A sacred lake safeguarded by tradition
Limpopo's Lake Fundudzi
Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo - tradition conserves it.
© Chris Marais
Many say Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo's northernmost reaches is one of a very few in the world to have been formed by landslide. The lake has been safeguarded for centuries and is believed to be sacred to the Vhatatsindi, the People of the Pool.
Did you know?
Nof far from Lake Fundudzi is the sacred Venda forest, Thathe Vondo.
Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo province was originally formed by a landslide, say scientists. But the local people see it in a far more mysterious way. They'll point out that three rivers flow into the lake, yet it never overflows. It is a place full of import to the Venda people who live here - the Vhatatsindi, or People of the Pool.
Lake Fundudzi is defended by a Venda python god who lives in the mountain on a rock. The ancestral spirits who inhabit the lake are said to be guarded by a white crocodile. The fullness of the lake and its colour indicate the mood of the ancestors, and predicts the coming rainy season.
When any object is thrown into the lake, locals say the spirits will catch it and throw it back out onto the bank to be discovered the next morning. And people from the area say the lake's water has healing properties.
The People of the Pool have been part of Lake Fundudzi's conservation since their ancestors migrated here centuries ago. For decades, Chief Ntsandeni Netshiava, his father, and grandfather before him, were the only people who could give permission to strangers to approach.
Lake Fundudzi tourism has been slow in developing but new roads make access to the lake far easier now. But to truly appreciate its importance, stay with local people and listen to their stories.
And they will truly appreciate it if you show the proper respect by doing the requisite greeting when you first see the lake. Turn your back to it, and bend down to look at it upside down through spread legs, a salute known as the ukodola.
Then please the gods of the lake further by walking down and throwing a few of your hairs into the lapping wavelets. The Venda will love you for it.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Self-drive is the best option. Head towards the towns of Makhado or Elim and get directions to Lake Fundudzi from there. There are also a number of tour operators in both towns who do tours of the lake and surrounding area.
Around the area
The Thathe Vondo forest is well-worth exploring, but be respectful around the graves of Venda chieftains. From here you can also explore the legendary Ribolla Art Route, encountering Venda sculptors, potters and culture.
Tours to do
The Ribolla Art Route will show you Venda sculptors and, on request, a very good guide will also take you to Lake Fundudzi, immeasurably deepening your experience of it.
These days you can simply drive towards the lake and see it from the road, making it something of an anti-climax. Rather get a guide, who will come with you in your vehicle, or who may provide a vehicle.
Length of stay
The longer you stay, the richer your experiences will be. The lake itself could be a day drive. But if you find accommodation close to it, set aside a night or 2.
What to pack
It would be considered the height of rudeness to swim in the lake without permission, so don't bring your swimming costume here. But do bring along your binoculars and camera, a hat and sunscreen (even in winter) and a jacket for winter evenings.
Where to stay
There are a number of pleasant guesthouses in the nearby towns of Makhado and Elim, but modest self-catering huts have also been built close to the lake (respectfully out of sight over a ridge).
What to eat
Try the Venda staple of yellow maize porridge with pumpkin leaf relish.
You could buy wooden sculptures straight from the sculptors themselves - many are world famous.