Things to do in Haenertsburg

Posted on 7 July 2023 By Matt Sterne

It has a berry festival and its one and only pub is named after the district’s highest peak, the Iron Crown. Among its most popular tourist spots is the town cemetery with its sumptuous trees and hill-top views. 

The Place: Haenertsburg, Limpopo

Nickname: Land of the Silver Mist (also “The Mountain”)

Where is it?: On the R71 between Polokwane and Tzaneen

Inhabitants: 400

Streets: 15

Houses: 125 

Restaurants: 12 

Bars: 1

Churches: 3

Antique stores: 1

Guesthouses: 9

Festivals: 4

Markets: 1

Frequently shrouded by a soft mist, the hamlet of Haenertsburg was established in 1886 following a gold rush, before the fortune-seekers moved on to Pilgrim’s Rest. These days, farming and tourism have replaced mining as the main economic activities on “The Mountain”, as locals fondly call it. Haenertsburg is the village, while Magoebaskloof refers to the valley created by the Politsi River. ‘Walk down the tree-lined main street of Haenertsburg,’ says Haenertsburger Lisa Martus. ‘You’ll feel like you have discovered a town from the days of old, where people greet each other on the streets, and where a lazy weekend stretches endlessly ahead of you and time stands still.’

Mind the Grass

The grasslands enfolding Haenertsburg – officially the Woodbush Granite Grasslands – represent Limpopo’s most threatened vegetation type. The area is the province’s most important botanical region. A volunteer group, Friends of the Haenertsburg Grasslands, helps conserve them. They maintain a hiking trail, remove alien invasives and alert authorities to illegal activities such as bulldozing and squatting.

Where is Makgoba’s Head?

Magoebaskloof is named after Chief Makgoba, who was the leader of the tribe in the area when the Trekboers arrived in 1860. Land under Chief Makgoba’s traditional jurisdiction was annexed and he retaliated by destroying beacons. He earned the title “The Lion of the Soutpansberg” through his guerilla warfare tactics. The ensuing Makgoba War led to his death. Makgoba’s followers say he committed suicide rather than risk capture. According to historical documents, the Swazis decapitated him and took his head to Pretoria to claim the bounty. His descendants are still searching for his head.        

The Last Long Tom of the Anglo-Boer War

After the unsuccessful Jameson Raid of 1896, the Kruger government built four forts around Pretoria, each armed with a 155mm gun bought from France. When the Anglo-Boer War erupted in 1899, these guns were taken from Pretoria and used against the British at the sieges of Ladysmith, Mahikeng (previously Mafeking) and Kimberley. After the Boers adopted their own guerrilla tactics, the Long Toms, as they were called, became a burden and were destroyed. The last Long Tom was blown up near Haenertsburg. After many years of searching, local historian and author Louis Changuion found the site. He built a monument in the village where the pieces are now displayed.

Feeling Bookish?

Scottish-born writer John Buchan was the first person to elaborate on the beauty of the Haenertsburg and Magoebaskloof areas. His first novel, Prester John, was set in the region. His 100 works include nearly 30 novels, the most famous of which is the spy-thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps. The bookshop in Haenertsburg is named after his autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door

Rider Haggard made the area famous with his enchanting novels depicting the scenery and stories of the Magoebaskloof, including the book, She, with its alluring account of the Rain Queen, Modjadji.

Summer Berries, Springtime Blooms

Haenertsburg hosts four annual festivals. The Berry Festival happens in February when raspberries and blueberries are in season. May’s Food & Wine Festival showcases local fare, craft beer, gin and wine. In June, a Holistic Fair focuses on healing, meditation and massage. And in September, the Spring Fair celebrates the flowers, food and natural splendour of the area.

Mountain Road

Between the towns of Tzaneen and Haenertsburg on the R71, Magoebaskloof Pass is one of the steepest in South Africa, dropping more than 600m over a distance of just 6km. There are viewing platforms, waterfalls, forests, roadside stalls and places of historic interest along the way.

Meet the Locals

The Enthusiast

There’s loads to do in Haenertsburg, according to Lisa Martus, owner of Love Limpopo, an online portal showcasing the best of the province.

‘It started off as a mining town and is still laid out as such,’ she says. ‘Everything you need is on the main street: the tavern, police station, hotel and post office are all in the dead centre of town. The Pennefather Gold Mining Company shopping complex has some great cottages that have a mining town feel. A lot of their shops and cottages are named after the mining companies and characters from back then.’

To meet locals, Lisa suggests The Iron Crown Pub. ‘It has something called the Haenertsburger, which features only local produce: cheese from Wegraakbosch Farm; blueberries from Blueberry Heights; homemade patties sourced from Stylkop Butchery; and honey-roasted macadamias from Tupelo Honey Farm. It’s massive.’ 

Her favourite restaurant on High Street is The Red Plate – the owner’s family has been in the area for four generations. For shopping, Lisa suggests Earth by Nature: ‘It has everything that you could ever want to buy in your entire life. It’s our one-stop shop for anything and has some really charming stuff.’ 

The Birder

David Letsoalo grew up in Magoebaskloof and has been a bird guide for 20 years. BirdLife South Africa voted him the country’s best bird guide in 2007, and he’s recently been nominated as a conservation hero by The More Foundation. ‘Special birds we can see in the area include the black-fronted bush shrike, Cape parrot, grey cuckooshrike, yellow-streaked greenbul, buff-spotted flufftail, green twinspot and scaly-throated honeyguide,’ says David.

He also knows some really good hikes in the Woodbush Forest. ‘The Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail is three to five days and perfect for those who want an adventure. It’s a self-guided hike with huts, and slackpacking can be arranged. In Woodbush Forest, you can visit the eucalyptus, which are the tallest planted trees in the world. They were planted in 1906. In 2011, they measured 79.5 metres and now they’re well over 80 metres. The Empangeni Waterfall is very beautiful with beautiful views.

‘You should also visit the Sequoia and Cheerio gardens,’ says David. ‘They’re immaculate with lovely walks through the gardens looking at cedar and cypress trees. Cheerio Gardens is known for its azaleas and cherry blossoms, while Sequoia has six hectares of wild and formal gardens.’ 

The Farmer

Jonathan Trusler, owns and runs Blueberry Heights Farm, which has a guest cottage where, during the season (December to January), folks can pick their own blueberries. ‘We sell blueberry jam, cordial, pie and other blueberry products in our shop,’ says Jonathan. 

‘People often have this impression of Limpopo as a hot and dry bushveld, but it’s not like that at all. We have a unique microclimate – cool, misty summer days and lovely cold winter days worthy of a glass of red wine. There are a lot of sustainable, organic farmers and a lot of small-scale farmers. Many have lived here for generations.’

Jonathan recommends a visit to Zwakala Brewery – not only for the beers, but also for the home-made burgers. Also worthwhile is Wegraakbosch Dairy, where there are cows and pigs and all kinds of fun, family-friendly activities on offer’.

For adrenaline activities, Jonathan says to visit Magoebaskloof Adventures, which offers canopy tours, white water tubing, abseiling, canyoning and more.

Sleep Tight in Haenertsburg

Mountain Fly Fishing has eleven cosy cabins overlooking the farm’s fully stocked trout dams. Cabins are self-catering and sleep between two and six people. All cabins have a fireplace and a braai area.  083 255 7817,

Azalea Cottage, Mountain Fly Fishing

The Viewpoint has seven cabins and six rooms and has recently been renovated. Overlooking the village, it has the best views of Haenertsburg and the mountains.

The Little Inn is a small self-catering cottage that can sleep four. It is impeccably neat and comfy, at the edge of the village. Originally in Polokwane, its owners broke it down and rebuilt the whole house, brick for brick, in Haenertsburg. 083 302 8010

A Bird Cage is a new self-catering option (there’s a cottage-for-two and a three-bedroom house), themed on the eponymous movie. It has handsome interiors. 066 008 5414, [email protected]

A version of this article appeared in the January 2023 print issue of Getaway.

By Matt Sterne.

Photographs: Lauren Dold

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