NYLSTROOM LODGE Fair game
This spot, 25 km outside of Modimolle, has been around for 25 years, but owners Johan and Lorraine Maritz handed the day-to-day operations over to Shawn and Libby Thomas in January this year. Shawn and Libby say they are striving to make it a more popular destination in the area. The gate is mostly kept closed because there is game roaming around the estate and the owners don’t want them escaping, but you can just pull it open and drive in.
Pick your spot
If you continue along the road, turning right at the office, you’ll pass the swimming pool on your left and the puttputt course on your right. Immediately to the right is the camping area.
The stands aren’t demarcated, but you can use the 10 bricks and cement slabs as your guideline. Not all of them are positioned under shade trees and some are closer to the taps, campsite lights and electricity points – all of which are perched on poles of varying heights.
Power won’t be an issue because there are more than enough sockets to go around, with some of the posts being able to take up to eight domestic plugs and two blue caravan plugs at the same time. Some of the others only have two domestic plug points or four.
The campsite is situated on a slope, and the cement slabs help to provide a solid surface on which to lower your corner steadies. The shade trees are spread out and thanks to that the campsite is evenly covered in grass.
The putt-putt course is the closest activity to the campsite for restless children, but they’ll have to collect balls and clubs at reception first. The swimming pool is larger than those you’ll find in most suburban homes and has two slides. One is fairly straightforward and not too long, like you’ll find in most playgrounds, and is for smaller children. The other is built in the fashion of a supertube and twists twice before depositing excited kids (or adults) into the cool water below. This area is fenced off to keep toddlers from hurtling into the water, and there are picnic tables and chairs that are sheltered from the sun if parents want to keep an eye on the little ones in the water. There are also a few deck chairs scattered about if you want to work on your tan.
Once the kids have dried off they can frolic in the generously sized playground, which is directly behind the pool area. There are two trampolines, swings and plenty of other playground equipment. The huge lawn also has a volleyball net >
if you want to settle your family disputes over a few sets or challenge your neighbours to a friendly game. More competitive groups can engage in Bushveld warfare (the owners are paintball enthusiasts) and the area to the left as you drive through the gate and over the bridge has been set up to play using the natural vegetation, a few obstacles for cover, and some junkyard cars.
If you prefer to just peacefully fish at the dam you’re welcome to take along a rod as management has just received a huge order of bream and carp. Just remember to release them afterwards.
The ablution block lies right in front of the campsite, across the gravel road that runs in a loop around the property. The outside is lit up at night with a fluorescent tube and the campsite is also well-lit at night so you don’t have to worry about stubbing your toe on your way to the loo.
Right in the middle is the space allocated for washing your dishes, with two double sinks. Opposite these are more work surfaces if there are more than two people queuing up to wash dirty dishes. This washing-up area is also the entrance to the communal braai area.
On either side are the separate ablution facilities for men on the left and ladies on the right. The building itself is very plain, but inside it’s smartly decorated with tiles up to chest height. The three toilets and three showers are separated in the middle by a sheet of corrugated metal, which adds to the rustic ambiance. There’s also a dedicated bathroom with a bench for your towel and clothing and a tub for you to soak in.
The three showers are large, with a dry area that you step up onto that includes a wooden shelf that folds down so you can keep your change of clothing dry. There are hooks inside for towels and dirty laundry, but there’s place to hang towels and clothing between the showers as well. There are three basins with enough space to place your toiletry bag when brushing your teeth and making facial adjustments, but there isn’t really space to sit down and tie your shoelaces, apart from two loose ottomans on either side of the divider.
Stock up and get together
To the left of the reception area and through a little arch in the main building is the tuck shop. But it’s more than that because Libby doesn’t stock only the bare camping essentials like wood and firelighters. You can also buy cheese, bread, onions, tomatoes, milk, canned food, eggs, chips, soft drinks, coffee, tea, sugar, biscuits and enough sweets to keep the most insatiable sweet tooth satisfied. It’s a proper little shop. You’ll only really need to bring your own meat and hard tack. Libby also stocks various miscellaneous items like pens, books and even spinning tops if you want to rekindle your youth.
In the campsite there are three loose braai drums and grids that you can carry closer to your stand. Behind the ablution block there’s a braai area with three braais, worktops, tables, and chairs for larger groups who prefer to socialise in a sheltered area.
THABAPHASWA MOUNTAIN SANCTUARY Get out and play
Named after the nearby Thabaphaswa, meaning “mountain of the black and white bull”, which towers over the valley it’s situated in, this farm breeds the hardy indigenous Nguni form of Sanga cattle that have adapted to survive ticks in the harsh local conditions and to feed on leaves where grass is sparse.
The owners, Deon and Ankie Richter, bought the 330 ha farm in 1994 and have been living on it since 1998. Keen campers themselves, they opened their doors to welcome outdoor enthusiasts shortly thereafter and have steadily seen demand grow for people wanting to break away from city life. They also rent a further
2 000 ha for the cattle to roam and graze and 4x4 enthusiasts to test their skills and machinery.
Located 18 km north of Mokopane, Thabaphaswa is accessed via fairly rough dirt roads. It’s 2 km from the turn-off to the farm’s gate, which can be slow going if you’re visiting with an ordinary caravan. Once here, you soon realise that everything is clearly marked with signposts so you don’t lose your way. If you’ve booked online you’ll have received a map to the farm, but it’s best to go check in with Deon first at the homestead, which doubles as reception. Its 1,3 km from the gate.
The first to greet you will be the farm’s dogs, Bruno, Igor and Pedi. They’re very friendly and always looking for company. They’re also allowed to accompany hikers if you want their companionship and haven’t brought your own dog. But there’s no reason that you shouldn’t because Thabaphaswa is dog-friendly and here Spot can run free and make friends as he pleases.
Depending on what type of vehicle you have and the type of caravan you’re towing, Deon will advise you which area of the farm will be more suitable to camp in. In some places four-wheel drive and good ground clearance are a must. If you’ve run out of wood, ice or firelighters, you can buy them from Deon at R30, R12 and R20 a bag respectively.
All of the campsites on the farm have a similar theme. They all consist of a cluster of clearings with very little grass, so you have to remember to bring your groundsheet. It’s also not level everywhere. And remember to charge your LED lamps because there’s no electricity.
Some of the stands have a communal pit where you can make a fire. A small
This farm breeds the hardy indigenous Nguni form of Sanga cattle that have adapted to survive in the harsh local conditions.
standing grid and tripod stand for your potjie are provided. The sink for washing your dishes is a simple metal bucket perched in a steel frame, with a platform on either side. There’s also a tap nearby so you don’t have to go far for water.
Sing along in the open
The toilet and shower facilities are of the open-air and reed-walled variety and are located 30–40 m down a path. There also aren’t any doors. At the stands north of the Pump House chalet the toilet is closed only at the back, so when you’re on the throne you have the pleasure of viewing the mountain on the adjacent farm and the stream that runs past just below the campsite while the resident vervet monkeys wonder what you’re doing sitting in the middle of nowhere. At the Bergvy and Thabaphaswa camps at the other end of the farm the toilets are only slightly more private.
Hot water for your shower is provided by a hot-water donkey. You’re not allowed to light the fire under the donkey yourself. The staff will come and light it in the late afternoon and then early in the morning, depending on your needs. You can arrange for specific times as well.
There’s a simple enamel basin on a steel table for washing your face and brushing your teeth, while there’s a low, round cement wall below the shower head that indicates the wet area.
There’s also a frame with hooks to hang your towel and shelves to keep your soap and shampoo on. Early in the morning the abundant birdlife will provide the chorus while you belt out your favourite tunes.
If you’re a cyclist you’ll be in your element here because there are multiple cycling loops in the area that range in difficulty and distance, from 7 km to 15 km. You can cycle the entire farm and use the neighbouring farm’s 4x4 and quad bike routes as well. >
If you’ve come here to test the abilities of your motorised toy (we’re talking to the 4x4 guys), you’ll have to take your vehicle to the other farm where you can make as much noise as you want.
You access the neighbouring farm through a cattle gate on the northernmost road on Thabaphaswa. Speaking of cattle gates, there are cycling A-frames located at certain sections on the farm so riders don’t have to get off their bikes. Hikers and trail runners also have a variety of routes to choose from, but you’re advised to stay away from the areas where engines will be roaring. Sport climbers will also feel at home here and some of the rock faces have been bolted into the granite by the Mountain Club of South Africa. You do need to bring your own equipment though. You can abseil here too.
Once you’ve had your share of thrills you can cool off in one of the farm dams, which are named and signposted so you know where to find them. At Hein’s Dam you can have some fun on the “foefie slide” where you can zipline into the water from the rocks up on the hill.
BLOUBERG NATURE RESERVE A taste of the wild
If you want quiet time in nature without bumping into tourists and run into your neighbour every minute, then Blouberg should definitely be high on your list. There are no swimming pools to beat the heat, playgrounds for the kids or bigscreen televisions where you can watch the final. Actually, there’s very little cellphone reception and only those with MTN SIM cards will be able to make calls and perhaps check the score.
What Blouberg does offer, though, is an authentic Bushveld experience that’s fairly removed from the trappings of the modern world, complete with game, abundant birdlife, and predators on its 9 300 ha.
Make yourself at home
There are only two real campsites at Blouberg, and which one you decide to pitch your tent or unhitch your caravan at is determined by what kind of vehicle you’re driving and what type of trailer you’re towing behind it. The 1,3 km from the gate to reception is fairly smooth, but the deeper into the reserve you go, the softer the sand gets and four-wheel drive and good ground clearance will definitely be needed to pull your caravan through some sections, especially with the speed limit being 30 km/h everywhere.
The real secluded one is Modumele, but here you’re required to be self-sufficient with a pit toilet and bucket shower. The easier campsite to get to (and the one with more mass appeal) is Molope, and you’ll have to go back the way you came from the gate and turn left at the signpost. The campsite has five fairly large stands. They’re level with hard dirt for you to lay your groundsheet on. All of them have a large tree right in the middle of the stand (either tamboti, nyala, molope or weeping boerbean) and what kind of tree you choose to pitch next to will determine the amount of shade you get.
Each stand is equipped with a rubbish bin, raised platform for you to braai on and a grid. There are also lids fashioned out of old drums that fit neatly onto the platform to extinguish and contain any remaining hot ash after you’ve braaied. With the dense vegetation forming a natural barrier between stands, you don’t have to worry about looking into your neighbour’s wife’s eyes all the time.
You’ll have to walk 10–30 m to fetch water from the one tap that services the five stands, between numbers 2 and 3. Stand number 5 is closest to the ablution block, but you’ll have to be content with people “looking in” at your stand. >
Wash it away
The ablution block is a small and simple building, just off the road into the campsite on the right. There are two flushing toilets in the centre and a shower at each end. The one on the left is an open-air affair, with woven wire secured on top of the walls to ensure that a baboon doesn’t jump in and steal your undies. There’s a cement bench on which to put your change of clothing. Two hooks to the right of the taps will hold your towel and facecloth. On the far right is a closed shower room where you’ll be able to clean up in privacy.
The toilets are also where you’ll have to brush your teeth and hair because there’s a mirror above the ceramic basin. If you want any of the activities above to include hot water, you’ll have to make sure there’s a fire under the donkey. You can arrange for the times you want at reception, but in the event that there are no flames before your allotted time, you’re requested to make a small fire.
You can wash your dishes in the single sink perched on two brick and cement posts right across from the ablution building. It’s out in the open and has a small table made out of concrete lintels right next to it for extra work space. Remember to pack a torch for emergency visits to the toilet because it gets dark here at night with all the trees around the building.
Don’t walk or cycle
You can self-drive the reserve at no extra cost, but do be careful because in certain sections the road conditions can become tricky. If you’re not in a 4x4 the soft sand can quickly swallow up the wheel of a sedan or hatchback under severe braking or turning. An information sheet available at reception warns you about sections between specific road markers. Management can arrange for recoveries at a cost of R500. Also, the fact that there is intermittent cellphone signal means you might need to walk back, and unescorted walking and cycling through the reserve is not allowed. You’re also not allowed to drive at all in the reserve 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise. One of the parts of the reserve that can only be accessed with a 4x4 is the plateau above the Cape vulture breeding colony, up on the mountain. With over 800 breeding pairs, this is the largest colony of
its kind in the world. If you haven’t come in a suitable vehicle you can request a game drive (R220 per person and R660 minimum) or vulture colony drive (R300 per person and R900 minimum).
If seeing all of them at once is a bit too much for you, take a drive to the vulture “restaurant” about 30 minutes from the campsite and peep out at them from the cover of a dark, thatch-roofed room complete with camera holes while they feast on the scattered bone fragments and carcasses around the waterhole. The buzzards aren’t the only birdlife attraction though, and eagle-eyed birders might also spot the crested guinea fowl, ground hornbill and a variety of raptors. You can ask to be taken on a guided bush tour (R110 per person, R330 minimum) on which Ruan Stander will give you interesting information about the animal life and tree species at Blouberg. It will take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on where he takes you. Nature lovers should go check out the Big Tree section of the reserve when you’re back behind the wheel to see the biggest baobab at Blouberg – a giant 19 m in circumference.
Stick to the speed limit because you never know when you’ll turn a corner and be eye to eye with a giraffe or buffalo. The roads are marked by numbers at intersections, so you can’t get lost.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE. The campsite is neat, but get there first to grab a braai drum early. There’s plenty for the kids to do and play on. The ablution blocks are clean and welcoming.
PLAY ALL DAY. The pool area caters for families who want to braai next to the water. And you can play putt-putt for free. After a hard day at play you can shower in one of the three spacious cubicles.
BACK TO BASICS. The campsites are rustic with no electricity, but you do get a fire pit. The toilet and showers are a short walk away from where you camp and both are open-air. You’ll have to wait for warm water from the donkey first.
ADVENTURE ALLEY. You won’t get bored here if you enjoy the great outdoors. Visit one of the tranquil dams, Dome Rock chalets, go for a run or zipline into the water.
IN THE VELD. You can take a guided walk looking for tracks, visit huge baobab trees, and even watch vultures feast.