mates Inge and I move into the “Giraffe” accommodation, which can house up to 6 persons. The villa has the most beautiful location at the outskirts of Kololo and the view is amazing. We can look across the mountains of Grootfontein, Welgevonden and Kololo plains and now and then wildlife passes by in front the the villa. The villa has a big living room with an open fire place, a fully equipped kitchen and a huge terrace outside where guests can chill or BBQ. The villa has 3 bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms; Inge takes a bedroom on the ground floor and our new “room-mates” share a bedroom, also on the ground floor. That means I get to stay in the bedroom upstairs, which is a big open space with a large balcony (maybe Inge and the other ladies saw me being so excited that they let me take the room upstairs).

We will have to enjoy our accommodation later. We quickly change clothes, because on our program is a first game drive (I prefer to say safari actually). We have two jeeps to ourselves and, together with rangers Lynette and Ryan, we are going to discover Kololo’s own territory this afternoon. The weather has been perfect so far, but right now it looks like it might rain, so we have a thin rain coat with us. The temperature is still perfect though and I am sure that a bit of rain water is very welcome here. After a few minutes in the jeep, the rain comes pouring down for about 10 minutes, but we are having such a good time; we see zebras, giraffes and wildebeests and plenty of them!

Before we return we stop next to the Sterkfontein river for a drink and a snack that Lynette and Ryan brought with them. We have a glass of tasty South African wine and a snack; we are in great company… and well, life is pretty good and we are totally relaxed! Before it gets dark we return to the main building, having a big smile on our faces, especially knowing there is more to come.

We freshen up for dinner and walk back to the main building, but before we sit down at our big table, we enjoy the most beautiful sunset. To me, this moment is Africa and we all go quiet while watching the sun go down. During a delicious meal from the braai, we talk about what we have seen and scroll through our photographs. We are curious about what awaits us tomorrow. We walk back to the Giraffe villa, where we will have a good night sleep for sure! What a treat to stay here!

Day 6: Welgevonden Game Reserve

The next morning we get up very early; it is time for a game drive at the “neighbours”! Welgevonden Game Reserve is located right next to Kololo, the gate is only 300 metres from the main building, It is a 36,000 hectare private game reserve, which means there is plenty to discover. Welgevonden is a Dutch word meaning “well found” and it is known as one of the finest places to watch wildlife, to get a sense of the wilderness and to experience the true spirit of Africa! It is home to the “Big Five”, but in total there are over 50 different animals and 300 bird species in Welgevonden, which makes this reserve popular amongst bird watchers!

Kololo is not the only accommodation in this area, there are a few more just outside or even inside the reserve. The good thing is though, that only a limited number of jeeps are allowed, which means you get to enjoy this part of nature with hardly any other jeeps in sight! I get into Ryan’s jeep and Lynette follows in the other one. He drives towards Kololo’s entrance gate to Welgevonden, rings in to ask permission to enter and shortly after we get to see the sun rise, creating a golden glow over the mountains.

We go slow, having a group of Guinea fowls blocking the road, walking ahead of us for quite some time. But we are not in a hurry and they are such pretty birds. It does not take long before we are lucky to see 1 of the Big Five. You know which animals are part of the Big Five, right?! It is the lion, elephant, rhino, cape buffalo and the leopard. Anyway, there is a female rhino with her young one standing on the side of the road a bit further down, still a bit sleepy. Ryan immediately stops the jeep and the engine. He quietly tells us about the rhinos here at Welgevonden and in the meantime mother and son wake up, are not in a rush to move and once they are ready, they slowly walk into the grass. Ryan starts the engine and we move on.

During this beautiful game drive we see more rhinos, kudus, a hyena, different “bokkies”, gazelles, warthogs, beautiful birds and a huge elephant. Ryan stops again so we can watch this gentle giant passing by on our right side. He eats, takes a few steps, eats some more and then decides to walk in front of the jeep for some time. What a beautiful creature!

During the game drive Ryan gives us lots of information about every animals we see. He talks about the big animals, but also about the birds, bugs, beatles and so on. There is so much life in this part of South Africa. The sun is shining wonderfully and we are so happy to be here, being able to go on this wonderful game drive! Once we are back at Kololo, we enjoy a late breakfast.

Then we have some free time to enjoy the sun and chill by the swimming pool. Me and 3 other travel companions decide to go on a bicycle tour, which is possible on Kololo’s own territory since there are no dangerous animals around. We take some water with us, put sun screen on our faces, arms and legs and hop on the bicycles Kololo has available for their guests. Kololo has marked bicycle trails and the guests can choose between a short or a long cycle trip. We will see how far we will go. It is warmer than we expected, but I really enjoy this ride. How great is it to ride your bicycle in between zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and so on. I love it! After about 2 hours we really need to go back, because it is getting too warm. We return our bicycles and go for a quick swim and enjoy the sun for a while.

Late in the afternoon we are in for another treat; we have another game drive at Welgevonden on our program. Yes!!! 🙂 This time Nelson joins us as well; “our” Nelson, who is accompanied by his 14 “wives”. So far I have seen 4 of the “Big Five” during my previous trip to South Africa 3 years ago and I saw 2 of the Big Five this morning. The leopard keeps hiding from me every time, so it still on my “to see” list. The first hour we see a lot of birds, various “bokkies” and deer, including the famous Kololo deer that the lodge is named after.

Ryan gets a message on the radio from another ranger who tells him that lions have been spotted; he gets the coordinates and goes looking for them, but without success. Then all of a sudden we hear a group of monkeys screaming so loud; something must be happening somewhere close-by! Ryan carefully drives towards the screaming monkeys, turns slowly onto a small dirt road and out of the blue a leopard jumps from the right side to the left, a few metres in front of the jeep! Ryan stops the jeep immediately. Are you kidding I think, is this really happening? The leopard does not disappear. He (or she) decides to lay down in the grass at about 6 or 7 metres from the jeep. I am wondering who is looking at who? Ryan tells us all to be very careful, to move as little as possible and he stays alert. I cannot believe it, I am seeing number 5 of the Big Five (and deep down I knew it appear this afternoon, just a gut feeling I had)! I am sitting on the left of the jeep and although the camera needs to focus with the leopard laying in the grass, I get some decent photographs of this stunningly beautiful animal.

I want to look at the leopard for hours (I seriously could), but then Ryan gets another message: this time cheetahs have been spotted. They are not part of the Big Five, but they are amazing! Ryan starts the engine and still the leopard does not move. Maybe he/she enjoyed looking at us as much as we did watching him/her. We leave and I am thinking: we better find those cheetahs 😉 leaving this leopard behind. Ryan drives to the location given by the other ranger. We “run into” a giant elephant on our way and although we need to hurry up a little bit, Ryan does stop of course so we can admire the gentle giant who is enjoying eating some grass next to a tree. Somehow I feel like all of this is unreal, like I am wearing 3D glasses and going on a virtual safari. But this is reality and we are having the most wonderful time between the wildlife.

We leave the elephant to eat in peace and not much further on we find the cheetahs, who have caught a kudu and they are having it as dinner. The other ranger leaves with his group so it does not get too crowded and we can watch the cheetahs from a safe distance. The 3 cheetahs are taking turns in eating and they let us enjoy their dinner show in peace. They are such graceful animals with their athletic and slim bodies, they can outrun every other animal being the fastest animals on land. One of the cheetahs is curious and watches us with its beautiful brown eyes. This game drive brought us more surprises than we could have wished for. I take as many photographs as I can, also of the cheetahs having dinner, which feels pretty weird. But, whether it is hard to see this or not, this is how nature works…

It is getting dark and we have to go back to Kololo; we have to leave Welgevonden before it gets completely dark. Lynette and Ryan still want us to enjoy this special tour though and we drive to a beautiful viewing point where we stop. From here we watch the sun set behind the mountains, while enjoying a glass of wine and a snack. After about 20 minutes we drive back to Kololo and have to hurry a little bit, since they let us enjoy Welgevonden longer than planned (any maybe than allowed). I have put my camera in my bag since the sun has set. It is really dark, but when looking up there are a million stars shining in the sky and I wish I could capture it. I am seriously overwhelmed by it all. Once we reach the gate to Kololo, an elephant is waiting for us, as if it wants to greet us before we leave Welgevonden (or maybe it is trying to see what is happening on the other side of the gate 😉 or having a secret meeting).

We go for dinner straight away, since they are waiting for us. We use the rest rooms to wash our hands; the rest of the dust we will wash away later. We cannot stop talking during dinner about our adventures today. We show each other photographs and realize how lucky we have been seeing the amazing wildlife at Welgevonden.
We go back to our Giraffe villa, have a shower and go to sleep. I stand on “my” balcony to watch the stars for a little while longer.

Day 7: from Vaalwater to Louis Trichardt

The next morning after breakfast we do not leave Kololo without going for a last tour over Kololo territory. We see more wildebeests, giraffes and zebras and I will never get enough. I think zebras are one of the most pretty animals with their perfectly designed black and white striped suits. I would love to stay here; I feel at home between the wildlife, so a few more days would be great. But we have been blessed while staying here. Before we leave, Inge and I go for a walk, see a beautiful bird (and of course I do not know its name) and have an encounter with the most gracious and curious giraffe and her little one who are standing by the fence that separates Kololo from Welgevonden. It is the perfect last image of our stay here!

We leave Kololo at the end of the morning and have a long drive of about 4,5 hours ahead of us; well, Nelson does the driving, we get to relax and enjoy the scenery. We go further north to Louis Trichardt, a town at the foot of Songozwi, in the Southpansberg mountain range. It is named after the voortrekker leader Louis Tregardt; the original Venda name is Tshirululuni. We pass Polokwane (Pietersburg) and see the giant Peter Mokaba football stadium, where the 2010 Fifa World Cup was partly held.

We arrive at Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge late in the afternoon, where we will spend our last 2 nights of this great adventure here in South Africa. Madi a Thavha means “water from the mountain”. While staying here, guests can go anywhere they please, because the lodges location is central in Northern Limpopo and close to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Guests can also do wonderful day trips to Mapungubwe, the two most northern gates of the National Kruger Park, Pafuri and Punda Maria and the subtropical green belts of the Levubu valley and the Wolkberge in Tzaneen. The lodge is a true paradise and run by Dutch owners, who give us a very warm welcome!

We check in and the group is divided over various suites and guest rooms. Inge and I check into the Limpopo Guest Suite and share this luxury 2-bedroom family suite with the same ladies who joined us in the Giraffe house at Kololo. It is a very spacious self-catering suite, a bit hidden from the rest of the property, located on a gentle slope, overlooking the Soutpansberg mountains. There is lots of colour in the suite; the open living- and dining area has a fire place, a fifth bed and a TV. And both bedrooms have their own bathrooms. There is a fully equipped kitchen with all the facilities you could need and to me the best part (apart from the bath tub) is the spacious veranda with dining and braai facilities and from where we have mountain views all around. What a great accommodation to spend our last nights (well, all places we stayed at have been amazing, all different, all wonderful…).

At night we have a delicious dinner at the lodge, we sit outside, close by the pool. We are sitting at one big table accompanied by live music from artist in this region. We get to know the owners better and they tell us all about their lodge and their cooperation with the locals. Madi a Thavha is well situated in the middle of the cultural and natural marvels of the north. They offer village tours to artists’ and crafters’ work places in the rural villages. We will do a tour tomorrow, so we can experience the everyday rural buzz, meet traditional dancers, singers, musicians, story-tellers and traditional healers. The food is tasty, the wine delicious, the music brings atmosphere… Oh what a night!

Day 8: Ribolla Art Route

Waking up a Madi a Thavha is relaxing; all is quiet apart from hearing the birds. After breakfast we have some time to relax and Inge and I decide to go for a walk and are joined by 2 other ladies from the group. We want to walk towards the baobab tree the owners told us about; I have never see one. It is lovely to stretch our legs, although we need to climb up a bit, but this climb goes gradually. We see beautiful butterflies and reach the baobab tree which is massive and beautiful. We admire it for a while, enjoy the views around us, before returning to the lodge.

At the end of the morning we get into our minivan to get to know the area around Makhado, a region that is poor in prosperity, but very rich in culture. Everything we see breathes the Tsonga and Venda culture that belongs here in this area. We go for the Elims Art an Culture tour and with a local guide we follow the Ribolla Art Route, a collaboration of local artists and craftsmen. Our first stop is at a Venda traditional cloth shop. We see pretty ladies dressed in colourful and traditional shedo’s (an apron-like garment) and they greet us with their beautiful smiles and we chat for a while. Limpopo is not very touristic, especially this part in the north, so we are the attraction here.

We discover more of Elim and walk around for a while, we visit the local market and have a look what they sell. We are in the poorest province in South Africa, but not for a second we feel unsafe or uncomfortable; on the contrary! The people here are healthily curious, like to be photographed (and do not ask for money for it!) and love to share their stories and show the products they sell. Beautiful people in every way! We pass by food stalls, hair dressers (and see our Nelson getting a haircut) and I end up taking loads of photographs of smiling faces 🙂

We move on to Mashau Village, to meet artist David Murathi. When we meet him we see that he met Dutch people before, because he is wearing a t-shirt of one of Holland’s most popular bands called Bløf. He started woodcarving when he was still at school, now runs a rural art studio in Mashau Village and we visit his workshop on the Mashau road. He learned carving from his uncle, the famous woodcarver Churchill Madzivhandila who lived in Tshakhuma. David is a beautiful person, who creates traditional and contemporary, small and large sculptures and functional art. His wooden bathroom accessories such as hooks, towel rails and mirrors are true objects of art. If you want to bring yourself a great souvenir home (which is not a souvenir at all really, but beautiful and functional), you but something from David!

It is here where we have lunch, we all get a lunch pack. Just as we sit down a local school finished and all of a sudden we are surrounded by lots of school children. David laughs and we share our lunch with the children and sing and dance with them for while.

Our stop next this afternoon is at Mukondeni Pottery Village, where a group of 15 women, established by the late Sarah Munyai, produce traditional and contemporary Venda pots, clay fire-place-pots, bowls, clay tiles and beads. We get a tour and enjoy looking at the women creating pots and bowls. The village women dig clay from the river in their village and for decoration-‘paint’, the potters use graphite and ochre oxides, found in the Luonde Mountains close by. They decorate their pots with geometric patterns and various traditional symbols like fishes.

We go back to Madi a Thavha, after a wonderful tour full of impressions and I bought some souvenirs. Elim is a perfect place for people like me, who love photography. I absolutely loved all that we have seen and want to thank most of all the friendly people, who let me take their photographs! At night we have dinner at the lodge again; which is great, because the food is amazing!

Day 9: Polokwane

It is our last day in South Africa (boo hoo… ). In the morning I enjoy our little paradise in the morning sun for as long as we can, sitting on the great veranda at our suite). We say goodbye to the owners of Madi a Thavha, are seen off by curious little monkeys and I quickly buy some more souvenirs (you can never have enough) before we really have to leave.

On our last day we go to Polokwane, a city full of wide avenues, jacaranda trees, parks and fountains. Polokwane is the agricultural and commercial centre of Limpopo, but also the cultural centre of the region. We arrive at the tourist office and go for a tour by foot through the city, which was once called Pietersburg. We visit the Polokwane museum and the Hugh Exton Photographic Museum, which I absolute love and I see some great photographs displayed.

Then we move on to the Peter Mokaba football stadium, known by football fans all around the world. We have seen this stadium from a distance when going from Vaalwater to Louis Trichardt. A number of important matches were played here in the 2010 Fifa World Cup. We are allowed to enter this impressive stadium, are offered lunch and watch a number of clubs practising in the stadium.

At the stadium we meet a very special lady, Cecilia Molokwane, who is founder of the Rising Stars Netball team for young women. She makes sure the young women get a good work out and keeps them away from the a life on the streets! She is a wonderful person with the most beautiful character. We have lunch together and a surprise awaits us: we are playing a game of netball against the young women. Not in the stadium but not too far away. OMG, they kick our asses of course and we lose the game big time. But we have a lot of fun and it is a nice way to end a wonderful journey through Johannesburg, Magaliesburg and the province of Limpopo!

Our time in South Africa is up unfortunately. We arrive at Polokwane airport, from where we fly to Johannesburg en from there back to Schiphol, Amsterdam. We have to say goodbye to Ananda, Marieke and Nelson, who have made our trip such a success (Marieke stays for a little while longer and drives back to Johannesburg with Ananda, Nelson and another travel agent who has made plans). Thank you for taking such good care of us and especially Nelson for driving us around safely. Wife nr. 13 will always remember this special trip.

Johannesburg, Magaliesburg and Limpopo have surprised me enormously in such a positive way. South Africa is much more than the Garden or Panoramic Route and the Kruger Park! To me it was a big advantage that this area is not that touristic and still authentic. Am I going back to South Africa for a third time? I hope so, time will tell!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

March 13, 2015

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