Hang your hat in Hoedspruit
The story of how Hoedspruit was founded is sure to strike a chord with many who have travelled to, and live in, this beautiful bushveld town beneath the Klein Drakensberg mountains.
Translated directly from Afrikaans, Hoedspruit means 'hat creek'. As the story goes, one of the town’s pioneers had just made a gruelling trek across the mountains in the sweltering Lowveld heat, and making an impulsive decision to call this place home, threw his hat into the Sandspruit River that runs through the area.
Today, Hoedspruit still seems to employ some kind of wizardry to seduce those who enter its boundaries, and I stand among them. Some will say it’s the abundance of wildlife and Big Five game-viewing opportunities on the surrounding nature reserves – even the world-famous Kruger National Park is just a 40-minute drive away.
Others will tell you it’s the unique, strikingly beautiful landscape – dry bushveld and sandy riverbeds mesh with lush forests found in the nearby Blyde River Canyon and hills leading up to the peaks of the Drakensberg. There’s magic in those mountains. Sip on a cold beer and watch while they turn deeper shades of purple as the sun dips behind them, and you’ll see what I mean.
Conservation is one of the main economic focus areas of Hoedspruit, and you’ll also find many tourist-friendly animal rehabilitation centres in the vicinity. Be sure to visit the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, situated along the R531 on the slopes of the Mariepskop – the highest peak of the Drakensberg escarpment. I’ve heard that you can see the Indian Ocean and Maputo on a clear day from the top of Mariepskop, 1 945m above sea level.
The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, near the Kapama Game Reserve, is also a must-visit.
Both centres offer valuable insight into vulnerable animal species, and give a fascinating overview of the conservation efforts playing out in these regions. Get up close with cheetah, wild dog, lion and other rare and endangered species.
While in the area, take a trip to the nearby Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Over 300 bird species have been identified here, making it an ideal spot for birding enthusiasts. If the weather allows, take a boat cruise on the river, or make your way to the beautiful waterfall hidden at the end of a short forest trail. Monkeys often watch your progress along the leafy path with cheeky curiosity.
Hoedspruit still seems to employ some kind of wizardry to seduce those who enter its boundaries, and I stand among them.
If you can, set aside a day and drive to the Mariepskop picnic site, situated on the banks of the turbulent Blyde River amid the misty forests of the Drakensberg mountains. The scenery while travelling into its peaks would not be misplaced in a JRR Tolkien novel. The river is great for tubing, and you can launch yourself into the refreshing water with a rope swing.
In the evenings, if you’re not braaiing under the stars, there are a number of great restaurants scattered about the town.
Try the Hat and Creek across the road from the Kamogelo Tourist Centre; the Safari Club at the entrance of Raptor’s View Wildlife Estate; or further out on the Timbavati/Klaserie reserve road, stop for sundowners and a bite at Bones Pub and Grill, or Jos Mac’s Bush Pub across the road: I have fond memories of watching elephant drinking on the riverbanks there at sunset.
There are so many other things to do and see in this beautiful bushveld haven – the Monsoon art gallery; a visit to Jessica the tame hippo (great if you’re travelling with children); the Godding&Godding Silk Farm (formerly Bombyx Mori Silk Farm); the Nyani Tribal Village; or a visit to the collapsed Glencoe Baobab – thought to be the stoutest tree in the world.
Last year also saw the inaugural 'Rocking for Rhinos' musical festival take place at Franklyn Park in aid of rhino conservation. The next is scheduled for 22 September 2013.
No matter what you get up to, or how long you intend to stay, be warned – once Hoedspruit gets under your skin, it’s there to stay.