Roy Devenish looks up at the tree cycads in the Modjadji Nature Reserve in Limpopo. Picture: Val Boje
Roy Devenish looks up at the tree cycads in the Modjadji Nature Reserve in Limpopo. Picture: Val Boje

Cycads aplenty in the land of Modjadji, the Rain Queen

By Valerie Boje Time of article published Jun 10, 2021

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THE MODJADJI royal nation is in the news with the announcement that a male descendent is set to become the next “Rain Queen”.

Instead of the late Queen Makobo Modjadji VI’s daughter, teenage Princess Masalanabo becoming ruler of the Balobedu, the throne is due to go to her brother, Prince Lekukela Modjadji, according to the Modjadji Royal Council.

A wedding at Eden’s Gate on the Magoebaskloof pass meant a weekend away which also provided an opportunity to take a drive to the Modjadji Nature Reserve, named after the rain-making queens who have lived in this part of Limpopo for generations.

The 300ha protected area is advertised as being home to the world’s largest concentration of a single-species cycad. South Africa has 38 cycad species with one being the Modjadji palm (Encephalartos transvenosus) which is found in mountainous mist-belt zones and grow up to 12m tall.

Cycads are an ancient group of plants which fossils show have existed for close on 300 million years - which means they were there alongside dinosaurs, possibly even providing them with a food source.

Aside from getting horribly lost on the way to the nature reserve, and ending up on a heavily potholed road, the biggest let-down of the trip was the reserve itself. At the gate, we were advised that a fire some time ago had damaged some of the plants and most of the visitors’ infrastructure, so there was no entrance charge.

The cycads are certainly impressive, though one cannot fully appreciate them because the pathways down the mountain slope are so overgrown they are difficult to navigate, and there is no information available at all, and not even a toilet.

Although this tourist site was a disappointment, there are many other great attractions in the area.

The Debengeni Falls are one of the attractions of the Magoebaskloof.

At the bottom of the windy Magoebaskloof Pass on the R71, one finds a turn-off to the Debengeni Falls (“the place of the big pot”). Don’t believe what you read on the internet about taking a dip in the cool waters, as this is strictly forbidden, because the rocks are quite slippery. But one can admire the tumbling water and surrounding forest without having to get wet.

The Magoebaskloof Triplets are three of the world’s tallest planted trees.

We headed back up the R71 (the Forest Drive through the Woodbush Forest Estate was closed) to find the Magoebaskloof Triplets: three towering Sydney gum trees (Eucalyptus saligna) planted by South African forestry pioneer AK Eastwood in 1906, which today stand over 80m tall.

The trees were measured in 2011 during a tree climb by Leon Visser arranged by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who also measured the Three Matrons, sturdy Mexican pine trees from 1914, the tallest of which peaks to more than 50m.

The Long Tom lookout point near Haenertsburg. This is the site where the last Long Tom field gun was destroyed in the Boer War.

Continuing on the R71 on the way to the village of Haenertsburg there is a turn-off to Cheerio and the Long Tom lookout (not to be confused with the Long Tom Pass). At this site, well maintained by the Rotary Club of Haenertsburg, an information board explains that the last Long Tom field gun was destroyed here by the Boers during the South African war.

Haenertsburg has a number of historic buildings and curio shops and in the Tin Roof one can find a useful tourist information centre with free maps of the forest hiking, trail running and mountain biking routes, or where to go birding and fly-fishing.

The Letaba River Gorge nearby is home to the well-known Magoebaskloof canopy tour with 11 zipline slides, and other options for the adventurous tourist, such as White water tubing, abseiling, kloofing or canyoning.

We stayed in the old and affordable Magoebaskloof Mountain Lodge, but there are more than 50 listed accommodation options from camping to luxury retreats in the area - along with many more in Tzaneen - as well as scores of places to stop for a light refreshment or enjoy a hearty meal.

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