ROUTE 71 – The Valley of the Olifants | iinfo TZANEEN

Although the N1 highway takes you comfortably (toll gates ensure that the quality of the road remains satisfactory), from Pretoria to Polokwane and further north to Musina, there are alternative routes that pass through small towns along the way, which will slightly lengthen your journey, yet introduce you to the countryside of this north-eastern corner of South Africa.
 
One of the routes that veers off the highway is Route 71, which takes you from the capital of Limpopo, Polokwane, to Phalaborwa, on the border of the Kruger National Park. The Phalaborwa Gate entrance to the park is, in fact, only about 100m from the town. From Polokwane to Phalaborwa, the sight-seeing tourist will find it difficult to believe it is the same province. The scenery changes drastically from the mostly Highveld climate of Polokwane (hot summers with less rain than its neighbouring subtropical towns, and cold, dry winters that leave the landscape bleak and dreary), through the sub-tropical “fruit basket” to the dry Bushveld surrounding Phalaborwa and surroundings.
 
To get to Polokwane from Gauteng (for tourists from abroad or other provinces who find themselves at Oliver Tambo International Airport), it depends on your means. There are direct scheduled flights to Polokwane and cars to rent at the airports. Once in Polokwane, you are faced with a choice of routes – assuming that your ultimate destination is, in fact, the ever-popular Kruger National Park. From Polokwane, there are three ways to get to Tzaneen, which in its turn, is the last big town before Phalaborwa – roughly the central entrance to the Kruger National Park. The one route is the road to Duiwelskloof (also known as Modjadjiskloof) which is about 20km from Tzaneen. This one is probably the most straight-forward. The other route leads to Haenertsburg (58km’s from Polokwane).
 
TOWNS TO TAKE NOTE OF ON ROUTE 71
 
Haenertsburg
 
Haenertsburg is cute, craft-rich and always a few degrees colder than the other towns on the route. It is often shrouded in mist and soft rain, lying on the slopes of the Wolkberg and Drakensberg Mountains on Route 71, between Tzaneen and Polokwane. The vegetation is adapted to this climate and weather pattern. The arty, neat town is abuzz with activity during its festivals: berries in February, food and wine in May and the spring festival. Pssst! It also has its own brewery! So, what? So, cheers!
 
Just after the turnoff to Haenertsburg, the road splits for the choice between George’s Valley and Magoebaskloof Pass to access Tzaneen. The routes are the same distance (38 and 39km) and both offer beautiful scenery (for passengers! Drivers should keep eyes firmly on the meandering road!)
 
A word of caution: the Georges Valley road often has trucks which sometimes cause long queues of cars, as the many bends and twists in the road make overtaking virtually impossible, with single lanes on either side. The Magoebaskloof pass might take longer as it could tempt travellers to stop at one of several outlets for a culinary treat, a sleep-over or fruit or nuts from an informal road stall. This pass spirals down a dense sub-tropical forest, cool and moist, breathtaking and…dangerous. Cautious driving recommended. The Magoebaskloof mountains mark the end of the Drakensberg in the north.
 
Also on this route, a few kilometres before turning onto the highway for the final stretch to Tzaneen, is a turnoff to the wonderful Debegeni Waterfall, protected by a nature reserve with impressive plantations of exceptional trees. It is open to day-visitors who want to picnic, swim in icy rock pools or do some rock sliding at safe places. Visitors should heed the marked borders, as the antics of some daredevils have ended in tragedy more than once.
 
Tzaneen
 
The valley Tzaneen nestles in what is known as the "fruit basket" of South Africa. The name says it all. In the appointed seasons bananas, various types of citrus, lichis, mangos amongst others, make their bountiful appearance. The area also boasts the biggest concentration of game ranches in southern Africa.  The Modjadji Cycad Reserve has the largest concentration of a single cycad species in the world. Tzaneen is surrounded by dams (Magoebaskloof, Ebenezer and Tzaneen Dams), at various distances, but all close enough to secure ready provision. The Tzaneen Dam is the final welcoming beacon before you enter the town from the Magoebaskloof route’s side. Tzaneen is ever-green, even when drought threatens. From here the route continues to Phalaborwa (104km’s), via the one-horse town of Gravelotte.
 
Phalaborwa
 
At this point, so close to your destination in the bush, excitement is tangible – in all the visitors waiting to pass through that gate into this precious natural animal and plant sanctuary.
 
This area has the highest winter temperatures in South Africa. Phalaborwa also boasts the home of Amarula (famous cream liqueur made from the fruit of the local marula tree’s fruit), the Foskor mine, various private game reserves, a gateway to the Kruger National Park and the Mozambican border (only two hours’ drive away, past Letaba Rest Camp).
 
Louis Trichardt
 
Louis Trichardt lies at the foot of the densely forested Soutpansberg Mountains. Louis Trichardt has charming tea-gardens and nooks which the discerning, determined visitor will find. On the road north, direction Vivo, is the Air Force Base and Schoemansdal Eco-centre, where groups (school, church, businesses) can spend their chosen number of days for team building, leadership training, appreciation of fauna and flora and fitness training.
 
Hoedspruit
 
On the border between Limpopo and Mpumalanga lies this little town which some pass through on the way to the Orpen or Paul Kruger Gates of the Kruger National Park. Hoedspruit is famous for its game farms and lodges, animal sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres. Few people may know this, but from here, you really should take the road up Mariepskop to enjoy awe-inspiring vistas of the vast valley, as far as the eye can see. On the way up the mountain, another well-preserved secret…Blyde River picnic spot – also for camping, if you don’t mind roughing it a little. Peace and quiet, beauty and privacy, exclusivity and incessant life-giving sound of water…. need one say more?
 
Musina
 
Musina is the last frontier before Zimbabwe, which means incessant border activity. Musina is also closest to Pafuri Gate, northern most entrance to the Kruger National Park. From here you can visit Mapungubwe National Park, Blouberg Nature Reserve and Nwanedi Nature Reserve. 

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