Dying for a proper forest fix? Magoebaskloof is home to South Africa’s second-largest indigenous forest and is an arboreal Eden. Melanie van Zyl shares the prettiest drives, unmissable sights, things to do and where overlanders would love to stay.
Where to find Magoebaskloof
Dubbed the ‘Land of the Silver Mist’, mystical Magoebaskloof is often cloaked in fog. To find it, you’ll need to travel roughly four hours north of Johannesburg. Magoebaskloof lies between Polokwane and Tzaneen, incorporating the little village of Haenertsburg in Limpopo province. The region is named for Chief Mamphoku Makgoba who resisted land relocations in the late 1890s. Sadly, he paid for it with his head, but they say his spirit lives on in these ancient Afromontane forests. Indeed, those who have strolled between the thick trunks of these velvety woods will concede that these trees have tales to tell. If only one stops to listen.
How to explore the indigenous forests
First, drive up your adrenaline and take to the skies. The Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour coasts along the country’s prettiest ziplines (and I don’t say this lightly!). The two-hour tour includes 11 awesome slides from high platform viewpoints over three waterfalls along the Groot Letaba River. Each waterfall tumbles from about 20 metres up before trickling into waters below to the sweet sounds of forest birdsong.
Speaking of birds, this precinct is a renowned twitchers utopia. To uncover notable sightings, enlist local Birdlife-accredited community guides and enjoy a walk through the Woodbush Forest. Bring the binoculars and expect to spy the likes of the Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Cape Parrot, Green Twinspot, Narina Trogon, Lemon Dove, Grey Cuckooshrike, Orange Ground Thrush, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and White-starred Robin.
Where to stop
However, as avid overlanders, you might prefer to drive a bird-watching or forest-appreciation loop instead. Navigate the Woodbush Forest via the gravel – and in summer, slobbering muddy – back routes. Set off early onto the Cheerio Road and make your way towards Kurisa Moya returning via the Kuhestan Organic Farm Cottages. Expect twists, turns and many delightful stops along the way. You’ll find eats, drinks and a monthly market at Zwakala Brewery, organic cheese platters at Wegraakbosch and charming country gardens at Cheerio and Sequoia.
You can also exit the Woodbush Forest via Modjadjiskloof and tie in a visit to the cycad reserve. Otherwise, Debegeni Falls is another worthwhile detour in the area. Pack a picnic and sit beside the ‘place of pots’ soaking up wonderful woodland serenity.
Then there are the bountiful panoramas afforded by the Magoebaskloof Pass itself, which roller-coasters down between Haenertsburg and Tzaneen on the R71. The pass marks the divide between the highveld and sub-tropical Lowveld, dropping about 600 metres over a distance of just six kilometres. Mark the occasion by stopping for pizza at the Magoebaskloof Farmstall and Cafe.
Where to camp in Magoebaskloof
Can a campsite be described as deluxe? Coral Tree Camp sure can. There are top-quality kitchen facilities and even an open-air bathroom at this 4X4-only campsite perched on the mountainous edges of Magoebaskloof Pass. It’s tucked into the forest, but boasts a luscious lawn to pitch your tent. Lucky guests will enjoy the company of Samango monkeys and breathtaking views.
Zwakala River Retreat boasts two exclusive-use campsites set onto picturesque meandering riverbanks – so don’t forget to pack your fly–fishing rod and floaties!
There are many cottages and cosy cabins equipped with fireplaces to suit the weather if visiting in winter. Sequoia Garden Retreat, Glenogle Farm and Zwakala River Retreat are my personal favourites.