21 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

A Land of Trees and Sculptors

Thomas Pakenham came to Lesheba Wilderness a little while ago, drawn by a rather splendid tree.

It stands on the Soutpansberg plateau, a classic umbrella-shaped paperbark thorn tree. It fell to tree fundi Peter Straughan to carry Pakenham’s ancient bellows system camera, which takes an hour to set up .

The tree really is a beauty, but by the time we get to it, I’m already tree-drunk - there are 400 different tree species here, more than the entire Kruger National Park, which is hundreds of times larger than this piece of rather lovely land only 4 hours’ drive from Johannesburg.

Peter and Kathryn Straughan (Kathryn is owner John Rosmarin’s daughter) are the guardians of this very special piece of land, a plateau high up in the Soutpansberg Mountains. Getting here feels as if you are travelling to an arboreal kingdom above the clouds.

Lesheba is certified as a Fair Trade in Tourism destination, and it has an inspirational art project, the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, where locals come and learn to become sculptors and artists. Visitors can come and interact with them when there’s a workshop on the go, in an eco-friendly village powered by solar and paraffin lamps.

And in the incredible arborium that is Lesheba Wilderness, the sculptors not only learn their craft, but also the inestimable value of growing trees.

They learn about the wood, how to gather fallen wood, how to tell what kind of wood it is by scratching, sniffing, even tasting it.

The glorious treed plateau is also home to the Venda Village, created by famed sculptor Noria Mabasa. Staying here is like being surrounded by human and natural art - an extraordinary experience.

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