Tag Archives: Mpumalanga

Pilgrim’s Unrest

It seems there’s a host of wandering souls in this Mpumalanga town

‘If we are going to be contacted from the other side anywhere in the house, it is likely to be here in Marjery’s room,” said Sherry, our guide. At that point the lights went out.

Marjery, Sherry had just explained, had died at Roedean, a school which, in the early 1900s, prided itself on losing very few children every term. The girl in whose bedroom we were standing was one of those sad few, succumbing to meningitis at the age of 13.

The family dog’s name was Jock – not that Jock, although this was Pilgrim’s Rest – and his favourite chair was next to Marjery’s bed, with a distinct dent in its cushion. A photographer the previous week had been unable to focus on it as if, he said, there was something moving there. His camera had been smashed inexplicably into pieces as he left the house. Ours would only switch on in certain rooms and steamed up in others.

Marjery’s room was much colder than the others and sometimes, Sherry said, there was a strong smell of cologne. I could smell talcum powder.

Even Sherry seemed a bit shaken when her words plunged us into darkness, and she has a seven-year-old spook living in her house up the road. He fiddles with her children’s Gameboys and plays loud music on the stereo at 3am.

She went downstairs, trying not to trip over the orbs that she had told us were there, to get some lamps. In Marjery’s darkened bedroom, there was much nervous laughter, squealing and surreptitious pinching of bottoms. Sherry returned and we continued the tour by lamplight. So much for Pilgrim’s Rest’s having had power before London. Marjery had certainly put an end to that.

A light drizzle had been falling on Alanglade House as we’d arrived in the late afternoon and the impressive residence had all the hallmarks of a Scooby Doo set. We half expected Shaggy to come hurtling down the steps, pursued by a rattling skeleton. In fact, Sherry said, one woman had seen someone in the window the previous week and refused to go in; another had been chased out by a full body manifestation in a top hat.

But back to Marjery. Sometimes, Sherry said, she’d slam her bedroom door and nobody could get in but they’d come back in the morning and find it open. And often her toys were moved. Indeed, that day, a pram of hers had mysteriously made its way upstairs from the playroom to the governess’s room.

We ended the tour of the house huddled around a couple of paraffin lamps in Mr Barry’s bedroom, looking at a family portrait taken on Marjery’s birthday in the year she damaged Roedean’s survival statistics.

Her brothers, it seemed, had not been much luckier. One fell off a mountain, another went down with a sinking ship and the third was shot down 12 days before the end of the First World War. At least they didn’t seem to have found it necessary to stick around in the family house.

As we left, Sherry told us something had mysteriously eaten all the peacocks. A leopard, presumably, or maybe Jock’s wraith. I think if a peacock had cried right then, we’d all have dropped dead in sheer terror.

“Let’s go the cemetery,” said Sherry and it seemed the right thing to do, so we did. She poured us a glass of her namesake outside the gate to steady the nerves and told us the week before she’d seen an extra person standing behind one of her colleagues at a graveside.

Probably Naboompi, she said, who’d had his legs sawn off below the knee because he wouldn’t fit in the coffin. Or Mrs Stopforth, who had 11 children before her husband left her for another woman. The week before that, Sherry said, a woman in her group had walked around the graveyard and shaken hands with all its inhabitants.

As we stood at the Robber’s Grave, three in the group saw, several times, a figure looming up behind a grave up the hill. Looking downhill, I saw a streak of bright light shoot past a large headstone.

Then the street lights came back on.

Waiting for the Windmill wines

Chris Harvie discovers that, although Hazyview has yet to produce its own wine, the winegrowers are already serving the menu that will accompany the first bottle.

If wine can be produced from grapes grown in Zimbabwe and Tanzania (although the latter’s production from the wine estates around Dodoma leaves much to be desired), why shouldn’t suitable vines grow in the hills of the escarpment between Hazyview and Sabie? After all, wine-making is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Western Cape. Everybody’s doing it, and this will be Mpumalanga’s first foray into the high-falutine world of viticulture.

Truth be told, though, the northernmost vineyard in South Africa, near Hazyview, has yet to bear any wine but the future wine-growers, Thomas and Jacqui Bohm, are already serving tastebud-tantalising lunches with spectacular views over the lines of vines, dozens of ‘other people’s’ wines and the insights of two of the most knowledgeable foodies (and wine-fundis) in the region. And, if wine’s not your bag, there’s beer from the local Hop’s Hollow Brewery on the Long Tom Pass.

Thomas is a scion of the well-respected Bohm family, Lowveld hoteliers of distinction, and Jacqui is an expert chef with experience reaching back into the early boom days of Lowveld tourism. They combined their skills as long ago as 1993 and ran several very popular hostelries together, not least among them the iconic Scrumpy Tom’s Pizza Pub, before climbing a few kilometres up the hill towards Sabie and putting down roots for themselves (and for their vines) on the hillside which will one day doubtless make them famous.

We were feeling somewhat under the weather the day we went, too much wine and not enough sushi after watching Slumdog Millionaire in the rarefied atmosphere of White River’s Casterbridge Cinema the day before, and found the ideal antidote immediately. A bottle of Groote Post Old Man’s Blend, a Thai Pizza and a Windmill Platter to share between four of us. And then another bottle of Groote Post. And then another.

Thomas’s wood-fired pizzas are justifiably renowned. In addition to his spruced-up version of the old Margherita and 4 Seasons favourites, he has a repertoire of interesting Bohm originals. Our Thai Pizza had just the right zing from its chillis and coriander and was the perfect pick-me-up. And how about Sabie Smoked Trout Pizza with capers, cream cheese and chopped chives, for example? Or the deliciously simple Supreme Pizza with brie cheese and green figs.

Jacqui’s Tapas platters are made up of scoops, snips and slices of delicious deli creations, you can create your own or stick to one of the recommended ensembles. Our Windmill Platter was served with home-made bread and listed home-glazed gammon, a gorgeous chunky chicken liver pate, a couple of perfectly-matured cheeses and some local trout. We could equally have supplemented this with peppered beef, pickled fish or any number of other pickles and cheeses.

And still we found space for Jacqui’s malva pudding, I defy anybody to find a better one, served with thick fresh cream, a cup of the local Sabie Valley Coffee and a potstill brandy to wash it all down.

So all we have to do, when the vines finally come up with the goods, is move permanently into one of the Windmill Cottages behind the restaurant and live off Chateau Mpumalanga, chunky chicken liver pate, classy pizza and malva pudding for evermore. I can’t wait.

Contact :
The Windmill Wine Shop – 15km from Hazyview, Mpumalanga, on the R536 to Sabie
Telephone 013 737 8175 Fax 013 737 8966
Email scrumpys@mweb.co.za Website www.thewindmill.co.za
Wine shop open 9am to 5pm Mondays to Saturdays
Restaurant open 11.30am to 4pm Mondays to Saturdays
Cottages from R390 per person bed and breakfast

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.

A great Lowveld Tale

She bills herself, very misleadingly, as the naked chef. Admittedly there was an unseasonably chilly Lowveld wind the night we were there, which would have carved an edge to any nudity, but, with Cindy’s regretful clothes firmly on, things were cooking anyway.

“My vissie is dood” came the SMS to one of my dining companions’ cellphones. Her husband, Danie, a 6’2″ butcher, interrupted our evening to announce the demise of his Siamese Fighter named Chan (after Jackie – well, they all look the same don’t they?) and, with touching poignancy, closed the message with one of those crying smileys that looks like Nemo in distress.

“Ons sal vir jou nog een kry”. She promised him a replacement. He wasn’t to be consoled though, and replied in plaintive English “but I liked this one” so she crushed him with a “Flush it; I’ll buy you another one tomorrow.” End of conversation.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to order the trout but then we’d known beforehand, anyway, what we were going to have as a starter. Cindy’s crispy guinea-fowl spring rolls, plumped full with tasty stuff and dunked in mother-in-law Pat’s (she of Pat’s Stall) fine Sweet Chilli Sauce.

We were at Treetops in Hazyview. Not Treetops in Kenya where the Queen became Queen or Treetops in India where the tigers live. Treetops in Hazyview beats them both because they are not quasi-Alpine log cabins, they do not have horse-brasses on the walls, they do not have baths in the restaurant loos, they don’t offer you a glass of OBS when you arrive, they do not have the bespectacled, studious-looking Raephi as a Pedi waitress in white blouse and pink V-neck, and they don’t have Cindy.

Home-made bread, a bottle of white, a bottle of red and glasses like goldfish bowls (sorry Chan). We wolfed the spring rolls with all the gusto of a Siamese fighter and awaited the main course with unashamed and ill-disguised drooling. Two oxtails and a stuffed chicken breast; garnish that’s edible, not silly, and comes straight out of the garden.

My other colleague (whose girlfriend keeps cats, and a ridgeback called Shaka for the cats, entertainment, instead of exotic fish named after kung-fu experts) was entering into the food critic thing with enthusiasm and professed his chicken-filled-with-mushrooms to be moist and humid without being fetid but with a gravid depth added by its dark accompanying gravy. In other words, he really liked it.

I know many people who won’t eat oxtail because they know which part of the ox it comes from. Well, it doesn’t take much working out does it? All I can tell them is that by turning down the opportunity to eat Cindy’s oxtail (even if she won’t show them her nakedness) they are turning down the second best thing in the world. It is amazing. It is also moist and humid and far from fetid. It, too, is in a dark rich gravy. But there is more. It comes with extra butter beans if you want it to make you extraordinarily fat (me) instead of just a bit fat (fish-flushing dinner guest on weigh-less). It is gorgeous. You can pick it up and suck it clean and schlupp the lovely bone-marrow out and you’ll need a bath afterwards (lucky that there’s a bath in the loo) and Oh Yes.

Gluttony as usual getting the better of me at this stage (and never having been one to worry too much about deadly sins), I ordered the Bread and Butter Pudding which is attributed to Anton Mossiman who luckily never threatens to take his clothes off and who, I am willing to bet, does not make his Bread and Butter Pudding anything like as well as Cindy does. The apple pie, too, according to one of my grateful dinner guests, was better than mine.

We ordered a coffee, polished off the Merlot and mused back to the days when Hazyview’s only restaurants were the now sadly-defunct Tembi and the sadly-still-operating Chicken Licken. Many had come and gone in the past and many new ones have opened in the past six months and are as yet unproven, but Treetops stands out as the work of a professional.

Raephi had pulled a black cardigan over her pink V-neck and the likelihood of the chef-proprietor’s reducing her clothes-load seemed to be reducing rapidly. It was time to go home. We felt far from misled but we needed a bath.

Treetops Restaurant
Open for Dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays
12km out of Hazyview on the R536 to Sabie
Tel 013 737 8294

Finding the plot

I had been in the Traffic Department in White River for several hours when the chap five in front of me left and wished me “sterkte” on his way out. I knew then that I was in for the long haul. When the mielie lady from Madam and Eve arrived and started touting her wares I wished I’d brought my tent. By mid-afternoon, I was wondering for how long I was permitted stay in one place before I should feel obliged to start sending postcards.

This was, in fact, my third visit to collect my driver’s licence, the first two of which were abortive as my fingerprints had been rejected for not looking like my fingerprints. How they can tell amazes me, any more than I can tell the difference between two zebras.

But I had Marloth Park to look forward to. An Irish friend had just bought herself a plot in this strange Voortrekker Terminus near Komatipoort and, once improved service delivery had finally manifested itself in a new licence to cruise the N4 Maputo Corridor, I set out to investigate.

Marloth Park has to be the largest building site in the world. There are 2000 plots, most of them planted with clinker-brick cottages, almost all incomplete or at least looking strangely unfinished. The Crocodile-River-frontage plots are the most valuable, where some seriously spectacular residences stretch out. Here taste gives way to wealth and the inevitable huge-arched-window-yellow-and-grey-monster designs and the ubiquitous Tuscan pillars take over.

Everything seems to be a Lodge, Umvubu Lodge, Ndlovu Lodge, Botha Lodge, although most are not open to the public. Other plots are named to enforce their owners’ retired status, such as the van Niekerks from Moeg ge Ploeg (they have, quite obviously, spent much of their lives at the controls of a plough) and the strangely transliterated Tjaila Tyd for Knock-off Time. It’s the biggest laager in the land with the possible exception of Orania.

Of course, as with all such communities, the greater your success, the bigger your deck. And the further you are from the river, the higher your deck needs to be, both to compensate for the facts and so that you can look down on your fellow-escapees and the odd passing buck. Marloth Parkers do not go into the nearby Kruger, preferring to game-spot on their own clinker-brick doorsteps.

There is a little game, monkeys, the odd waterbuck and non-identical zebra. There are also warthogs and impala, which are lured up close by the inwoners with food and then felled with a subtle pot-shot with a silencer fitted lest there should be accusations of eco-unfriendliness in this little Garden of Eden. The Irish may have sided with the Boers in the Vryheids-oorlog but my friend is against the poaching as much as she is against the curfew which forbids all domestic labour from being inside the boundaries at night. It’s like going back 20 years but with the fear of lions instead of the security police.

Heading out for dinner, we made our way up the fearsomely-named Locust Street into rubbish-strewn Olifant Rylaan and then headed downriver to Ngwenya Lodge. We fought our way, through the kind auspices of Mumsy our waitress, to an outside table at the riverside restaurant which we calculated was less than an hour’s drive from Maputo and a short paddle through croc-infested waters from the Kruger National Park. This is Big Five country and yet a fresh LM prawn should be relatively easy to find. The perfect combination, surely.

There were no prawns so we ordered jalapenos stuffed with feta and some chillied chicken livers, both of which sounded suitably Mozambiquan and were really quite good. An elephant cruised past in the riverbed. An interesting Beef Beaufort (or Bew-vrot as Mumsy called it) followed, but along with it came a piece of kingklip that, launched by catapult, could have killed a klipspringer at 20 yards.

All in all, though, it was not a bad dinner. Why is it though, that the closer we get to the sea, the worse the fish and the more frozen and processed the seafood? Someone should start a campaign. Maybe I will.

The pudding menu was so confusing that we gave up when it was explained that deep-fried ice cream would take 30 minutes. How could it possibly not melt if it sat in boiling oil for longer than a few seconds, let alone half an hour? We headed back. It was hot. Like the ice cream, Marloth Park was melting in the dark. It was to be a sleepless night. We sat outside drinking Jamesons and listening to the buzz of the bush.

The next day would see more game drives, in bakkies, along the river, with catty in hand. Was this, unlike the Traffic Department, the Old South Africa reborn? Maybe. The zebras, like the fingerprints, don’t look the same, after all, some have white stripes on black and others black stripes on white.

Basics
How to get there: Close to Crocodile Bridge entrance to the Kruger National Park, only four to five hours’ drive from Johannesburg, this bushveld resort is right on the Crocodile River (the border of the Kruger Park), giving guests a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife. Explore the game reserve, catch tiger fish at nearby Komatipoort, and remember to take along your passport if you plan to visit Swaziland.
Where to stay: Midweek/out of season River Lodge: Per person per night sharing: R410; Per person per night single: R625; Children (2 to 16 years old) per night: R210.
Dam/Bush Lodge: Per person per night sharing: R375; Per person per night single: R570; Children (2 to 16 years old) per night: R195.
Contact: Ngwenya Lodge, Farm Whisky, PO Box 397, Komatipoort. Tel: (013) 793-9300 for further details