Monday, February 28, 2011

Tzaneen - there and back!

Having left Johannesburg about noon on Sunday, Derrick and I headed for Pretoria taking the N1 North and just carried on straight!  Once on the open road we passed a surprising amount of oncoming traffic all coming back to 'civilization' from a weekend away. We passed a group of Landrover Defenders, traveling in loose convoy, all from what seemed to be a Landrover Centurion outing. Being part of the 'Defender family' it is customary to wave/greet when passing.
The trip would not be complete without these money-sucking tollgates!  As we were using the Platinum Highway to the North it needed to be paid for, the sections ranging from R7.50 to R36.00. 
 You can use the side roads for free but most people prefer just to pay and get there faster!
The further North you go the landscape/cloud formations constantly change, really an experience, both sides of the road never the same.
We had been driving behind a storm but stopped to put in petrol and found five little birds having a quick bath in the storm water, the others preferred to wait till we had left.
...  back on the road.
As you can see we missed the rain, clear blue skies here! Driving into Polokwane (Pietersberg) it was great to see that The World Cup was still alive and well in this town.  It is home to the Peter Mokaba Stadium where some very exciting matches were played.  From here we took a right and headed towards our next town, Haenertsberg.
At the foot of these hills, another tollgate!
As it was beginning to get dark, and we had not booked anywhere... we began to phone guesthouses etc., coming up on the GPS but of course it was a Sunday night and most phones just rang.  Instead of just booking, we took this little dirt road just as you come into Haenertsberg to go and view an interesting sounding guesthouse which showed up on the GPS -  good-thing-we-did!!!
Not much picture taking happened after this as we needed to find a place a.s.a.p!  We knew the Coach House was expensive so concentrated on making calls to just about every other place, leaving messages etc., which didn't get answered - so eventually... called the Coach House.  By this time a storm was virtually upon us so punched into the GPS 'fastest route'!  Soon we turned off the tar and onto a rocky dirt road going up the mountain through the forest, in the black of night, with the rain pouring down and washing towards us, lightning spiking everywhere and thunder crashing in our ears.
I called the Coach House, 'are we on the right road?'  'well, yes, but you are on The Old Coach Road!'  This road is not for normal cars we found out, even in a 4x4 it was hectic but what could we do but carry on.  Eventually we hit tar again and it wasn't long before we turned into the hotel being waved to where we should park, 'Security' appearing at the Landrover window with an umbrella!

The Coach House is on the site of the original staging post and hotel used by travelers in the feverish gold rush days of the late 19th century.  It overlooks the Letsitele Valley and the splendour of the Drakensberg Mountains in the Limpopo Province.
Those of you who have ever had the pleasure will know that it is well worth another visit!  On our trip up the mountain the previous night we had climbed +- 1 500m, as high as Johannesburg, no muggy heat up here!
While we waited to be shown our table for dinner we sat in the bar and viewed old photographs and paintings depicting an era of life gone by when things were tough.  (Didn't know they had even harnessed zebra, I suppose they are just horses that have stripes).
The menu was simple but care taken to keep even the fussiest happy. That wasn't difficult really as we were ravenous and could have eaten a horse!  The portions were generous, beautifully presented and the flavours mingling to perfection.... but we were bursting and had to turn down the puddings, tragic.
Apart from the main buildings, the accommodation is in the form of large spacious suites carefully positioned to afford guests the best view, in this case the view is on the left side.  The following 'views' are from our wrap-around balcony - of course we thought the best!!
This waterfall has no name, I was told, as there are numerous waterfalls forming during the rainy season but it does begin the Lesitele River that flows through the valley.  (maybe the Lesitele Waterfall perhaps?) You can also see it if you look carefully at the previous picture at roughly '10 o'clock'.

This useful information came with our morning coffee tray complete with silver coffee pot, silver creamer, silver sugar-sachet carrier and wholewheat rusks!
Pawpaw~mango~pineapple~kiwifruit~spanspek~avocado!~grapes~sliced guavas~grenadillas~and bananas! I chose their 'homemade' cereal made with chopped Macadamia nuts, coconut, oats, cinnamon and dark brown sugar together with a helping of thick cream :).  And for others, there is a  selection of cold meats~hot English Breakfast~pasteries and pots of tea/coffee!
Our view at breakfast, just take your time they said!
These flowering trees belong to the hotel and as we drove out and up the hill we looked back and down on them.  Every house seems to have a few, little wonder!
Gum trees are grown in their millions.  Take careful note of the speck in the bottom right of this photograph, it is a house and it would seem is in use as there are curtains at the windows.  Not quite sure of their view though as they nestle low down in the trees, possibly only of people like us at a 'viewing' spot on the road high above.

We had now wound down through the cool forests and were coming into Tzaneen which is about +-750m above sea level and of course much warmer here.
We had to stop and fill up with petrol.  It is quite busy little town and basically you can get what you 'need', maybe not so much what you 'want'!   The suburbs are neat and tidy with vegetation being quite tropical - interesting.
Having left Tzaneen, we soon passed Magoebaskloof Dam.
Castle with a corrugated iron roof! and more gum trees.  On zooming into the 'castle' the roof was rusted and in desperate need of a paint.
We saw a sign saying 'Debengeni Falls' and decided to take a look.  We wound down into the ravine, the jungle getting thicker and thicker and all of a sudden a hut came into view and we were asked to contribute R10 each and R10 for the car! After a short walk in the direction of rushing water we were rewarded with an incredible 'sight' and a lovingly tended picnic area.
'Debengeni' means 'place of the big pot' and is 8.9km from Magoebaskloof pass.
A lovely day with white fluffy clouds and plenty of sunshine, a gentle breeze and about 26*C~ perfect!
This is also Banana country!  They grow in their thousands in neat rows, plenty next to the road, heavy with ripening fruit, staked up with wooden poles.

There are the usual flowering trees but this one caught my attention.  The trees are at least roof height with shiny leaves and bright crimson-red berry-looking 'flowers' on stalks.  The leaves remind me of a potplant called the Umbrella plant! We then made our way out of town and towards the quaint tiny village of Haenertsberg.
The usual little 'shop' with antique-type things, jams, handmade soaps and interesting secondhand books.  (Bought a little jar of Guava Jam, R25 - should have bought a HUGE jar of Guava Jam!!)  As Derrick loves old books he could not resist a small selection which included a sort-after discontinued publication.  There is self-catering accommodation next door to the shop in the same mining-style little cottages. 
Zion City at Moria, near Polokwane, is the Head Quarters of the Zion Christian Church which attracts more than a million pilgrims every Easter.  They arrive packed in all forms of transport congregating on a huge parking lot, out of shot, to the right.  The founding member was a former member of the Free Church of Scotland and other churches.

Then off to Polokwane (Pietersburg).
We stopped here to get our wheels balanced and were very impressed with what we saw.  The Premier of the Limpopo Province is striving to have the best province in the country and he seems to be getting it right. As this was a World Cup destination there are still some flags flying on top of buildings and in general they are painted and clean.  The streets too are obviously swept and garbage neatly piled awaiting the truck.  The 'fresh produce market' part of town was busy with shoppers inspecting colourful tables of local fruit and vegetables.
As we drove out of town school was out for the day.  This lot were waiting for transport but most were streaming up the road out of town towards home ~ 'Those-were-the-days, my friend!!'
We were now headed in the direction of Mokopane (Potgietersrus) but the sun was on the West side so a bit more difficult to capture anything too easily without getting 'the driver' in the picture! The lacy cloud formations with the sun's rays squeezing through are always a worthwhile shot.  Since we had no reason to stop in this town we went straight past and onto Bela Bela (Warmbaths).
We decided to have supper in Bela Bela before it got too late, so took the off-ramp and immediately had to find a place to stop.   In order to get the last of the setting sun, which goes so fast in it's last dying minutes, we had to pull over on the bridge which luckily was very wide.  I got a number of shots but preferred this one of Eskom's power lines in the golden 'bubble' while the swallows played in the cool stillness of a perfect evening.

Merle.  5D Canon Mk 2.  Canon 100-400mm Canon.  'Breakfast' pictures taken with Nokia N95.
Roughly 95% of the above pictures were taken from a moving car, if we had to stop every time we would still be on the road!