The route from Pretoria on its way north to the Limpopo River, the river that feeds the land of baobab trees, there is sudden change in scenery. A vast plain, covered with acasia thorn trees and reddish soil extends to the northern horizon.
Around 6oo million years back the continent of Africa was almost torn in half forming the Great Rift Valley, starting in East Africa, the crack spread southwards across Zimbabwe, where it is called the Great Dyke.
On entering the Limpopo province this great crack vanished underground, with a river of molten rock still flowing along it. North of Pretoria the crack reached its most southerly point and the river of molten rock was trapped at a dead end. The entire base of the established landscape was undermined by this molten lake of rock. The fire below never reached the surface and the once rough surface became a smooth basin surrounded by a mountainous ridge.
This smooth, flat bottomed basin is known as a lopolith and this is the largest in the world. In the basin stretches for 100’s of kilometers, from the north Pretoria up past the Pilanesberg area as far as the Waterberg Mountain range in the west. The land is densely covered with trees and shrubs, and becomes increasingly tropical in appearance with every kilometer travelled.
The road to the north of Limpopo climbs up to the grassy summit of the northern heights and passes through Polokwane and then gently descends to the savannah Bushveld across Tropic of Capricorn which is marked by a sign nearby a cluster of euphorbia trees. Past that lies the giant natural wall of the Soutpansberg Mountain range which runs from the east to the west.
From the town of Louis Trichardt, at the southern side of the Soutpansberg range, the road penetrates the north of the range and an immense change is immediately apparent. A vast area dominated by beautiful baobab trees and intense heat stretches to the north. It gradually descends past the hot springs of Tshipise and on to the copper mining centre of Musina and eventually reaches the mighty Limpopo River, the frontier between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Bela-Bela – Formerly known as Warmbaths because of a warm water spring which caused the growth of a town. The warm water spring was used by Bushmen and Iron Age Africans alike and Europeans discovered it soon after settling in the Limpopo area. It was hard to be missed as a white cloud of steam rose into the air during the winter months and could be seen from many miles away.
The spring was bought by the Transvaal government in 1873 and it has since grown into a health and holiday resort which attracts many thousands of visitors each year. The water, which flows out of the ground at about 23 000 liters an hour and is rich in sodium chloride, calcium carbonate and other good minerals.
Louis Trichardt – The Transvaal government, (as it was then), established a town in order to control the area of the Soutpansberg after a hectic war with the Venda tribe in 1898. The town was named after Louis Trichardt, a Voortrekker who camped there, before leaving on his fateful mission to Lourenco Marques in 1836.
Louis Trichardt is a beautiful town with neat streets and gardens teaming with flowering trees and is a handy base for exploring the Soutpansberg and the Venda tribal area. The Soutpansberg Hiking Trail starts at the nearby Hangklip forestry station and there is a fairly easy climb to the summit of Hangklip which is 719 meters up. A road runs from the east of the town to Punda Maria which is the northernmost entrance to the great Kruger National Park.
Magoebaskloof - The 100 kilometer of spectacular roadway down the escarpment from Polokwane to Tzaneen is one of the most beautiful tourist drives in South Africa. It passes through a superb variety of scenery and at one stage it drops 6oo meters through 6 kilometers of dense forest.
Magoebaskloof gets its name from Makgoba who was the chief of the small Tlou tribe who lived on its foothills. In 1894 Makgoba and his people decided not to pay taxes to the government so a small force of soldiers was sent to investigate. Makgoba and about 500 of his followers fled into the deep forests without a trace. After several months the government secured the help of Swazi warriors who were only able to capture two Tlou women. They killed one and the other told them where to find chief Makgoba.
The Swazis were surrounded the Tlou stronghold and they challenged Makgoba to personal combat with their own commander. In the forest the two men fought ferociously with spears and clubs and Chief Makgoba was defeated. The Swazis cut off his head and carried it back with them to claim the bounty money from the government. The Tlou tribe was eventually dispersed but Makgoba’s name will always linger in this beautiful part South Africa with its high forests full of shadows and memories, hence the name, Magoebaskloof.
The summit of Magoebaskloof is 1280 meters and holds views of breathtaking beauty, one of which looks down George’s Valley, named after George Deneys who constructed the roads from the summit which have definitely added to the exploration of the beauty of this area.
Modimolle – Formerly known as Nylstroom was found by the first Voortrekkers in the area and they believed that it was the legendary source of the great Nile River. Their theories were strengthened by the presence of a small hillock which resembled a ruined pyramid. It was only a natural hillock and was known to the local tribes as Modimollo (‘place of spirits’) and was a burial ground for ancient chiefs.
Today Modimolle is the bustling centre for the groundnut and cattle farmers in the area.
Mokopane – Formerly known as Potgietersrus was named after Piet Potgieter, the brave Voortrekker who was killed in the siege of the Makapansgat Caves in 1854. A very pretty town with beautiful tropical gardens especially in June and July when the aloes are in bloom showing off a glorious blaze of colour.
The town’s museum is named after Arend Dieperink, its founder. Its prize is a violin made in 1595 by the Amati brothers. It is said that David Livingstone camped beneath the prominent cluster of Ana trees 16 kilometers out of the town to the north-east.
Mookgophong - Formerly known as Naboomspruit was started when a prospector named Adolph Erasmus found tin around the Waterberg range in 1910 and miners flocked into the district. The shops and trading stores which sprang up on the banks of the Naboomspruit River were the start of the present town.
Several hot springs which surface around the Waterberg have been developed as health resorts and the Waterberg area is very popular for its game safaris and game lodges.
Musina – Formerly known as Messina, is the northernmost town in South Africa and is some 20003 kilometer from Cape Town and 15 kilometres from the Zimbabwe border.
Copper was first discovered in Musina by the African tribes in the very early years and they named it Musina (‘the spoiler’) because it spoilt the iron they were primarily looking for. They learned to use the copper and molded it into ingots which became standard items of barter among other tribes and the Arab safari traders.
Then copper was re-discovered shortly before the Anglo-Boer War by John Pasco Grenfell. He was a prospector who met a hermit known as Wild Lotrie who told him the secret about the old African mines. Because of the large volumes of high- grade copper a town was built to serve the new copper mines and was called Messina, from the old African word for copper. Since then the name has reverted back to its original name of Musina.
The climate is extremely hot and the town is dotted with tropical flowering trees and bushy creepers. The baobab trees in and around Messina are of the largest in Africa. One in particular is known as the Elephant’s Trunk and stands in a little park named in memory of Eric Mayer, a well-known painter of baobab trees. Another large baobab grows on the Nonsiang farm and has a girth of 19 meters and is 26 meters tall, that’s a big tree.
Phalaborwa - Around 150 years ago a party of African prospectors from Musina began mining copper and iron in a place they named Phalaborwa (‘better than the south’), meaning it was healthier than some of the other fever-ridden areas in the south. At the beginning of the 1900’s European prospectors discovered a large variety of mineral richness in the area and Dr. Hans Merensky, a famed geologist, started mining vermiculite back in 1938.
Copper and iron are also extracted from the area and most of the copper is exported because the output is far beyond the needs of South Africa. The town of Phalaborwa was created in 1957 as a centre for this concentrated assortment of mines and there is an entrance gate to the Kruger National Park on the eastern outskirts of the town.
Polokwane – Formerly known as Pietersburg is the principal town of the Limpopo province. It is a bustling, modern centre, with wide streets, many shops and several hotels making it a popular stopping destination for tourists heading to the Kruger National Park and north to Tzaneen and Magoebaskloof.
The area has some of the finest cattle ranches in South Africa and despite its location on the Tropic of Capricorn, stands on a plateau I280 meters above sea level.
Thabazimbi - Steelworks in Pretoria draw much of their raw materials from Thabazimbi, which means ‘mountain of iron’. These mountains are a spectacular setting for the mine and the town which has grown up around it. The mine shaft has a lift that holds 100 men is one of the largest in Africa. The ore trains are on the move 24/7 and the surrounding area is cattle and game farming country.
Tshipise – This town has grown around and into a popular holiday resort because of its famous hot spring. It is very hot during the summer months and back in 1969 it was claimed that the waters of Tshipise spring cured diabetes and of course this caused an unprecedented boom in popularity. However, medical tests threw doubt on the claim, but the resort continues to attract thousands of visitors every year, especially during the cool winter months.
The area surrounding is beautiful game safari country, teaming with all the African game species and of course the land is dotted with 1000’s of Baobab trees.
Tzaneen – This beautiful town of Tzaneen was established in 1912 as a centre for the agriculture of tea, sub-tropical fruits, nuts, flowers, winter vegetables, potatoes and timber which are grown in the valley.
It was named after the resident tribe, the Tzaneng and after the elimination of malaria in the area Tzaneen has grown from strength to strength with beautiful views, forests and lush farms which play a major role in the fruit and vegetable produce market in South Africa.