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South Africa/África do Sul

Torburnlea – an oasis in Nelspruit

As said in my previous post about my festive holiday travel to South Africa, I decided to spend a week in Mpumalanga, from the 28th of December to the 4th of January, to relax and de-stress from a very hard year.

I booked two places (Tomjachu from which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago was the first), being Torburnlea the second – I opted for two totally different experiences, being one more rural/wildlife oriented and the other more “urban”.

As I am used to go to Nelspruit just for shopping usually, I had never stayed at Torburnlea, or even heard about Macaffin Village before. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

The place is located, very conveniently, close to Ilanga Mall, the best shopping center in Nelspruit, just literally 3 minutes driving. Close enough o the city, and yet located in a very relaxing, peaceful and safe area, a closed condo, in a macadamia nut farm.

From their site:
Our story begins with a dream of preserving the 125-year family history and heritage
In 2012 Andrew and Kim Hall, fourth generation family of the farming pioneer HL Hall and his wife Grace, began restoring the 100-year family farmhouse. Here they were able to realise their dream of preserving the family heritage and continuing Grace Hall’s legacy of “providing rest for the weary traveller” in her home long before Nelspruit was even established.
The homestead is located on the well-known farming estate of HL Hall & Sons, in the village that was once occupied by the first generation Hall family and farming employees. It was named Torburnlea by Grace Hall in 1923 as a reminder of the countryside in Scotland where she spent her childhood. Steeped in history, Torburnlea was once host to the eminent President Jan Smuts, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, author of the classic children’s book “Jock of the Bushveld” and Harry Wolhuter, one of the first game rangers of the Kruger Park, who survived a lion attack while patrolling the reserve on horseback.
Step inside the homestead and you will appreciate the lengths that Kim and Andrew have gone to in the restoration process. Every detail has been considered; every guest’s need attended to. With a keen interest in environmental sustainability, Kim and Andrew gave special attention to the installation of water and energy efficient fixtures, the use of recycled and locally sourced materials. The result is an elegant yet inviting space that you may never want to leave.
Be sure to walk around the historic Heritage Park while appreciating the bird life and make time to listen to Andrew’s stories and interesting facts about the homestead as he takes you back in time. Ask to be shown the wine cellar, previously used by his great grandmother to store her farm preserves and cured meat. Enquire about the royal visit of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and the princesses during an unscheduled stop of the White Train at the nearby Mataffin railway siding on the farm.

Everything described above is absolutely true. The love you can feel at every corner, the extreme care with details, the stunning decoration, the peace this oasis exudes, is just amazing.

The house is beautiful and surrounded by green lawns. Birds woke me up gently with their singing, drinking water from a small fountain outside my room (I will have a whole IG stories dedicated to this place). The two resident cats (mother and son) are a delight, beautiful and friendly. One of the dogs, makes a point of greeting you during meals but runs away from cell phones like the plague (I was not able to take a decent photograph as she kept running away as soon as I picked up my phone).

My room was large, in fact more like a suite, with a stunning bathroom, a small patio with an iron table and chairs, overlooking the beautiful garden filled with Hortensia, where I did sit enjoying the birds singing and a cup of tea.

The food (and this is a very important aspect to me) is gorgeous. Breakfast is included in the price, and what a breakfast. 90% of it is home made, including butter and yogurt (delicious), compotes, stewed fruits, granolas, really artisan, with local products and lots of love.

Dinner is not included, but for 24USD you have a 3 course dinner, with a salad, an amazing entree, and dessert. The food is stunning.

Dinner served

They are so customer oriented that they will never (unless you want to) put you in the same table with other guests, in order to respect your privacy. That is very dear to me. The attention and love they put into everything is just beautiful.

I only had a brief time with Andrew and Kim Hall as they were traveling when I arrived, and came back on the day I was leaving, but I could see how passionate they are with what they do, and how much love they put into it. That is what takes a place from basic (well, never in this case), to outstanding and memorable.

And how could I not mention Stanford? Stanford received me with a great smile, and was responsible for making me fall in love with the place. His kindness, his history of life, his humor, and his food, oh my, his food. He is the one in charge of all the food, and you can really see the love he has for what he does. Originally from Malawi, Stanford is a delightful person.

Leek flower, from their organic garden

I could not wish for a more perfect time, to continue the great start of the year I had at Tomjachu. Anything I try to describe will not make justice to it, maybe my photographs will make you understand how special this place is. If you like videos, check my Travel Instagram @life.with.di, as I will soon post a highlight with the videos and photos from Torburnlea.

I spent 2 beautiful days there, and I left already wanting to come back. And I will, oh yes I will.

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Tomjachu Bush Retreat

I often talk about South Africa on my travel Instagram @Life.With.Di. Why? For many reasons:

  • It is close to where I live and I can drive there
  • It has a huge diversity of landscapes and wildlife
  • It has a strong focus on conservation
  • It is a great country to visit due to the fantastic accommodation offer at reasonable prices
  • It has a great gastronomic offer
  • It has a floral kingdom of its own – the Cape Floral Kingdom
  • The official language is English, which makes things easier

This year I wanted to spend the festive season in Europe, but for several reasons I could not, and decided to go to South Africa, to spend new years in a relaxing and zen mode, recharging my batteries for another work-related very stressful year (fellow project managers and environmental consultants will be able to relate to). I looked at Cape Town, to where I do not go for some years, but I was not in the mood to be in a crowded place as it becomes during the festive season. The coast along Kwazulu- Natal was another option, but as I was driving there, not the safest of options, considering I would be alone.

So, again Mpumalanga. Mpumalanga is the province that is close to where I live. A one hour drive and I am there. Usually I go to Nelspruit, and it is just 4 hours away at the most. In is a very diverse province (check a previous post of mine about the Graskop Gorge) that houses, among many other attractions, the world famous Kruger National Park.

The problem now would be to choose where to go. I wanted something calm and relaxing, amidst nature, but with a fairly good standard. I also did not want to spend a lot of time driving, especially with temperatures as high as 38ºC. As I do with all my trips, I used my favorite platforms to look for accommodation: Booking (I have a discount for you if you want to book accommodation let me know and I will give you my code) and Tripadvisor. To validate my choices I also used two South African accommodation sites.

I am very careful when planning my trips (and even more when it is for a client), and I do a really good search, trying to read all reviews possible, to choose an accommodation that suits my needs and standards.

I had seen Tomjachu Bush retreat before, but I had never looked at it in depth, until this time. It is located close to Nelspruit (a plus, if I wanted for some reason to go to town to buy something, or go to a movie), approximately 10km, but it is far enough to avoid traffic, noise and confusion, and in a area that guarantees privacy, safety, calmness and abundant wildlife and plant life to see.

I fell in love with the setting as soon as I checked their website and Bookings photos. Then I loved the history of the place and the care they put into conservation and environmental sustainability. Coupled with the fact that they have roaming free wildlife, and from what I saw, a great gastronomy, they won me over. It looked like all I was looking for, to spend a few relaxing days. So, I booked a room there, for 4 nights, at a reasonable price that included Dinner, Bed and Breakfast.

I will not be describing the place, I will describe my experience. For reading about the history, conservation, and other details head to their website https://tomjachu.co.za.

I confess I do not like to set high expectations by just looking at photos on a website. I know how easy it is to get nice angles and do a nice editing to photos making the place look way different than it is in reality (it happened to me before). But reviews do not lie, and I make a point of reading them all, so I was quite sure, but yet still skeptical, that I had made the right choice.

The access to Tomjachu is by one of the main roads in Nelspruit (Ferreira street) that turns into a dirt road at the end. From there you take a left turn and drive on a dirt road (not advised to low suspension cars) for some time. I confess I was feeling sorry for my sedan car, but the drive was fine and soon I was at Tomjachu.

Right away I fell in love. The peace and tranquility it oozes, the magnificent vegetation, the 4 zebras standing there looking like a beautiful welcome committee, and the ladies at reception, kind, friendly and so efficient, won my heart.

I was staying at the Homestead as I was alone, and my room was huge, with a small private deck overlooking a fantastic view of the mountains. The bed was large and very comfortable, the room had a massive wardrobe, fit for an entire family, the bathroom had a bath and a shower and a very nice size, and although it did not have air conditioning, in fact it did not need it as the nights are quite cool. I was now 80% happy with my choice (hey, I still had to see how the other staff was, and the food – food is a very important thing for me as you can see from my site).

After leaving my luggage and having a shower I took a walk around to see the homestead and surrounding garden. It was everything it promised and much more. The views are fantastic, the swimming pool (not big, but a decent size) has a view over the mountains, the sound of the birds, the mountains, the trees tagged with their name serving an educational purpose, I mean, everything was perfect.

Dinner time (latest time for dinner is at 19h00, as Portuguese we are used to eat much later, but hey those are the rules and it is not something I could not deal with) came and I headed to the dining room. What can I say? From the nice wine I chose (and bought a bottle to take home), to the accommodating and so nice staff, to the 5 course dinner, I could not be happier.

As I follow a low carb high fat diet, the chef tried to accommodate my needs, and although sugar was present, my meals were mostly according to my dietary needs. LCHF or Banting is not a diet everyone knows about, and that is not as common as others, so I could not expect them to cater for all my needs (I did take with me my own bread, cream – which I did not need as they have it, biscuits and cold meats just in case).

It was now time to rest, as it was a long day. I had a great night sleep, a beautiful breakfast and decided to try the trails they offer (as the drives were fully booked).

I tried the Red Trail first by mistake (I intended to do the blue one), but it was worth it. It took me 4 hours, as I stopped a lot to take pictures and admire the views, plants, birds. The only problem? The weather forecast predicted 27 degrees and rain, so I totally forgot to put my sunscreen on (I used to be tanned all year round, which does not happen now), the weather forecast was wrong, and I ended up sun burnt (nothing serious but that put me out of the pool for the next days). The trails are all demarcated, and with signs to make sure you will not get lost.

Back to the hotel, a nice shower, relaxing time and then again a fantastic meal.

Next day, I opted for a day at the hotel, reading and updating my social media, and booked a relaxing massage. It was a lovely day, with a funny episode with one of the resident ostriches. There I was reading on my bed when I started hearing a strange sound on my window. Like someone was poking the window. I stood up and went to the window to check, there it was madam ostrich trying to eat the ants that were climbing the window.

The third day was the 31st, and started with breakfast at the veranda, that overlooks the mountains, and with Mrs Buffy (the largest of the resident ostriches and the more social one) visiting us and trying to eat an insect on that was my foot. Luckily she was gentle enough not to hurt me. She is something special and even allows us to touch the back of her head. An impressive ostrich, quite big and beautiful.

I decided to do the blue trail, called the wildlife trail. It is easier (flat mostly) than the red trail, and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to see quite a diversity of animals: zebras, ostriches, warthog, blesbok, wildebeest, kudos, impalas. Some with calves, some at a distance close enough to allow me to photograph them well. Sadly the giraffes were not there.

Finished the trail I went for a reflexology session with the same lady from the day before (she is funny and very good, and she lives in the premises, so booking is easy breezy), a nice relaxing bath, before heading to the dining room, for my last dinner of the year, and my last dinner at Tomjachu. Again, beautiful food and great ambiance.

Next day, and after breakfast, I took a walk around admiring the view for a last time, as it was time to leave. On the way out I was blessed with the welcome/farewell zebra committee, and a sight of several blesbok with calves just close to the road.

What a perfect time, what a great place. I was already missing it as I drove to my next destination.

Thank you Tomjachu for a great time, I will surely be back.

Visiting Graskop Gorge

My followers know by now that I live in Mozambique, just 100km away from the border with South Africa.

South Africa is an amazing and diverse country with spectacular landscapes, from pristine wetlands, to mountains and beautiful beaches, not to mention that they have a plant kingdom of their own – the Cape Floral Kingdom, housing a great number of endemic species.

Luckily for me, Mpumalanga region is very close to me, and one of the most spectacular regions in South Africa. I travel often there, either for shopping (much cheaper and diverse than Mozambique), or simply to relax and get away from a very stressful life.

One of the most amazing places to see is the panorama route, home of the world’s 3rd largest canyon, the Blyde River Canyon, as well as various breathtaking sites, waterfalls, natural reserves, caves and historical towns.

This time I traveled with my son, on a 3 day trip to Mpumalanga, that included a visit to some places I had seen before (but always worth a visit) and a new place that I did read about online – the Graskop Gorge.

Graskop is a small town located on the edge of the Drakensberg mountains and in the Panorama route. It is also very well known for its pancakes and chocolatiers.

It is centrally located in the panorama route and within a short drive (1 hour the maximum) from many scenic places such as the ones above mentioned, the three Rondawels, God’s Window, Pilgrim’s rest (a historic mining town) and the world famous Kruger National Park.

The town of Graskop is perched on a spur of the Mauchsberg at an altitude of 1,493 meters and dates way back to 1837, when Andries Potgieter passed through with the Great Trek of the Voortrekkers in search of greener pastures in the north.  In his memoirs he mentions leaving the woman folk in the area known as Graskop (“grassy peak“) while he went down the escarpment in search of an ox wagon route to Delagoa Bay (now Maputo in Mozambique).

In the 1850’s the Graskop area was a farm owned by Abel Erasmus, an adventurous character in hunting, prospecting and imposing law and order in the area.  He was known among the local tribes as Dabula Duzi (“He who shoots at close range.“)

Graskop is also famous for Jock of the Bushveld which dates back to between 1885 and 1887.  Paradise Camp is where Sir Percy Fitzpatrick established his camp.  Two chapters in his book, namely “Paradise Camp and the Leopard” and “The Baboons” are set in this area.  For more info see our special “Jock of the Bushveld” page.


Sketch by Heinrich Egersdorfer (1853-1915)

A railway link from Nelspruit through the farm Sabie and onto the farm Graskop was begun in early 1910 – mainly to transport supplies to the booming gold-mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest.  The railway line was completed and ready for the opening ceremony on 18th June 1914.  Graskop was declared a town later the same year.

source: http://www.graskop.co.za/history/index.html

Recently a spectacular lift was built in Graskop Gorge, taking the visitors 51 meters down the face of the gorge into the beautiful forest that stands below. Crossing the forest there is a network of wooden walkways & suspension bridges with interactive exhibits. The forest is filled with a spectacular variety of plants, animals, insects and birds.

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The lift cabin

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How impressive is this?

The gate entrance fee is 20ZAR (approximately 1.6 USD) and the ticket to the lift costs 175ZAR (approximately 15USD). The areas also includes a coffee shop (expensive), a craft market, an art gallery, and the Big Swing. For the most adventurous the Big Swing is a not to be missed attraction as it includes a 68m bungee jumping site on one of the world’s highest cable gorge swings, and a 135m slide that stands at 130m above ground.

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The big Swing

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The waterfall

The lift only takes a minute traveling at a speed of 1m/s, to get you to the wooden walkways.

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Wooden walkways

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600m of wooden walkways and suspension bridges

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The waterfall

That day was extremely hot and humid, but as soon as we stepped out of the lift, there is a soothing and refreshing breeze of air and the temperature was much more friendly. The sounds of birds and insects, the sound of the nearby water fall, the beautiful plants, all of that transports us to a different reality. The reality of a beautiful, pristine world, where you feel free and at peace.

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Cascading waters

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Abundant flora

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Beautiful trees and plants

To serve its educational purpose, along the gorge route educational boards are scattered, explaining the forest and the species in contains.

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graskopSource: http://graskopgorgeliftcompany.co.za/

We spent approximately 1 hour, taking the time to read everything and absorb all that beauty and peace surrounding us. After visiting it, the entrance fee, that we found somehow expensive, was totally worth it. If you one day travel to Mapumalanga, make sure you will not miss this place.

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Going back to the lift

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The spectacular view from the top

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