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Vaalwater Hotel, Limpopo

- – Toast Coetzer

Vaalwater’s “drab” name is misleading – the past decade or so has seen it step into its role as headquarte­rs of the Waterberg with aplomb. Thanks to a district packed with great guest farms and private game reserves, plus the fact that much of the tourism traffic heading to the Botswana border passes through here, it has had no shortage of visitors. Vaalwater Hotel dates from 1955, but stood idle for a while until new owners revamped it in 2020. They’ve clearly brought in the feet, because a phalanx of white bakkies greets me as I arrive. Strolling in here wearing a Hurley T-shirt and blue Salomons might make you a touch wary, because you know (and you’re not wrong) that khaki is worn in this establishm­ent. But relax, this is a Wi-Fi zone and the guys wearing two-tone safari shirts at the table opposite also have laptops and they’re hot-desking hard. Plus, there’s some IPL on the TV.

Vaalwater Hotel isn’t a hotel – it’s there in the name, but it currently operates as a restaurant and gift shop, which is adjacent and called The Bush Baboon. ( The owners do run a guesthouse called Little Five elsewhere in town. They have four rooms at R850 per night for two people, breakfast included.) The restaurant is roomy, with a covered stoep and indoor bar area. The service is friendly and fast. You can order an honest chicken (R80), beef (R80), venison (R75) or steak burger (R110) which comes with chips, or tuck away a T-bone (R165) if you haven’t eaten properly since somewhere south of the Pumlani toll plaza. The large Greek salad (R65) is big enough for two to share and comes with a tasty honey-mustard dressing.

The menu is varied and covers most South African classics from pasta to toasted sandwiches and a variety of breakfasts – the “Bobjaan” breakfast celebrates the baboon in the logo of the hotel and costs R85; pap and wors costs R80. There are also smaller meals (that is to say, starters) like chicken livers (R60), and the kiddies’ menu tops out at R40 a meal.

When you stamp your vellies on the stoep to rid them of the dust of the bush, glance at the specials board. If it’s your lucky day, they might offer kudu sosatie and chips for R100, or eland stew for R80.

Decor includes a variety of stuffed animals, like the baboon sitting on the bar counter forever just out of reach of the DStv remote, what I believe is called a “shoulder mount” giraffe (the whole neck is included), and a rather miffed-looking buffalo. ( There are lots of hunting photos on the walls. If it’s not your thing, go eat elsewhere in town.)

At The Bush Baboon you can buy cool merchandis­e sporting the hotel’s baboon logo and motto, “Where legends meet”. Men’s T-shirts cost R280, women’s long-sleeve T-shirts R295, hoodies R650 and sturdy caps R350.

There are also some beautiful local crafts for sale, like a candlehold­er turned from teak with a warthog tusk handle (R120), a warthog tusk bottle opener (R170) and a carved chess set (R750) where the pawns are hippos.

They also sell hand-made knives, biltong carvers, jams and preserves – basically everything you need for a lekker holiday in the bush!

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