05 July 2014 by Willem Steenkamp

Leshiba Wilderness: The art of fulfilling travel

With its beautiful natural surroundings and its stunning Venda art, Leshiba Wilderness is perfect for guests who want cultural enrichment with their safari holiday.

The garden at the Venda Village Lodge

In this age of convenience, we’ve become accustomed to not working for the things that turn us on intellectually and emotionally – but sometimes a little effort makes them even better.

Take, for example, Leshiba Wilderness, in the Soutpansberg mountains above the Limpopo town of Makhado, in South Africa’s north-east. As lodges go, it’s not easy to reach (a 4x4 vehicle is a superb idea for taking on the bumpy bush track up the mountain), and it’s so remote that it doesn’t have electricity or cellphone reception worth speaking of.

But it’s an oasis of comfort and luxury – and, unlike so many other lodges and game reserves that focus almost solely on the surrounding natural attractions, it includes cultural and artistic heritage as integral parts of its offering.

Art is everywhere in the Venda Village Lodge

In a single place, one can enjoy absolute tranquility, game drives (featuring rhino and leopard, two of the Big Five), a dozen self-guided walking trails, guided botanical and archaeological walks, adventure horse trails, stargazing, and immersion in the beautiful works of world-famous Venda artists.

Paul Thavhana's beautiful snake sculpture

The main accommodation offering at Leshiba Wilderness is the Venda Village Lodge. It is set on what had originally been a Venda village before the former apartheid policy forced the villagers to move, as they could not keep their livestock on 'white' land.

The Venda Village Lodge has been created using traditional building techniques, with creature comforts such as plumbing included in the comfortable rondavels (round huts). It is decorated with sculptures and woodcarvings by Noria Mabasa and Thomas Kubayi, two of Venda’s most famous artists.

Fish and snakes – common themes in Venda art – feature strongly in the artworks, which are either integrated into the actual Venda Village Lodge or dotted around the grounds. (In the small gallery there, be sure to view the carved snake by the late Paul Thavhana; it is a work of breathtaking complexity and execution.)

But the art doesn’t only reflect traditional themes. A pair of figurines represents the spread of HIV through transactional sexual practices, and Mabasa portrays hardship further afield with her large woodcarving Somalia, for example.

A pensive figure

But it’s not just Venda art that waits to be discovered. Leshiba Wilderness boasts seven sites where San rock art, and Khoikhoi hand and foot paintings, can be found. There are also three further sites where there is evidence of human habitation dating back hundreds of years.

According to manager Peter Straughan, Leshiba Wilderness actively supports the preservation and promotion of local heritage. To this end it has established the Indigenous Knowledge Centre, which seeks to secure indigenous knowledge and investigate emerging technologies in areas such as culture (including art, storytelling, music and dance), traditional medicine and medicinal plants, building, agriculture and permaculture.

So, if convenience inculcates an 'easy come, easy go' mentality in many of us, then Leshiba Wilderness must be inconvenient. It takes effort to get there, and it’s as difficult to leave (literally and figuratively), but in between are experiences that nourish the body, mind and soul – and are more than worth the effort.

Detail from Noria Mabasa's sculpture, Somalia

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Category: Attractions, Culture & History, Responsible Tourism, Wildlife

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