Trees too, prawns seventeen

I had been chased away from the sealed Lebombo border-post by the military, tyres screaming and weapons blazing in the dusty inky dusk on my first visit, more than twenty-five years ago. Nowadays, thanks to the burgeoning tourist numbers on their way to Maputo through the unimaginably slow bureaucratics of the Lebombo border, it’s all happening, in a far more upbeat way, out there in the sticks.

Of course, Komatipoort is at its stickiest in the height of summer when the Onderberg’s temperatures can melt a Highvelder to a mush but for most of the year the climate is warm and balmy. The people are also generally warm and only a select few are barmy.

It’s not a pretty town. The centre is the usual unaccustomed bundu blend of spares shops, general dealers and fast food outlets but head into the palm-strewn backstreets and you enter another world of broad avenues, lined with many magnificent mansions, even some without cement wagon-wheel walls, and a number of them are fine bed and breakfast establishments.

Amongst them, first amongst them maybe, is Trees Too. And I don’t mean are Trees Too, as in ‘I are carrying a T-shirt’. Amongst them is Trees Too Guest Lodge, a bed and breakfast in the back of the backstreets. Why the strange name? Because huge royal palms wave loudly in the night above the rooms with that swaying whoosh that sounds like rain, or maybe wind, or could just be huge palm trees swaying loudly in the night without rain or wind. Think of it as a lullaby and you’re asleep in seconds.

Trees Too is worthily unpretentious. Comfortable air-conditioned rooms, monster breakfasts, slap-up suppers, an honesty bar, friendly hosts, a good-sized pool with shady umbrellas and, yes, shade from the trees too.

Martyn and Sue Steele own and run Trees Too. They also love the place with the enduring passion and pride that only a truly dedicated B&B-owner can muster and, although their business sources are very diverse, their low tariffs reflect the importance they specifically attach to looking after the South African market (despite the fact that they come from somewhere near Manchester).

There’s plenty to do. The surrounding mountains of the eastern and western Lebombo ranges offer magnificent hikes with views over Lake Matsamo; there’s the Samora Machel Monument, crafted from the wreckage of the late President’s plane, and Jesus’ Footprint, evidence that the son of God Himself supposedly paid a visit to the region.

No doubt He stopped over while He waited for a lesser authority to finalise His Mozambiquan visa, but I am sure He was thrilled with what He found. He would have liked Trees Too. The waving palm fronds would have made Him feel right at home.

IF YOU GO:

Where it is: Trees Too Guest Lodge is just over four hours from Johannesburg, an hour from Maputo on a good day and ten minutes from the Crocodile Bridge Gate of the Kruger National Park.
Why go there: If game-viewing is not your bundle, there’s also horse-riding, microlighting, golf, quad-biking, tiger-fishing, hiking and cultural tours.
What it has: A very complicated array of rooms and different bed configurations to suit even the most disjointed family.
Rates: From R305 per person sharing, but the price goes down even further if more than two share a room
Getting there: Take the N4 until the last turning on the left before the Lebombo borderpost, following the signs to Komatipoort. If you are stopped for a passport check, you’ve missed the turning.
Contact: Trees Too Guest Lodge, 9-11 Furley Street, Komatipoort. Tel 013 793 8262 Emailinfo@treestoo.com Web www.treestoo.com

LOCAL ATTRACTION:

Tambarina

Our high-speed hurtle away from the border all those years ago was prompted by a prawn feast and too much Portuguese wine. Indeed, twenty-five years ago, the only convincing reason to visit Komatipoort was for LM prawns. Particularly those served by the LM Cafe which was little more than a small roadside bar in regular trouble with the law for its lack of licences, a problem the owner handled by changing the restaurant’s name almost every week.

Whatever the name might have been, the quality and, in those days, the spectacular length and girth of the prawns, never faltered. And neither did the Vinho Verde.

In 2009, this prime role in Komatipoort Society is filled, very amply, by the more exotically- and permanently-named Tambarina and, while its plain bush-pastel paint and its timberlog furniture are not overwhelming, what the place lacks in interior design it more than makes up for in fare with flair.

The menu churns out,  with a surfeit of apostrophes, all the usual solid steakhouse stuff but it is the seafood that is fabulous beyond the keenest expectation. The platter and, in particular, the prawns are absorbingly indulgent, so much so that one in our midst, an eleven-year-old, managed seventeen Queen prawns through a series of cunning raids on the plates of sated and defeated adults.

This feat should not be seen as a poor reflection on the size of the crustaceans but rather as a recommendation to discerning shellfish fans of their extreme edibility. Wash it all down with a good bottle of white and Tambarina is the Onderberg’s greatest treat. No visa required.

Tambarina, 77 Rissik Street, Komatipoort
Tel 013 793 7057 Fax 086 620 6218 tambarina@vodamail.co.za
Open Monday to Saturday. Lunch 11.00 to 14.30. Dinner 18.00 to 21.00.
Children’s menu and takeaways also available.