SA links with ‘The Auld Country’

The others are sentimentalists who will happily return to favoured places, based on joyful previous experience.


There are, in my book, two broad categories of habitual recreational travellers, “bucket-listers” and “romantics”.

The first go from place to place, checking destinations and experiences off their lists (which heaven knows how they compiled!) before moving on to the next. They are the bean-counters of travel.

The others are sentimentalists who will happily return to favoured places, based on joyful previous experience, despite the knowledge they might be disappointed. That’s why I call them romantics.

I fall firmly within this category, which is why I found myself turning off the R71 between Polokwane and Tzaneen to Haenertsburg in Limpopo a few months ago.

My first and only previous visit was a brief overnight sortie to see my old “boss” Tony Nienaber more than two decades ago. It was so memorable, I remained resolved to return … even though Nienaber moved away some time back.

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Fuelled by romantics

Haenertsburg, I’m pleased to report, is a village founded and fuelled by romantics.

Not the least of these was John Buchan, the Lord Tweedsmuir, who found acclaim as author of such novels as Prester John and The Thirty-Nine Steps in the 1920s.

The Scotsman studied at Oxford University with Alfred Lord Milner, governor of the Cape colony and high commissioner for Southern Africa from 1897-1901.

Buchan came to South Africa to assist Milner with the country’s “reconstruction and development plan” envisaged for after the second Anglo-Boer War.

Pictures

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In his autobiography Memory Hold-The-Door, he writes this of the colonial administrator: “Milner … was not very good at envisaging a world wholly different from his own, and his world and [Paul] Kruger’s at no point intersected.

There was a gnarled magnificence in the old Transvaal president, but he saw only a snuffy, mendacious savage.”

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In turn, Buchan states: “I learned a good deal in South Africa, and the chief lesson was that I had still much to learn about the material world and about human nature. I discovered that there was a fine practical wisdom which owed nothing to books and academies.”

For part of his tenure, Buchan was stationed in Pietersburg, now Polokwane.

He wrote, and the following words are engraved on a rock memorial just outside Haenertsburg: “Two pictures I have always carried with me in dismal places. One is of a baking noon on the highveld, the sky a merciless blue, the brown earth shimmering in a heat haze…

“The other picture is the Wood Bush [Forest in Magoebaskloof] in the North Transvaal that lies between Pietersburg and the eastern flats. You climb to it through bare foothills where the only vegetation is the wait-a-bit thorn, and then suddenly you cross a ridge and enter a garden…

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“The contrast makes a profound impression.”

Clearly the man was something of a romantic traveller.

I knew nothing of this when I checked into the Pennefather complex of self-catering cottages and trading stores (www.pennefather.co.za) and lugged my bags up a few stairs to a quaint period dwelling named Prester John. On the walls inside was a picture of the ascetic Buchan, as well as a potted profile of his fictional hero, Richard Hannay.

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Other cottages bore the names Rider Haggard (author of the novel She), Doel Zeederberg (who started the first mail-coach route between Johannesburg and Kimberley and later expanded it to include Pietersburg), explorergeologist Karl Mauch and Carl Ferdinand Haenert

“Mauch indicated the probability of gold being found in the surrounding Wolkberg Mountains but it was Haenert who actually discovered it in 1886. As a result, the settlement that sprang up was named after him,” says long-time resident and historian Professor Louis Changuion.

The mining boom didn’t last long and the population of Haenertsburg subsequently dwindled to its current level of around 400 permanent residents. Farming and tourism are the main economic activities.

Much like Dullstroom – though on a much smaller scale – the tourist “strip” comprises the main road through the town – though, unlike Dullstroom, this is not a busy thoroughfare.

You discover Haenertsburg by accident or prior knowledge.

Commercialism is minimal, leaving the village with charm, authenticity and a lack of opportunistic panhandlers.

Apart from the Pennefather Complex with its coffee-sweet shop, the main road boasts several cosy restaurants offering remarkably fine and well-priced fare. Make a point of stopping at the Iron Crown pub and bistro for a delicious chicken pot pie.

There are also several exceptional farmstalls and delis in the area.

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The local craft beer, Zwakala, comes highly recommended.

While Haenertsburg has an undeniably “arty” feel to it, it attracts mainly outdoorsy types.

Activities include fishing (the area is well known for its trout and bass), birding, horse riding, mountain biking, various water sports on the nearby Ebenezer Dam, walking and hiking.

There is a 10-kilometre hiking trail through the Haenertsburg Grassland Nature Reserve named after Professor Changuion. The trail is popular with birders and takes between three and four hours to complete.

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 The area enjoys relatively high rainfall and this, coupled with frequent mountain mists, means vegetation is lush.

Locals take great pride in their gardens and a drive through the village – I visited at the end of winter – reveals a riot of colour.

Especially worth a mention in this regard are the Cheerio Gardens on the fringe of the Woodbush Forest (www.cheeriogardens.co.za) between Haenertsburg and Magoebaskloof.

Home to the annual flowering spring festival, the moss-covered paths are open year round to day visitors.

Trout fishing is offered on a catch-and-release basis from the dam on the Cheerio Gardens property.

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Anglers must provide their own equipment and be in possession of a permit.

Buchan, incidentally, left South Africa in 1903 (he never re[1]turned) and, says Changuion, was “elevated to the peerage with the title First Baron Lord Tweedsmuir”, the area in Scotland where he grew up.

He is not the village’s only link with “The Auld Country”, adds the historian, “In 1996, one of the residents of Haenertsburg, John Murray, inherited the title Duke of Atholl.

“Modest John preferred to stay in Haenertsburg, however a compromise was reached and once a year John and [his wife] Peggy travelled to Blair Castle in Scotland for John to perform his duties. He passed away on 15 May 2012.”

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