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Be Surprised by Sabie

Text: Sue Adams. Article from the June 2013 issue of Country Life Magazine.

Sue Adams does a little digging in Mpumalanga and discovers why Sabie was voted Town of the Year 2012.

Sabie began because a stray bullet of big game hunter, Henry Thomas Glynn, chipped a rock. This revealed a gold reef and a gold rush began. The town itself is a little like that, and if you stop and spend some time there ferreting about, you’ll find much to do.

Cycling and Biking

Sabie is the place for scenic cycling

“You can’t just rub a lantern like a genie and hope things will appear – you have to go out and find them yourself,” says 25-year-old Max Knox, South African mountain biking champion and Sabie resident.

He reckons that the Sabie area in Mpumalanga has the best scenery in South Africa and the mountain biking is unsurpassed. One of his favourite routes is to cycle from Sabie to Graskop and Hazyview. There are hundreds of kilometres of trails and people who will guide you, if you are not so keen to do it on your own. Every weekend there is an influx of cyclists from Gauteng who need fresh air and clean mud. “Even if you don’t cycle, there’s an abundance of energetic stuff to do here and the best thing is being outdoors,” says Max.

For motorbikers, the roads around Sabie are breathtaking. The Woodsman is a restaurant that welcomes bikers and recommends a number of biking routes. Watch out for bikers on the legendary ’22’ route, a winding stretch of tar between Sabie and Hazyview renowned among bikers for an adrenalin rush bar none.


If you want to abseil down the Sabie Falls then Kestell Barnard is your man.If adrenalin is what you need, Kestell Barnard, who runs Kestell Adventures, is your man. He tells me about the oldest lady (70 years) to abseil down the Sabie Falls, who then went geckoing down the Sabie River.

Apparently the Sabie River was named uluSaba, ‘The River of Fear’ by the local Shangaans because of the frequent floods and the large crocodiles, and this is how the town derived its name. But Kestell is adamant that there is no need for fear now. Having worked across South Africa, he says, “The Sabie is my favourite river – it’s so clean, you never get sick from swimming in it and it changes all the time.”

So what is geckoing? It’s riding the river in a tube with a bottom like a small boat and you use your hands to steer. For the brave, Kestell also offers kloofing at Mac Mac Falls, abseiling down waterfalls and, if you don’t mind tight spaces, he will take you caving by candlelight.


Andrew Kanaris is the fishing fanatic of Sabie, who spends his day tying flies in his shop called Big Sky Fly Fishing and Outdoor, giving fishing advice and, when no one is looking, rushing off to toss a fly in the Sabie River. He says if you opened his head all you would find is a fishing calendar. Andrew considers himself a Sabie-aner who will never leave the town.

The Sabie Trout Angling Club has more than 200 members and has been going since 1947. The Sabie River has been stocked with trout for over 100 years and Andrew reckons it has 8 kilometres of the best river fishing you will ever find. For beginners and kids there are dams.

If you are one of those like Andrew, who believes there are two times to fish – when it’s raining and when it’s not – bring your rod to Sabie.

Walking and Hiking

The Forestry Industry Museum in Sabie town is surprisingly interesting. Andrew Kanaris claims that all he does in his time off is fish, but he talks enthusiastically about why Sabie deserves to be Town of the Year. “Sabie has everything – quiet, waterfalls and walks. You will find whatever you are looking for,” he says. And walks there are aplenty. His favourite is the Loerie Trail running along the Sabie River through some indigenous forest, as well as eucalyptus and pine. He says the waterfalls along it are beautiful and that it can either be a 10 kilometre or 6.5 kilometre circular route.

Komatiland Forests has a number of marked trails, both day and overnight, and there are other walks in the area; you just have to ask around. The Sabie Graskop area has been identified as an Important Bird Area and there is a lovely 3 kilometre walk at Mac Mac Pools called the Secretary Bird Day Walk where you might just see a secretary bird stamping on a snake.


Geckoing down the Sabie River.You might not be able to mine gold any more in Sabie but local resident, Joy Comley, is a goldmine of information if you want to know what to do and where to explore in the area. Her family runs a local resort called Merry Pebbles on the Sabie River where people come year after year for holidays. Some love it so much they buy their own places and move down permanently.

For a start, she suggests you visit the waterfalls near Merry Pebbles, particularly Bridal Veils and Lone Creek. Take a costume as you might be tempted to take a dip. Mac Mac Pools is a favourite spot. The pools are crystal clear and you can take a gentle meander along the river. A spectacular place to visit is Bourke’s Luck where the water has scoured out enormous potholes. With interesting walkways and bridges, this is a must for photographers.

The Sabie area has some wonderful panoramic drives. Take the road to Pilgrim’s Rest or drive along the escarpment to the viewing sites at God’s Window or the Three Rondawels, where you can look down the Blyde River Canyon (second-biggest canyon in the world). Take a map, a picnic and a swimming costume and head there for the day.

What to do in Sabie town
  • St Peter's Anglican Church in the centre of town was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.Pop into St Peter’s Anglican Church. It was designed by the famous architect Sir Herbert Baker (who designed the Union Buildings in Pretoria) and built by Italian stonemasons originally brought in to build the railway bridge.Take special note of the tapestry kneelers with their stunning scenes of the Sabie area. 
  • At the bottom of town on the road to Graskop, look out for a shop called Ghoeks Africa. MasterChef SA finalist, Sarel Loots, also known as ‘Sarel van Sabie’, has a local community project, Lethabo, which makes superb pottery with Fimo clay. Visit the workshop where the workers are happy to show you how it’s done. 013 764 2123
  • The Forestry Industry Museum in Sabie is the only one of its kind in South Africa and is well worth seeing. You can also get day hiking permits here. 013 764 1058
  • Sabie Info Centre. JohnTheunissen is a mine of information and the display of Sabie history is worth looking at. 013 764 1177

Handy Facts

  • Sabie is less than four hours’ drive from Gauteng and OR Tambo International Airport, about 370km from Johannesburg.
  • It’s only a one-hour drive from Sabie to the Kruger National Park.
  • Sabie is a malaria-free area.
Where to eat, play and stay in Sabie


Eating Out

Look out for the community project at Ghoeks Africa where they make amazing products out of coloured clay. Pop into the quirky Smokey Train, a beer and tea garden. The Wild Fig Tree is famous for its pizzas. Andrew Kanaris from Big Sky Fly Fishing and Outdoors is a fishing fanatic, fishing rain or shine, who says he will never leave Sabie. Places like Merry Pebbles offer accommodation in a setting that feeds the soul.

  • The Wild Fig Tree is famous for its pizzas and has a lovely cool veranda for hot days. Don’t miss the deli tucked in the corner. 013 764 2239
  • The Woodsman restaurant is run by a Greek family and has great food, especially the Greek dishes. It has a huge deck for hot days and also a lovely pub and inside area if it’s cool and misty. It welcomes bikers and has accommodation available. 013 764 2015
  • If you are a carnivore Merry Pebbles is renowned for its steaks and ribs. 013 764 2266
  • Petena Pancakes in Main Street has the best Red Velvet Cake. 013 764 1541
  • Smokey Train is an old railway carriage that’s also a beer and tea garden. Worth a visit just for fun. 013 764 3445
  • Where to eat, play and stay in SabieIf you want self-catering (but with a restaurant) and a casual outdoor atmosphere then Merry Pebbles is recommended. It’s set on the Sabie River and is a perfect place from which to venture out to cycle or do adrenalin-pumping stuff, website.
  • If you’re just passing through and want a little pampering, head for Wayfarers Guest House which is reasonably priced (013 764 1500) or Lone Creek River Lodge (013 764 2611).
Fun things to do
  • For kloofing, waterfall abseiling, geckoing and caving, talk to Kestell Barnard from Kestell Adventures, 072 351 5553.
  • For cycle advice and guiding Jaco van Staden is your man at Cycle Junkies. 013 764 1149, website
  • A must-visit is Andrew Kanaris’s shop Big Sky Fly Fishing and Outdoor where you can learn about fishing, watch Andrew tie flies and get all the fishing and hiking permits and maps. 013 764 2682, website.
  • For more info on Sabie and komatiecotourism or speak to Barbara Petley at her Sabie 5 Info Centre in Main Street. 082 736 8253
More info on the town of Sabie More info on the Panorama Route area

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