Tried and tested: the top-rated accommodation in Magoebaskloof

Posted by Pippa de Bruyn on 19 August 2015

Professional reviewer Pippa de Bruyn headed to the forested mountains around Magoebaskloof to rank the top-rated TripAdvisor spots. Photographs by Teagan Cunniffe.

Also read: Guide to accommodation in Montagu

 
Public review sites such as TripAdvisor are useful in trip planning, but the lack of a comparative and specific voice – where each property is viewed according to criteria by the same individual – is where they can fall short for the traveller needing to make the right choice. In our series to find the best places to stay in Southern Africa, I scoured Magoebaskloof in search of its best accommodation.

Using TripAdvisor as a base, I scoured the out-of-town accommodations around Magoebaskloof, Tzaneen, Agatha and Haenertsburg. I checked out 29 top-ranked options in the Hotel, B&B/Inn and Speciality Lodging categories, as well as a few unrated options. The result? A tried-and-tested guide to the best places to stay on ‘The Mountain’, as locals fondly refer to their lush, densely forested Eden.

 

Why make the Magoebaskloof region your destination?

  • It’s a three- to four-hour drive from Pretoria and Johannesburg. Soon after the turn-off to the 22000-hectare Wolkberg Wilderness Area, there’s nothing but bucolic vistas, verges and meadows thick with lilies, backdropped by mountains with slopes carpeted in regimented pine plantations and tangled indigenous forest.
  • The best forest birding in the country is on offer (more than 200 species). The gentle burbling sound of streams tumbling down the mountain and ever-present birdsong is the default back track.
  • The area is home to 600-year-old trees and visitors can spot butterflies floating by in dappled sunlight, samango and vervet monkeys, and duiker or bushbuck rustling through undergrowth. With luck, you might even spot a rooikat (caracal) padding along one of the dirt tracks that wind through pockets of dense vegetation.
  • Lush and temperate, misty and wind-free, it has inspired some of the country’s most beautiful gardens. Cheerio Gardens, Sequoia and Kings Walden are all splendid, though the latter, famous for its spectacular ‘lightning tree’ (featured in Thomas Packenham’s Remarkable Trees of the World), must not be missed.
  • The region is popular for fishing, mountain biking, hiking, tubing, ziplining and great night skies.

 

Best for magical gardens and views

1. Kings Walden Garden Manor

TripAdvisor ranking: No. 1 of 14 in Tzaneen (B&B/Inn)

Kings Walden Garden Manor, Magoebaskloof
Kings Walden Garden Manor, Magoebaskloof
Created over two generations, the awe-inspiring gardens of Kings Walden Garden Manor have a magical atmosphere that leave visitors both humbled and inspired by the long-term vision of the matriarchs who sculpted this elevated farm into a harmonious balance of lanes and terraces, lakes and ponds, trellises and columns, statues and mirrors. With expansive views of the distant valley below, every aspect is a showstopper. The magnificent 16x10m pool – a boon in summer – is an integral part of the garden’s beauty. There are just six rooms – all huge, with fireplaces, supremely comfortable beds and large bathrooms, but a little characterless. Service is well meaning but patchy. You will definitely want to dine in, and the food is good. It’s a wonderful place to celebrate a special occasion and if you’re going to pop an important question, seek out the ornamental sphinxes that guard the ornamental lake and rub their nipples for luck.

Room tip: Book room 5 and 6, they overlook the pool. Alternatively book number 4, it’s tucked away and private. The public pathway looks into numbers 1 to 3.
Cost: B&B from R875 pps. Four-course dinner R320 pp,
but dishes can be ordered separately.
Contact: kingswalden.co.za

 

Best for a reclusive break

2. Herb Cottage

New find, unrated

Herb Cottage, Magoebaskloof
What a lovely surprise to find Herb Cottage, a simple but spacious, well-appointed two-bedroom cottage with a river running through the back garden, at the end of another long and bumpy, albeit pretty, dirt track. The expansive open-plan lounge-cum-dining-room-kitchen (with new Defy gas stove/oven) is an inviting space in which to cook and eat, and leads to the outside stoep with plunge pool. At the entrance is a stand with wellies in various sizes so you can explore the rather marshy garden or head down to your riverside table, or ramble around the avo and herb farm. There are interesting cuisine arrangements that can be made, from weekend Thai cooking courses to having local chef Horst Dombrock cook for you in-situ, or deliver dinner to your door.

Cost: R450 pp (minimum two); next two R400 pp. Sleeps four or possibly five.
Contact: theherbcottage.co.za

 

Best for solitude

3. Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge

TripAdvisor ranking: No. 2 of 6 in Magoebaskloof (Speciality Lodging)

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, Magoebaskloof
I don’t want to sound like a complete hippy, but the 422-hectare conservancy Kurisa Moya (‘Tranquil Spirit’), really does exude a healing energy. This has as much to do with Lisa, who looks after her guests and her land with warmth and intuitive intelligence, as it does with its location, ancient afromontane forest, prolific birdlife and authentic eco-credentials. The cabins and cottages are remote – sans reception or electricity – and are perfect to soak up the serenity. Visitors can go for long rambles (with or without the award-winning resident birder David) or go fishing or cycling. The kitchens are well equipped, but for real luxury, order at least one delicious home-cooked meal (prepared by resident chef Grace), which is delivered hot to your table.

Room tip: My ideal stay would include two nights at one of the two A-frame forest lodge cabins before moving up to Thora Boloka, a rustic stone cottage. Probably my top choice in the area, it’s perched atop a mountain with jaw-dropping views over Kudu’s River valley. Facilities include an open-plan kitchen-dining-living area with fireplace, hammock and outside shower and fire pit. Larger groups can book the 1937 Farmhouse, with five en-suite bedrooms and wrap-around veranda. It’s also pet-friendly.
Cost: Forest lodge cabins (sleep two to four) and Thora Boloka (sleeps six) both from R650 pp, R325 per child. Farmhouse (sleeps 10) from R5 500 pn. Discounted rates for pensioners, birders and midweek or last-minute bookings. Meals from R150 to R250.
Contact: krm.co.za

 

Best artist retreat (and best coffee)

4. Mosaic Guest Chalets

TripAdvisor ranking: No. 2 of 14 in Tzaneen (B&B/Inn)

Mosaic Cottages, Magoebaskloof
At the end of a long rutted track, this time on the Modjadjiskloof side of Tzaneen, is an interesting collection of people from all over the world living and working together on the edge of a hill looking back at Magoebaskloof. There are currently three Mosaic Guest Chalets on offer at the multi-functional Alôn farm/artist retreat/wedding venue/ occasional theatre/school – essentially a hive of productivity that welcomes like-minded visitors to simply unwind or learn more about the way of life here. Cottage interiors are comfortable and artsy – a great deal of love has gone into creating them, from the paint-technique wall finishes to the artworks and furniture, much of it produced on the farm. The large restaurant/function area is lovely (filled with mosaic work) and opens onto a deck with a huge pool. It’s also where you can ask Peter, who harvests and roasts the coffee grown on the farm, to prepare what may just be the best-tasting cup of coffee you will ever have – a nutty, wholesome, healthy flavour, much like the atmosphere. He also offers coffee tours.

Room tip: Choose Zion or Le Chaim, both three-bedroom chalets. The well-dressed, spacious Zion is a real bargain but only has one bathroom. Le Chaim has two bathrooms and the most wonderful view from its shaded timber deck.
Cost: Zion R1650 pn (sleeps six), Le Chaim R2400 pn (sleeps six).
Contact: [email protected], www.airbnb.com

 

Best for rustic romance

5. Magoebaskloof Birders’ Trogon Cottage

New find, unlisted

Birders Cottage, Magoebaskloof
At the end of one of the many rutted roads that wind their way down the lush mountainside, surrounded by a very private wild garden, is the romantic Trogon Cottage. Every room has incredible views of the lush green surrounds. The bedroom has two huge cottage-pane windows and even the bathroom has a great view (don’t you just love a toilet with a view?) as does the kitchen: doing the dishes (it’s not serviced) will have you happily mesmerised. A small, sparsely furnished rectangular lounge (with large fireplace) opens onto a tiny patch of lawn with a kettle braai. At the back there is a DIY plunge pool (filled on arrival) and a properly plumbed outdoor sunken bath, surrounded by verdant greenery; nothing but air between you and the wild mountain rising beyond. A wood-burning donkey geyser supplies hot water. It’s the kind of place where you’ll want to strip off and stay naked.

Cost: Weekdays R290 pp (sleeps two sharing); weekends/school holidays R350 pp. Minimum two-night stay on weekends (three for long weekends).
Contact: www.mbcottage.co.za

 

Best for river lovers

6. Zwakala River Retreat

New find, unlisted

Zwakala River Retreat, Magoebaskloof
This boho hippy eco-retreat – home to three horses, five dogs, four chickens and the irrepressible Denise and Rob – has breathed new life into the region with the quarterly Neighbourhood Farmers Market featuring live music and great food under the trees (the next one is in June), Mina’s Art Cafe (a fabulous wedding/music/special-event venue, top left), a choice of good-value, off-the-grid accommodation options, swimming and fishing in the burbling Broederstroom River, and a nursery growing indigenous medicinal plants and teas. Given that you might have to share swimming access with other guests, you may prefer the privacy of Herb, Trogan or Thora Boloka cottages, but Zwakala River Retreat is the best river swimming and may suit the more gregarious. Or better still, take over the whole retreat.

Room tip: Hands-down winners are Legodi Cottage and the latest and nicest addition, The Cob House. Both are two-bedroomed units near the river, located just beyond the campsite. The Cob House also has a large outdoor fire pit. (The campsite is for exclusive use to one group. It’s by far the prettiest camping option in the area and a steal at the rate). Both cottages can sleep six (four in two bedrooms; two more on the built-in bunk-sofas next to the fireplace). A donkey boiler supplies hot water.
Cost: The Cob House or Legodi Cottage is R1400 pn (R700 pp for two, R350 pp for four, R234 pp for six). The campsite is R120 pp (maximum 16 people), with outdoor hot-water shower and a single flush loo with a view.
Contact: zwakalaretreat.co.za

 

Best for foodies

7. Kuhestan Farm Cottages

TripAdvisor ranking: No. 1 of 6 in Magoebaskloof (Speciality Lodging)

Kuhestan Farm Cottages, Magoebaskloof
This organic avo and raspberry farm, located on the edge of the Woodbush Forest Reserve, is immaculately groomed, with two self-contained cottage blocks (both comprising two studio-style units) set on clipped lawns. Each open-plan unit has a small kitchenette (with windows onto the garden) and a lounge-bedroom with fireplace. Aside from lovely produce – cordials, preserves, toppings, pickles and vinaigrettes – which are on sale at the small farm stall, you can sign up for Shahrzad Hone’s Persian cooking classes: you’ll learn to create different dishes during the morning, and enjoy these for lunch or dinner. The menu caters for vegans and cooking classes can be extended to a whole weekend. (If you love cooking, also see Herb Cottage above.)

Cost: R595 pp sharing the unit (R850 single). Guests are provided with provisions for the first morning’s breakfast.
Contact: kuhestan.co.za

 

Best budget family holiday resort

8. Cheerio Trout Fishing and Holiday Resort

TripAdvisor ranking: No. 3 of 6 in Magoebaskloof (Speciality Lodging)

Cheerio, Magoebaskloof
The design-conscious will baulk at the face brick, tiled floors and ugly lounge furniture, but if you’re on a budget and have an active family, these eight spotless cottages offer an affordable escape and facilities for fishing and various children’s games. The cottages – dotted about the well-maintained lawns above the trout dams – are each completely unique in style and configuration, and well represented online.

Don’t confuse Cheerio Resort with neighbouring Cheerio Gardens; aside from the latter’s famously beautiful garden, it has a fabulous special-event venue – as well as two self-catering cottages. If you aren’t looking for resort facilities and prefer privacy, the larger of the two – the original home of Sheila ‘Box’ Thompson, who established the gardens in the 1940s – is basic but very comfortable; fireplace; pretty garden; sleeps seven; R1100 pn.

Room tip: Cheerio Trout Fishing & Holiday Resort’s two-bedroom Forest Cottage (sleeps 4) enjoys the most private location and has nice views; alternatively Grandpa’s Cottage (sleeps 4 or 5) is private and has a great outdoor dining area; Beefwood Cottage (sleeps 4 to 6) has a forest setting.
Cost: From R425 per unit (sleeps two) to R1300 per unit (sleeps up to six).
Contact: cheerio.co.za

 

Getting married? Or celebrating?

Or just want to throw a party? Magoebaskloof is increasingly popular as a destination and a number of establishments cater specifically for weddings and special occasions. Of the many viewed the following can be recommended.

 
Cheerio Gardens is the best large-scale party venue and has a huge, custom-built bar-dining area. There are two self-catering cottages (from R800 to R1100), but the bride and groom usually bed down in nearby Bramasole in either the Paris Suite or Venice Room (B&B from R1430 for two).

Bramasole is also a great option for a small group wanting to celebrate a special occasion. Built overlooking a lake on which the owners have added a floating deck, and aptly named ‘Lake House’, it is furnished with a long dining table, comfortable sofas and large glass doors sliding open onto the lake front deck and equipped with everything you need for a small party – there’s even a braai. From R450 pp sharing.

Zwakala offers an affordable and charming wedding venue. Occasions are held in boho-chic Mina’s Art Café, and about 40 guests can be accommodated on site.

Magoebaskloof Getaway has an amphitheatre-style campsite, each with its own braai place and plug point, overlooking a large open-air, but shaded timber dance/function floor.

If you like old-fashioned hotels that evoke a sense of nostalgia, Coach House Hotel & Spa in Tzaneen (No. 3 Hotel) offers huge deluxe rooms, each with a fireplace and private veranda. Early morning tea and coffee are still delivered via a hidden service hatch – perfect for those wanting staff attention but unwilling to open the door with a creased face and unruly hair. Book a room in the wings closest to the spa for the most uninterrupted views (rooms 20 and 27 are particularly good). The rack rate for the deluxe (don’t bother with a suite) is R1799 for a double room including breakfast, but for a group booking it drops to R998.

 
Where to next? Tweet us at @getawaymagazine and @pippadebruyn with the next location you’d like us to research.

 
 

This article first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

All prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before travelling.

 

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