By Keri Harvey
A cool mist cloaks the Mpumalanga highlands. It’s early morning, and as the sun sends shards of light through the mist we cast our long lines over still waters. Early morning and late afternoon are best for catching trout, though these feisty rainbow-coloured fish are hooked throughout the day. We have come to fly-fish and meditate on long lines and perfect landings. There are plenty of other activities on offer too.
Dullstroom embraces the Steenkampsberg Mountains and beckons fly-fishermen from all over. At 2 100m, the high-altitude village built of stone is quaint, the air cool and crisp and never succumbing to the heat of summer. In winter, stone fireplaces roar with warmth, and Dullstroom is even more charming than Scotland, though the Scots may disagree. It’s also arguably the fly-fishing capital of South Africa, and fireside talk is about Mrs Simpsons, Walker’s Killers and Woolly Worms. It’s fly-speak, and the main reason for most visitors choosing Dullstroom for a weekend getaway.
Between the rolling grassy hills flow cool, clear streams, and in between lie still-water dams where trout patiently wait for just the right fly to be cast their way.
But if fly-fishing is not your passion, there are quirky shops to browse and numerous art galleries to enjoy. A unique collection of restaurants all serve trout in some disguise too—from pancakes to pies. If you like, you can literally dine on trout breakfast, lunch and dinner without even trying hard—or there’s organic cheese to be tasted at Pendlehill Dairy and mampoer at Kristalwater Mampoer Distillery. If you need to burn off energy, Dullstroom boasts an unusual high-altitude fitness centre that attracts international athletes needing to train in very thin air. It’s also where you’ll find South Africa’s highest railway station.
Clay pigeon shooting, archery, off-road driving, cycling and other scenic hikes and walks are also popular—as are the two spas for pampering. Horse riding the various trails is a favourite family activity, and there are special pony rides for children and even a pub-crawl on horseback for dads. Nearby Veloren Vallei Nature Reserve is a Ramsar site (Ramsar is a framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources) and a prime spot for butterflies, wild orchids and rare birds. Three endangered crane species live in the area too: the Blue crane, Wattled and elegant Crowned cranes. There’s also a bird of prey centre that does live displays daily and rehabilitates injured birds, and an exotic bird park—just outside town.
Lydenburg is about 60km away down a ribboning tar road that winds between smooth hills and over rushing streams. En route there are plenty of places to stay and things to do, including paragliding at Bambi Farm and—once again—fly-fishing. At the very least, the drive will clear your mind and you will breathe fresh, mountain air.
Quite unexpectedly, the whole Lydenburg area is littered with Stone Age And Iron Age artefacts and rock engravings. The town’s history dates back 1,5 million years, but most curious of all are the very unusual Lydenburg Heads replicas in the town’s museum. These seven heads—six human and one animal—are believed to be from early Iron Age settlers and have been dated to around 490 AD. It’s believed they were actually ceremonial masks that were used in ancient initiation ceremonies, though not much more is known about them. Most quirky about this small museum is that it has its own Mampoer Distillery, and visitors can sample the vicious brew.
There are plenty of unique historical sites and national monuments in and around the town for those intrigued by the unusual. There’s the oldest school in Mpumalanga, dated 1851, a powder magazine, the ZAR post box, which is still in use, an original Voortrekker church, and pre-historic rock engravings. If you love history and antiquity, the nearby Gustav Klingbiel Nature Reserve has an archaeological trail that leads to ruins dating back to 1100 AD, and you can still see remnants of early man’s daily life.
The 2 200ha reserve is also home to endangered oribi antelope, as well as kudu, blesbok, zebra and grey rhebok. There are 276 bird species in the area, including sugarbirds and malachite sunbirds—and there’s a vulture restaurant to entice Cape vultures. The reserve offers picnic spots and braai facilities too, and day walks and trails allow visitors to soak up the indigenous fauna and flora with ease. Or you could play nine holes of golf instead.
Dropping down from Lydenburg along the R36, past the languid Kwena Dam and a couple of kilometres further along the N4, is Machadodorp, right on the edge of the escarpment. It’s a sleepy, dreamy little town with an elegant old-world steepled church right in the middle of it. Named after Joachim Machado, the Portuguese engineer who surveyed the rail route between Pretoria and Delagoa Bay, Machadodorp is more of a hamlet, and the quietest spot by far in the trout triangle.
The Elands River runs right through the town, and its waters are said to have healing properties, along with fine-sized trout. Few know that this was the first river in South Africa to be stocked with trout. The stationmaster at the time noticed a consignment of trout was dying and promptly threw them into the river. Machadodorp has never looked back, and today attracts fly-fishermen looking for wild waters—but the railway station closed in 2002.
Machadodorp is for those who really want to escape everything, bar fly-fishing and relaxation. The town is quiet and the streets are wide and deserted. There are no restaurants to speak of, nor myriad activities to distract you from teasing trout, breathing deeply and simply chilling out. Accommodation is self-catering, on farms or country estates surrounding both still and moving waters. The big attraction to Machadodorp is that it’s a complete escape from the city and all that goes with it.
The trout triangle of Mpumalanga has offerings for all, but wherever you choose you are assured of returning home refreshed, inspired and in awe of the natural beauty of the place. And that’s whether you land a big fish or not.
After a morning of flat-out fishing, casting gentle Ss between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, we’d landed three trout and lost another three. But we’d practised catch-and-release anyway, so we headed back to Dullstroom for brunch. Trout pancakes, of course, with extra horseradish. It was still far too early to be drinking mampoer.
Which to Choose
If it’s activities and amenities you seek for the whole family, Dullstroom is definitely the place. For the ultimate country get-away-from-it-all, Machadodorp is the answer, and if you like something in between with a touch of history, culture and a mean shot of mampoer, that would be Lydenburg.
From Johannesburg take the N4, in the direction of Nelspruit. Then take the R540 to Belfast and on to Dullstroom and Lydenburg. From Lydenburg take the R36 and N4 to Machadodorp. Johannesburg is 250km or 2,5 hours’ drive.
Places To Eat:
Dullstroom—Harrie’s Pancakes in the main road. Trout pancakes and creamy horseradish sauce like no other. Tel. (013) 254-0801.
Lydenburg—Vroutjies Coffee Shop is a legend in the area for cake and coffee. Tel. (013) 235-3016.
Dullstroom Accommodation and Info—Tel. (013) 254-0020; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; seewww.dullstroom.co.za; www.proudlydullstroom.co.za
Lydenburg Tourism—Tel. (013) 253-0408; email: email@example.com; seewww.highlandsmeander.co.za; www.lydenburg.org
What To Do, Where To Stay.
Walkersons Hotel situated on a beautiful estate just outside Dullstroom offering fine dining and an award-winning cellar. Tel. 013-253-7000
Critchley Hackle offers peaceful olde worlde charm with friendly and efficient staff and sophisticated dining overlooking a well-stocked trout dam. Tel. 013-254-0149.
Pickles and Things is a vibey bistro/deli with decadent cakes, light breakfasts and lunches. Evenings offer quieter fine dining and good wines. Tel. 013-254-0115.
Dunkeld Country Estate offers private chalets and beautiful scenery reminiscent of Scotland, a short drive outside Dullstroom. Tel. 013-254-0814.
Canimambo is a family-run restaurant offering authentic cuisine, friendly service and a cozy atmosphere. In Dullstroom, Tel. 013-235-0977 or Graskop, Tel. 013-7671-868.
Mavungana Flyfishing Centre is the largest fly-fishing outfitter in Southern Africa. Tel. 013-254-0270,www.flyfishing.co.za.