Standing at the top of a magnificent gorge with sheer drops on both sides made all the new scrapes on my legs worthwhile. There was river to the left of us, and river to the right of us. In front, the sun was setting while birds swept past chirping their goodbyes. Just before we left, two Verreaux’s eagles returned to the cliffs in the distance, settling down as dusk fell.
It is difficult to believe there is such scenic beauty hidden between the mining towns of Emalahleni and Middelburg, where black coal dust is a prominent feature. But once you leave the hustle of the city and its surrounding industry behind, you will find there are still places where leopards roam and eagles soar.
The three-star Olifants River Lodge is that place. A mere two hours from Johannesburg, Pretoria and Nelspruit, this gem in Presidentsrus is the perfect destination for a break before heading to the Lowveld or the Kruger National Park. It offers families the perfect weekend getaway, travellers the ideal overnight
spot, and groups a dream teambuilding and bushveld conferencing destination.
For the fitter nature lover, the hiking trail is the best way to spend a morning or afternoon. It might be shorter than 5km, but it requires scrambling over rock, facing precipitous heights, and bracing for a steep descent down the mountain on your return to the lodge. Along the way, look out for tok tokkie beetles scuttling away, lizards taking shelter beneath rocks, and even the occasional small antelope if you are lucky. Botanists will enjoy the large variety of vegetation covering the mountain slopes. Look out for a range of fascinating plants along the way, including velvet bushwillows (Combretum molle), cabbage trees (Cussonia paniculata), koko (Maytenus undata) and woolly cycads (Encephalartos lanatus) anchored in their rocky surroundings.
There is plenty of entertainment at the lodge to keep the youngsters busy, including a volleyball
court, giant chess board, plenty of swimming pools for young and old, pedal boats, jungle gyms, and horses. With the lodge on the banks of the Olifants River, the children can even try their hand at fishing. With restaurant and bar facilities on the property and a well-stocked tuck shop, there is no reason to drive to the shops for supplies.
Olifants River Lodge offers plenty of accommodation options. Apart from 70 stands on lush green lawns for camping, there are rondavels, log cabins, chalets, cabanas and river view villas. The villas are the most luxurious and offer a well-equipped home away from home, complete with air conditioning, TV, a private patio braai area and lots of shady trees to sit under and take in the views.
Not far from the lodge is the privately owned Bezuidenhoutshoek Nature Reserve – the Home of the Bezhoek Extreme. While not open to the general public, the lodge can arrange guided excursions. The owners are in the process of returning the property back to nature and have put in huge effort to eradicate invasive species, repair erosion and promote conservation.
It is a great destination for game viewing, with lots of giraffe, impala, eland, blue and black wildebeest, klipspringer and kudu. The reserve offers a safe haven for oribi leopard, brown hyena and honey badgers.
As the property is located in the transition zone between the Highveld and Lowveld, it is extremely diverse, with extensive river frontages, wetlands and streams, riverine vegetation, gorges, savannah plains, rocky outcrops and cliff faces. Birds spotted in the area include Narina trogon, African finfoot, Denham’s bustard, black-bellied bustard and a variety of raptors.
The diverse vegetation includes the Middelburg cycad (Encephalartos middelburgensis) among the 27 plants featured on the Red List of South African Plants. There are also more grass species in Bezuidenhoutshoek than in the entire Kruger National Park. With river views around every corner, the reserve is a feast for the eyes.The only other way to experience Bezuidenhoutshoek is through customised group excursions and official events.
Written by: René de Klerk
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