Monday, 6 August 2012

Valley of the Rainbow - nothing fishy about it..!

The 'old mill' near the waters edge played its part in history
Situated near Dullstroom, Mpumalanga and some 250 kilometers away from the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, Valley of the Rainbow is close enough for a weekend-trip but far enough away to make it worthwhile.

It's not 'the everywhere' I've been to before, by any stretch and I've been to most places here. There's some history on the farm too for those who define themselves this way. The old mill [left] played a significant part in the Anglo-Boer conflict but that's a story for another time..

Ardent O. mykiss (rainbows) fishermen are broadly familiar with both Belfast and Dullstroom. Very few, however, would claim familiarity with Valley of the Rainbow. It's not on the general radar, is less accessible than most mainstream trout-fishing venues and is, as a result and for those in the know, somewhere people return to regularly.
Scenically magnificent. A piece of Africa

Those in a rush to get lines in the water might not like the tail-end 12 kilometers on dirt.. They won't rave about the crusty R33 from Belfast or the coal-dusted R555 from Middelberg either. In fact, the last 60 kilometers or so takes time, lots of it and although accessible to most sedans (at a push), leaving the 4x4 gas-guzzler in the garage at home, is probably not advisable.

If travel is all about the journey then there's enough journey to please even the most ardent traveler. Those who disagree and who prefer the destination rather than the road-trip would not be disappointed once they got there.

The facilities are good, very good. The recently appointed husband & wife management team are infectious in their enthusiasm which is a refreshing change in this part of the world where 5-star trout-lodges yawn across hill & dale.

In summer The Manor House must be a shady respite from the elements
Attention to detail is self-evident
Accommodation options range from rustic to luxurious and as a result most tastes are catered for. The Manor House carries pride of place, is tastefully decorated, well-appointed and accommodates 10 people in five en suite rooms. Meals are served in the dining room. Large groups (up to 10), who fancy a braai (barbecue) or their own cuisine, might prefer the The Country House; a country-style, self-catering home away from home.

Our children, aged 12 to 15, are fiercely conflicted on what type of accommodation is most suitable for a family weekend away. Our son, the youngest, despises anything but a tent and a sleeping bag.. Our oldest two, both girls, are predisposed to solid brick and tile and a bath and a lounge and an electric blanket...  As can be imagined; never the three shall meet!

The Tented Chalets are great for families
A dining table, rather than a box, is a necessity

Adjacent to Dam-3, although far from perfect for either team, are The Tented Chalets. These luxury tents, built on raised wooden decks (permanent), offer what a pacifist might describe as the best of both demands. They're not exactly luxurious in the strictest sense of the term. They're also not baselessly rustic either.. Detente then!

The basics are covered but the tents could do with a dining-table, some closet space and a box or two of matches. The pillows are unrelenting misery. Whoever dream't up lumpy, hard sponge as THE solution for mankind's most pressing slumber-demands, should be made to sleep on one or be fed to the fish, whichever is worse.. No rail behind the kitchenette is also an accident waiting to happen. Children beware!

The safety rails end abruptly behind the kitchenette...?
The 5 'tented chalets' are tastefully private and in summer the copse of indigenous trees in which these chalets are built must be alive with birds. Those who are security-conscious might not like the isolation, the proximity of the unmanned main gate or the 2km distant main house. Pathways between the chalets are, however, well lit. If isolation is your tonic then the winter night-skies are brilliantly clear and the quiet, peaceful.

Dams are large, generally free of weed and offer good access
The Tented Chalets are close to the main entrance

Fishing is generally difficult
August fishing is never easy, as any fisherman worth his tack will tell you...  This weekend proved no different. The dams are stocked, perhaps not as well as they might be but there are fair quantities of good-sized Brown and Rainbow Trout in all three dams.

A forth dam, nearer the farm's entrance, has bass.

The water is neither as cold nor as clear as elsewhere in Dullstroom and the fish we did catch were, in fact, quite lively. My son, a dry-fly connoisseur, had a few good jumpers in that perfect hour which usually precedes sunset. There are few things more rewarding than actively feeding browns, lured on dry, late in the afternoon session.

Pack lightly and the walk up the avenue will be a joy

Those who choose The Tented Chalets either drive the kilometer or so up to the first dam or walk the same route. The natural avenue of indigenous trees which line the main access to The Manor House and the start of good water from where anglers make their way slowly back to base, is a magnet for fauna, feathered and otherwise. Owls are common in the late evening; a pair of African Fish Eagles call the alley home and both Greater Kudu and Bushbuck are seen regularly. It's alive, filled with natural aromas and quite simply, idyllic.

Owned by a Potchefstroom pathologist attention to detail is key

Valley of the Rainbow does have its faults. The fishing is probably fair to disappointing by most standards. There are better venues nearby if it's a big bag you're after. The accommodation is by and large surprisingly good. That said, The Tented Chalets are short of a few basics and side-rail security, given the height of the deck, is a necessity. I can only hope that's fixed before somebody gets hurt. Those who want a Sunday-morning cup of tea and a scone at any or all of Dullstroom's famous deli cum restaurants won't like it here either. It's simply too far away. At the opposite end of the taper; if you're happy to take your Sunday-tea on a stone patio with a view over good water and in so doing avoid the annoyance that is half of Johannesburg dipping their rusks in your tea when you're not looking, then Valley of the Rainbow does just fine.

The upside is simple. If you're looking for an idyllic home away from home with some fishing, a good walk in a pristine environment and general peace & quiet, you won't go too far wrong here. It's also a safe environment to teach young anglers the finer details of the cast without incurring the ire or disrupted temper from nearby fisherman.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Limpopo's Magoebaskloof Hotel - Good, better, best!

There's a yearning that we feel for things less sterile, stronger in some of us than others. City life has its perks, obviously, but the bright lights soon dim and the vibrant sounds become a thing of diminishing beauty..

As a consequence and whenever possible, we hit the road less traveled, usually on week-ends. So that's the why but what's with the owl (Pearl-spotted Owlet for the 'twitchers'); why Magoebaskloof and where is that anyway?

Rushing from pillar to post or from city to lodge is pretty pointless. We don't do it.

Meandering through the countryside for the sake of meandering; the golden fields, green trees and country houses just a subconscious veneer in lazy stupor, must eventually grind too. That is, of course, unless you stop regularly, widen the senses and harness the power of peace from the dust on your shoes. Some people do just that and appreciate the scenery for what it is. Kudos to them. We prefer to do things a little differently.

We love to travel for the wanderlust is strong in both of us but more so, we're passionate about birds. Birds through binoculars do just fine but birds in the hand are so much better.. As 'citizen scientists' we catch, ring (SA terminology) or band (US) [- a steel ring is attached, usually on the leg, for record purposes] and collect data from as many birds as possible. The data is collated in the field, centrally analysed [@ the University of Cape Town] and relied on for conservation purposes. We do so countrywide; internationally too. So that explains the owl.

In our winter (June to August), which is generally mild and dry, particularly inland, the vegetation dries and in some cases, dies. Food becomes scarce. Birds either migrate internationally or regionally in search of opportunity. Regional migration is usually in an easterly direction away from the very dry western districts. Magoebaskloof lies in the north east on the misty Limpopo escarpment and is characterised by both indigenous and exotic forest, clear mountain streams and in some areas, high-altitude grasslands. There's natural food aplenty for both mammal & bird. So that explains Magoebaskloof.

Most visitors to the region prefer the accommodation options at nearby Haenertsberg which offers an eclectic mix of old and new. We however and for our purposes at least, prefer the Magoebaskloof Hotel. With an idyllic setting and misty ambiance, the buildings take on a charm which modern options never offer and in winter, log fires warm the soul.

Closely guarded by the King Makgoba statue and recently absorbed and marketed under the Orion banner, this old lady seemingly enjoys a refreshing new lease on life. Genuine hospitality, acquired over sixty years, equips the front-line staff and kitchen with an appreciation for their guests and this is the abiding memory. Fail to appreciate that gift and the hotel is just another aging Queen of Hearts left too long at the piano.

Precariously balanced atop the escarpment with sweeping views across the valley where the vista is reward enough for even the most jaded of travelers, Magoebaskloof Hotel is still the local favorite. Friends meet on cold nights in the local pub surrounded by memories of activities past. Genuine, belly-aching laughter echoes in the hallways. Pretentious ceremony and bling-believe is not welcomed here. Wit and charm wins the beer.

Early morning rains (unseasonal) settled the dust, an earthy smell.
Rates are fair, rooms are palatial and the facilities are adequate for those who rate these things. Ask the right questions at the right time of the year and enjoy the Log Fire special at an all inclusive rate, meals included, equivalent to a meal for two in up-town Johannesburg. The food is not an embellishment of the arts. Don't expect it to be and why should it be? It's home cooking away from home, freshly prepared by local chefs, trained not in Paris but behind a local hob. Servings are expansive and somewhat surprisingly, patrons select from an impressive a la carte menu all inclusive in the room-rate whether that be fillet, fowl or flapjack. An interesting yet uniquely delightful concept!

Not fancy. Adequate.
Breakfasts are a buffet from 'granny's table'

Look closely and the decor is hardly uniform. In fact it's decidedly odd. Old oils cling regally to freshly coated walls. Country-English clashes broadly with Afro-Asian mystique. It's truly an abomination but strangely feels quite normal here. Home baked cakes, fresh scones & strawberry jam and richly-brewed coffee are not to be missed.

So there you have it and that's Magoebaskloof Hotel. It's not fancy, nor is it fancily dressed but it's warm, charming and well worth a visit.

It's the little things that count in life....

Dew drops clinging to a blade of grass in the early-morning mists can be so much more than mere drops of water.