"... the fairest country under the stars". This is how John Buchan, author of many well-known books, described this area.
Known as "the capital of the land of the Silver Mists", the picturesque village of Haenertsburg is situated on the slopes of the mighty Wolkberg and Drakensberg mountains. This enchanting corner of the Northern Province forms a natural gateway both to and from the Kruger National Park. The village is conveniently situated on the R71 between Pietersburg and Tzaneen and is only three-and-a-half hours from Gauteng. About 350 families live in the town and a further 2 500 people live on the mountain as this region is referred to by the inhabitants.
Established in 1887 as a gold rush community, the village was named after Carl Ferdinand Haenert who was born in Germany and came to South Africa in 1857 to seek his fortune. With the discovery of gold at Eersteling, Haenert began prospecting and he criss-crossed the province in his search for the precious metal. In 1880 he made his discoveries in the Wolkberg and Woodbush area, which led to a small gold rush, proclamations and the eventual founding of the village.
Today income in the region is mainly derived from forestry. There are several large mills employing vast numbers of workers in both their plantations and sawmills. The rain and misty conditions are not really suitable for agriculture, however, avocados and kiwis do reasonably well.
Haenertsburg lies in the northernmost section of the Drakensberg which also encorporates the Wolkberg massive and the Iron Crown Mountain that forms a spectacular backdrop for the village and Ebenezer dam. The mountains are truly majestic and the Wolkberg Wilderness Area, in excess of 20 000 hectares, is the largest left in the Northern Province. The Houtboschberge (the Woodbush) in the area is the largest indigenous forest in the Limpopo Province.
The mountains of Haenertsburg, Magoebaskloof and Agatha are linked via the spectacular Georges Valley that comprises indigenous forests, cascading waterfalls, placid lakes and craggy kloofs. Visitors delight in the stunning scenery, which has a special magic as the early morning mists give way to sparkling sunshine.
"The mountain" has much more to offer than meets the eye. Flora enthusiasts will be overwhelmed by the diversity of plant life. Some of South Africa's most beautiful indigenous forests and grasslands occur here and yellow-woods, stinkwoods and cabbage trees abound. An exotic tree, a blue gum tree (Eucalyptus saligna) growing here is the tallest man-planted tree in the world. When last measured in 1999 it was over 100 metres high.
The forests and grasslands are home to an incredible variety of plants and ferns. Over 200 orchids have been identified. A variety of different coloured arum lilies occur naturally. Aloes can be found on the mountain slopes and cliffs - the rare Aloe thompsoniae, which is only found here, was discovered in the Wolkberg.
Birdlife in the area is also prolific, with Knysna and Purple Crested Loeries, several species of eagles and the very rare black fronted bush shrike. Over 187 birds species have been identified on the mountain.
The history of the "Land of the Silver Mist" is well chronicled. John Buchan and Rider Haggard both found inspiration here for their famous books. Echoes of the past remind of the times when prospectors made and lost their fortunes.
The old Zeederberg Coach stopped here to enable their passengers to fortify themselves with brandy before beginning the tortuous descent to Agatha.
One of the most legendary characters was King Mamphoku Makgoba, who defied the Boer government and was slain by a Swazi impi employed by the Boer Republic in 1895. In order to prove to Commandant General Joubert that they had killed him, the Swazis cut off his head. The Makgoba people buried their king's body and the site remains a secret until the head of Makgoba is returned. The whereabouts of the head remains a mystery to this day.
John Buchan was the author of several books on the region, the best known of which is Prestor John. He came to South Africa after the Boer War as part of Lord Milner's scheme for rebuilding the land. Buchan was mainly responsible for the re-establishment of Boer families on the land. He was fascinated by the beauty and wealth of the region.
Agatha, home to the famous Coach House Hotel, was named after Agatha Joubert, wife of the Mining Commissioner at the time of the gold rush. Old Agatha was a rough and ready wayside inn used as a staging point by the Zeederberg Coach Company between Pietersburg and Leydsdorp, a former "gold rush town". However, this was "fever country" and malaria took its grim toll. The inn moved to the adjoining farm of New Agatha. The new owner was a formidable woman with the nickname "Maselepe" meaning "Mother of Pick Axes"!
Long Tom guns were important in the Anglo Boer War. It was in the Haenertsburg area that two of these guns met their end. It is still possible to visit the exact site where one was blown up to save it from falling into enemy hands.
Haenertsburg is home to the world-renowned Spring Cherry and Azalea Blossom Festival, Craft Fair and Orchid Exhibition, which takes place each September when the entire mountain, and in particular the Cheerio Valley, transforms into banks of colour.
The annual Autumn Music, Art and Cultural Festival is held in April/May. Many forms of music, from the classics, to rock, jazz and mbaqanga can be heard. Choirs and dance groups from different cultures represent the diversity of Limpopo Province.
Activities in the area are plentiful. It is a hikers dream, with amongst others, the Wolkberg Wilderness and the Magoebaskloof "Big Five"-trail network. There are several annual events ranging from cycle races, trout fishing, canoe races and eco challenges.
For the more relaxed one can simply enjoy the views. Pristine rivers and dams offer excellent fly-fishing. There are wonderful tea gardens to call on, nurseries and local cheese to sample and rafts to cruise the waters of Ebenezer dam.
There are a number of options when it comes to accommodation, ranging from tranquil but elegant country lodges, a superb three-star family hotel, a large self-catering resort, cosy bed-and-breakfast cottages, up-market self-catering units and rustic candle-lit hideaways.
Activities and Attractions:
Over 400 species of trees find a home in this international arboretum situated in the Market Square. Laid out in five rings, symbolic of the Olympic logo, these circles were planted out with the trees and shrubs from the five continents. Anyone wishing to sponsor a tree at R35-00.
Dap Naude Dam
A scenic drive off the R71 leads to a lovely picnic spot within an oak forest below the dam wall. The Woodbush offers scenic drives and pleasant strolls.
A magnificent setting with sparkling waters back-dropped by the imposing Iron Crown Mountain. Scenic drives, pleasant strolls and fishing.
Iron Crown Mountain and Serala
The Iron Crown Mountain (so-called because of the ring of ironstone around its peak) is reachable by vehicle. Serala forms the largest wilderness area in the province. Accommodation available.
John Buchan Memorial
The famous Scottish writer, later Lord Tweedsmuir, once resided in this area and wrote his novel Prestor John. A memorial plaque on the Georges Valley Road, overlooks Ebenezer dam.
The wooded pass between Haenertsburg and Tzaneen was named after King Makgoba, leader of the Tlou tribe predominant here in the latter part of the 19th Century. The pass offers panoramic views through mountains and forest.
Mountain biking, horse- and 4x4 trails
Bikes can be hired in the village and different horse- and 4x4 trails are on offer.
A memorial to the former District Officer for the Woodbush, Alexander O'Connor, at the end of an avenue of enormous gum trees planted by himself.
Situated in the New Agatha plantations, some 18 km from Tzaneen. The trail follows a circular route of 11 km and takes about 5 hours to complete. Visitors can leave their cars at the forester's office that is the start and finishing point.
Safcol "Big 5" Magoebaskloof Trail Network The Magoebaskloof Trail, Safcol's mystical trail, leads through the beautiful indigenous forest of Magoebaskloof following mountain streams and rock pools.
The tallest man-planted tree in the world is situated in the Woodbush, now part of Safcol. It is a blue gum (Eucalyptus sp) and is estimated to be 100 m high.
Tank Trap MOTH Shellhole
After the Anglo Boer War, wood and iron buildings that had been used as British Army Messes were sold to the public. One of them was renovated. This unique building served the community for many years as a clinic for the elderly as well as a Shellhole for the Moths of the district. Meetings are held every second Sunday of every month at 11:00 and all ex service men and women are welcome.
A vast selection of lodges with private waters and guided fishing trails is available.
The Haenertsburg War Memorial was erected in memory of local residents who died in the Makgoba War, the Anglo Boer War and the Border War. It is a unique monument because of its dedication to those from all sides who died in the various wars and conflicts. It also houses fragments of one of the Long Toms blown up to save it from falling into enemy hands.
During tours and tastings visitors can watch cheese being made in the age-old traditional Swiss manner.
Wolkberg Wilderness Area
The largest proclaimed wilderness area in the Northern Province. Hiking trail and camping.
For more information: Limpopo Tourism