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TThe small village of Gugwane, near KwaMkhizwana in KwaZulu-Natal, is home to Mfula store - a traditional South African trading store. Set on the banks of the uMngeni River and one of the first trading stores in the 1950s, Mfula is now famous in the history of the Dusi Canoe Marathon founded by Dr Ian Player, where people, including Player, slept on the veranda of the store when they needed rest.
Today, the property has become a weekend getaway for adventurists and those wanting to escape city life.
John Graaf, the owner and his dog, Bag of Bones, aka "Bob", a carefree stray dog that John took under his wing a few years ago, are the friendly faces you will see when you visit. Graaf, who bought the property 10 years ago, fell in love with it when he paddled in the area as a young boy. He expressed his love for the property to the previous owner, Christopher Gwala when they met more than a decade ago.
“I always had a special place in my heart for Mfula. I remember having long chats with Mr Gwala, who wanted to sell the property. A few months later, when I returned for a visit, the community told me about Mr Gwala’s death and that the property would be under new ownership. Little did I know that the late shop owner put it in my name,” he said.
Mfula store Valley
NNow with the property under a 40-year-lease, as per the instructions of the Ingonyama Trust, John and his wife Gill are doing everything in their power to assist the community. They have converted the old store into a function venue and a learning centre on Saturdays to help children in the area with skills. The shop is still operational, but in a smaller spot, closer to the entrance.
The pair also equips local women with business and farming skills. While not luxury in any form, the accommodation has the right amount of rustic charm to make it worthwhile. Travellers have to book to ensure their place.
One of the highlights visiting this KwaZulu-Natal gem is picnicking with cows at the Mqeku picnic site. The site is great for day visits and provides a breathtaking view of the Mqeku River. Visitors can also braai or dip their feet in the river. The cows graze nearby. Travellers can enjoy activities like canoeing, fishing, tubing and birding.