There’s more to it than avos and tomatoes, Mia Louw finds on a visit to the realm of the Rain Queen
‘The true meaning is basket,’ Andre Thomas replied when I asked him about his hometown’s name. ‘It comes from the Northern Sotho word tsana, and it’s pretty obvious when you look at the location – Tzaneen lies nestled in a hamper of hills.’
We were tucked away on a secluded patio at the Fairview Hotel; Marinda had ordered us a bottle of red wine while we watched the monkeys playing in the canopy above. Andre knows a lot about Tzaneen’s name. As a lawyer, he was involved in an interdict against its proposed name change to Mark Shope in the early 2000s. The lawsuit came to a halt with a march supported by folks from all walks of life who gathered to keep a name which isn’t completely African, nor European, but a mixture of both (possibly due to a spelling error).
The town isn’t only known for its beautiful basket of mountains, but is also a prolific producer of fruit and veg. With its subtropical climate and good rainfall, the Tzaneen area is responsible for most of SA’s tomatoes, avocados and mangoes; the wellknown ZZ2 farming enterprise produces 45 per cent of our tomatoes. Due to the area’s agriculture, more people live in a 30-kilometre radius around Tzaneen than in the town itself.
Another prominent industry is wood production, with around 40000 hectares dedicated to forestry. Some of the world’s largest planted trees can be found in the Woodbush Forest Estate. One of the Magoebaskloof Giants – a saligna gum planted in 1906 – is 81,5 metres tall. These goliaths are protected under the National Forests Act and are part of the Champion Trees Project, an initiative driven by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Amorentia Estate & Nursery, which specialises in sweet dragon fruit, macadamias, avos and ornamental flowers, is also home to the Three Queens – the largest matumi trees in South Africa.
‘Listen … that’s the Knysna turaco calling,’ general manager Wynand Espach
said softly, as we strolled into the shade of one. When Wynand met a team of tree climbers in 2013, they started a research and conservation project called Explore Trees. Volunteers spend their nights high up in the branches of these titans, using tree tents to sleep safely and soundly.
One of the projects involves the endangered Cape parrot and some pesky (yet, essential) insects. These birds are not reproducing as they should because the matumi trees don’t have enough cavities for them to built nests. The nesting boxes installed to help the parrots were invaded by bees. The University of Florida assisted with research and funding in 2015: nesting boxes were put higher in the trees and covered in bee repellent, while bee boxes were installed lower down and doused in bee attractant. Wynand has seen parrots on top of nests this year, but it may take up to four years for the birds to breed in them.
As the bees have made homes in the boxes, a whole new venture has taken flight. Thlalefa, a farm school, is on-board to reap the sweet produce and locals are being taught to safely climb trees in bee suits and transfer the insects to honey boxes. A classroom at the school is being converted to use for the separation, bottling and branding of the honey.
When I asked Wynand to describe Tzaneen and its communities, he replied: ‘Supportive.’ And it’s evident – residents help each other. I noticed a similar trend at Wegraakbosch Dairy, which is community driven and off the grid. There was a festive atmosphere as we parked our car at this organic farm, half an hour outside Tzaneen towards Haenertsburg. We were welcomed by Sylvia and Nipper Thompson and their dogs; a duck waddled by and a group of school kids gathered around the dairy while cows leisurely strolled past. The children were on a cheesemaking tour so we joined in to learn about the process with hostess Gloria Mashaba and dairy expert Francisco Huo.
‘Did you have one of their cheese platters?’ Marinda asked eagerly back at
ABOVE Hook up with friendly guides at Magoebaskloof Adventures for a canopy tour through indigenous forest and over gushing waterfalls.BELOW Visits to the royal kraal and accommodation in traditional huts can be arranged at the Modjadji Cycad Nature Reserve.
ABOVE The Fairview Collection lies on the banks of the Great Letaba River. TOP You can learn how to make organic cheese at Wegraakbosch (from R110 pp). RIGHT A series of walkways wind through the lush grounds of Kings Walden Garden Manor.