The place: Wolkberg Mountains, Northern Drakensberg
The people: BaPedi
Co-operative: Mafefe Community Tourism Primary Co-operative Limited
Beneficiary villages: Mahatjane, Mogoleng, Mahatjane, Matoong Dublin, Maredi Bublin, Magoleng Mahlatjane
Best known for: Gorgeous mountain scenery, rugged 4X4 trails, hiking, mountain biking
“You need double 4X4 to get to Mafefe,” said Peterson Phasha, our guide and driver on a recent AIR trip, and from the Mafefe area. “You need the vehicle, and yourself must be 4X4.” More specifically, you need a high-clearance, low-range 4X4. The camp sits 1200 metres high up in a craggy Wolkberg peak, surrounded by pastures; the 13-km road up there and back, clay embedded with rocks, is more than a challenge. But the drive to and around Mafefe is part of the attraction – before we ascended the road to camp, Peterson took us to the confluence of the Olifants and Mohlapitsi rivers for a picnic and to a local wedding where people were still partying. By the time we reached camp, just before a magical sunset, we were ready to “chillax,” as Peterson often recommends, in this uniquely beautiful place.
Mafefe has five thatched rondavels, each with two three-quarter beds (no linen is provided), chairs and small table. Ablutions are communal, with flush toilets, showers and hand basins. Kitchen and dining facilities are also communal, with a gas hob, refrigerator, freezer and essential pots, crockery and cutlery provided. There’s a communal braai area outside the kitchen; don’t forget to bring wood. There’s no electricity, so light comes from solar and paraffin lanterns – all the better to see the thousands of stars up there on a clear night.
Hiking/Caves – You can walk around yourself, but Paul Sodi – the camp organiser who lives in his grandfather’s house near camp — will take you on hikes through golden savannah grass up to ancient caves and/or over to visit the local traditional healer. Walking with Paul gives you a sense of the place and its people – once hundreds but now just five households. “The people staying up here are looking after their cattle,” Paul says. “We’ve got 30 cattle and 6 donkeys. Without donkeys up here you are nothing. Transport is a problem,” he says. If you don’t have a donkey or a 4X4, you walk. Strolling around camp, you may run into duiker and other buck, a purple-crested loerie, forest canary or other birds, and a wide variety of trees, such as weeping boerbean, cork wood, weeping wattle, monkey oranges, or red spike thorn. But the mountains upon mountains are what make Mafefe.
Mountain Biking – Cattle trails abound around camp – perfect for single-track mountain biking.
Local Sangoma Visit – Traditional healer Daniel Palane lives just a short walk from camp and welcomes guests to chat, or for a session of bone throwing/ancestral consultation at his traditional homestead. Paul can organise.
4X4 Trails – The road up to Mafefe barely looks like one at the start – one of the AIR managers with us on a recent visit exclaimed at first sight: “Is THAT a road?!” But offroad enthusiasts will relish the battle to get to camp, and also to leave via the Orrie Baragwanath Pass and Lekgalameetse Reserve on the other side. The term ‘rocky road’ might have been coined here, as that’s what you’re bouncing over most of the time. It’s hard to watch the road when the views are so staggering – seemingly endless stretches of mountains and valleys and the Olifants River winding its way below. Leaving camp and driving northwest, you’ll encounter an even rougher stretch of road – as well as beautiful afromontane forests and wide open pastures (The Downs) – traveling through the Orrie Baragwanath Pass and Lekgalameetse (‘place of water’) Reserve. Well worth the effort, however.