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Loop the Loop in Limpopo

Text and pictures: Sue Adams. Article rom the February 2015 issue of Country Life.

Instead of rushing through Limpopo on your journey to the bushveld, slow down, have a good look around the Blyde River Canyon area, and prepare to be amazed.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Take a cruise on the Blyderivierspoort Dam; Gerald the giraffe, Olive the rhino and Petal the sable have become firm friends at Moholoholo; It's a spectacular if gruesome sight to watch mealtime in the vulture restaurant at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre; Love Bitez at Klaserie 1 Stop is not quite what you might think but is a great place for coffee and a snack; Lucy Green from Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre plays with Julius the orphan baby honey badger; Stoffel the honey badger at Moholoholo has become so adept at escaping, he now has his own YouTube video.

1. The Centre of the Hoed

 Visitors are treated to many different animal residents at Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre, including this beautiful leopard.Hoedspruit used to be a tiny little backwater but has grown in the last few years to become a town that people are choosing to live in, and the centre of supplies for the bush lodges. This means you get the best biltong and great coffee and everything in between such as nasturtiums for your salads and the best French Champagne.

2. Animal Mad

On either side of the wide R40 towards Klaserie are game reserves, and animal watching is a two-way sport. The warthogs and baboons love the grass verges and often climb or burrow out of the fences to sit and watch the traffic. After passing Kapama Game Reserve on the left is the entrance to Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC).

Olive the 8-month-old rhino orphan at Moholoholo gets taken for a walk in the bush every day.At the age of six, Lente Roode, whose family own Kapama, was given an orphan cheetah and her passion for these endangered animals has led to the creation of this centre, which in turn is focused on conserving rare, vulnerable and endangered animals. The centre has a successful cheetah-breeding programme, and has also been involved in breeding other endangered species such as the Southern Ground Hornbill and black-footed cats.

The centre is large with big camps for cheetah and other animals and tours are in a game-viewing vehicle. There is a great deal to see – the vulture restaurant, the king cheetah with its special markings, Lovers Lane where the male cheetah parade in front of the females, lions rescued from a circus, wild dogs, the Ground Hornbills and, if you’re lucky, little Gertjie, the orphan baby rhino. There is a no-touch policy but you do get close to them and it’s an excellent tour.

TOP LEFT: The spectacular scenery of the Limpopo Loop. ABOVE LEFT: It's a challenge to hold a vulture on your arm at Moholoholo. ABOVE: Treat time for a cheetah after chasing the decoy on the Cheetah Run at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre.

3. Love Bites and More at Moholoholo

Brian Jones and Rachael Pfeiffer from Moholoholo check on Olive the rhino while Gerald the giraffe looks on. BELOW: Moholoholo is set in Limpopo bushveld at the foot of the Drakensberg.Turn left out of the HESC gate, continue to the T-junction and turn right towards Klaserie on the R531. About a kilometre down the road is Klaserie 1 Stop (not quite what you expect) and Love Bitez, a little café with good coffee, cake and excellent pies and quiche.

Next stop is Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre where you can get close to many of the animals that have been rescued but cannot be rehabilitated. Brian Jones, who founded the centre in 1991, is a passionate conservationist and his main aim is to rescue animals and rehabilitate them or move them to a safer environment. The animals you see are mostly those that cannot be reintroduced to the wild and instead become education ambassadors for the plight of wildlife.

The tour guides make this a fascinating tour with wonderful stories such as Stoffel the honey badger, now famously known as Houdini the great escape artist. His exploits have gone viral on YouTube. Gerald the orphan giraffe has made friends with Petal the baby sable, and Olive the baby rhino, and the threesome wander the centre together. Vultures sit on your arm to feed and the Bateleur asks for his head to be scratched. Luma and Shade, the spotted hyenas, are very curious if a bit smelly, and you can even stroke a cheetah.

But Moholoholo does not sugar-coat the news. They show you the terrible snares that have caused so much injury, and tell you just what is happening to Southern African wildlife. It’s a 90-minute tour that’s a must for all ages and apart from getting some great photos you will leave with a realistic picture of what is going on out there.

4. Happy to be in Blyde

Most people view Blyde River Canyon (Motlatse Canyon) from the top of the escarpment but there is a whole new world at the bottom of the canyon. Follow the signs off the R531 to Swadini Forever Resorts and Blyderivierspoort Dam (also known as Blyde Dam). Swadini is a good place to stay and those in the know rate it as one of the most beautiful campsites in South Africa. Blyde River Canyon is the third-largest canyon in the world (after Grand Canyon USA and Fish River Canyon Namibia) and there are a number of interesting hikes. Just ask at the gate.

On a hot day there’s nothing like a boat cruise on the dam and the superb views that include an unusual tufa waterfall, where instead of the rock being eroded by the waterfall it has increased in size because of calcium deposits from the waterfall. There is also a waterfall walk and the daring might well be tempted to jump into the dam from the rocks. Then drive further up to the information centre that has a panoramic view of the dam and some interesting but faded information boards.

Try to do this drive in the late afternoon as the rocks turn red at sunset. They are spectacular. This road is a dead end so remember you have to return the way you came. But look out for the Jonkmansspruit turn-off as you return, and drive onto the bridge for a great view. You can return to Hoedspruit this way but be careful of potholes.

5. Silkworms and sailfish

This is the smaller upright version of the Giant Baobab. Sit under the shady acacias at the Cotton Club Cafe at Godding & Godding. Stop on the way up to the Information Centre at Blyderivierspoort Dam and look at the wall.

Leon and Annie Scholtz and their pub and restaurant at the Diepsee Hengelklub are a pleasantly surprising experience in this dry landIf you go back to the R531, turn left and head towards the R527 and you will find Godding and Godding, once a silk farm but now a small centre that sells silk-related products. Here there are a few interesting shops, a spa and a lovely little cafe. This is a good place to sit under the thorn trees and have a bite at the Cotton Club Cafe or wander the Godding & Godding shop even if just to inhale the scents of marula, rooibos and baobab products.

If you want something more quirky, the Hoedspruit Diepsee Hengelklub (deep sea fishing club) offers a fishing experience in a “parched landscape” as owners Annie and Leon Scholtz call it. Sit back surrounded by record-breaking marlin and sailfish trophies on the walls, and locals at the bar counter. Expect good, home-cooked meals and big fishing stories to rival those of The Old Man and the Sea.

6. Snakes, Reptiles and Baobabs

Donald Strydom of Kinyonga Reptile Centre will tailor-make a tour for youiNyoka Gallery (Snake Gallery) is a newly opened art gallery on the corner of the R527 and the R531. It exhibits the art of local Limpopo artists and the talent is quite impressive. The building has been revamped and it’s worth a visit.

Behind this gallery is Donald Strydom’s Kinyonga Reptile Park (originally the Khamai Park). Donald is and always will be passionate about his cold-blooded creatures. If you are reptile mad there are a number of tours so book ahead to make sure you get what you want. Keen photographers can get some very special photos of very special snakes, and there’s an interactive tour to touch the reptiles.

A little further along the road towards Hoedspruit is the turn-off to the Giant Baobab and to Jessica the hippo. Originally known as the Glencoe Baobab this tree was listed as the second-largest baobab in South Africa until it split wide open in 2009 and revealed a huge hollow core. It still is the most impressive sight rather like a massive octopus with spreading tentacles and there is another lovely picture-book baobab nearby. Cecil Liversage, the owner of Glencoe, says a scientist took samples of the tree back to the USA for testing and these confirm the tree is more than 1 800 years old. The Upside Down Restaurant nearby is open seven days a week and serves simple teas and lunches. 

7. Hippo Hoorah

Jessica was found ten years ago as a tiny baby hippo still with her umbilical cord intact, after the 2004 floods of the Blyde River. Tonie and Shirley Joubert gave her the loving care she needed and she is a treasured part of their family. Although she is tame and now sleeps on their veranda, having destroyed much of their furniture indoors, they are very aware that she is still a wild animal. Jessica is free to come and go and often joins the wild hippos in the Blyde River although she does love her aromatherapy massages from Shirley and her bottles of rooibos tea.

Tonie Joubert loves Jessica the hippo like a child

Stand on a river jetty and the dear little hippo comes over to be fed sweet potato and suck her bottle of tea. She lays her heavy head on the jetty and you are able to stroke her soft pink ears and admire those huge teeth. Richie is a newer addition found in the January 2012 floods and is kept close to home as the Jouberts fear the wild male hippos might become aggressive.

This is dedication of another kind. Even going away for a weekend can be problematic but Tonie and Shirley never complain. They have made their bed, albeit an often broken one, and are happy to have made this commitment.

Handy Contacts

Hoedspruit• Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, near Kapama on the R40, runs tours daily. Booking is recommended, when you can enquire about special activities. Nice little café to grab a bite to eat. 015 793 1633, 083 654 2299, hesc.co.za

•  Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has a two-hour tour Monday to Saturday. 015 795 5236, 082 907 5984 website

• Jessica’s Place

015 795 5249, website

•  Kinyonga Reptile Centre 

087 806 2093, website

• Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre offers boat cruises on Blyderivierspoort Dam to the Tufa waterfall, as well as river rafting and tubing depending on water levels, and microlight flights. 015 795 5961, 072 260 4212, website

• Hot-air ballooning at Sun Catchers 087 806 2079, 082 572 2223 website

Dates to Remember

• Blyde Xfest is a white-water kayak festival on the Blyde River. 27 Feb-1 March, website

•  Rocking for Rhinos is a fundraising music festival held every September (2015 dates to be confirmed) just outside Hoedspruit.

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