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.

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