Off the beaten track with Transfontier Parks Destinations

When I first heard of Transfrontier Parks Destinations I was excited, but a little sceptical. They are a company, not an NGO, but a group of business-minded entrepreneurs pioneering a new form of hotels in South Africa. Working within or the area’s that run alongside Southern Africa’s Transfrontier Peace Parks, their goal is to establish a sustainable tourism industry that sees local communities have a real, vested interest in the environment which surrounds them. It’s an ambitious dream, built out of love and respect for both people and nature, that many before have tried and failed. However with a number of lodges, camps and even 4×4 trails now under their umbrella – this time it seems to be working!

That’s why I recently ventured off the beaten track to visit two of their properties in the northern reaches of South Africa and find out just what all the fuss is about…

Sunsets and art at Nahakwe

Nahakwe Lodge is set 90 minutes into the heart of the Venda community outside of Limpopo. The road to this beautiful lodge was dotted with potholes and goats but allowed me to experience a different, more authentic side to South Africa. Arriving at this thatched establishments in rural Limpopo, I was astonished. The sound of cowbells rank out as somewhere in the distance cattle were walked back to their craals for the night and on the horizon, a reddish glow was growing as the sun started to set. The thatch main lodge beckoned for a sundowner to be enjoyed on the expansive deck while other guests caught the last of the rays poolside.

Venturing into the small craft shop I got a taste of what the surrounding area had to offer. Local arts and crafts are alive in the area and the people of this community-run lodge are ready and willing to show visitors just how important these traditions are to their local culture. As a visitor I was invited to get out into the community to visit beaders, dancers and craft men and women in their homes and studios to learn and even make some of these fantastic works myself!

From Art to Awelani

As much as I would have loved to stay and create African art all day, I had to, unfortunately, leave Nahakwe Lodge goodbye – however, not before enjoying a hearty breakfast while watching a tiny brown-hooded kingfisher catch his morning meal. Then it was up and ever north to Awelani lodge.

I enjoyed taking the windy backroads through the local communities before emerging on a stretch of sandy road with more baobabs than I ever have seen! Dotting the landscape in every shape and size, the baobabs formed a never-ending parade as I called out – “look at that one” or “wow that’s huge” with every passing tree. However, nothing would prepare me for one last stop before reaching Awelani. The Sagole Baobab, Africa’s largest baobab, beckoned and was well worth the slight detour and small entrance fee. The tree stretched out endlessly in all directions, dwarfing any human that dared stand next to it and trying to fit the entire tree into one photo was a mean feat!

Feeling humbled and small, my adventure north ended at Awelani Lodge. Evermore baobabs greeted us in a quiet tranquil environment where birding and contemplative walks were the order of the day. We toasted a fantastic day in Africa with a unique cave braai experience before settling down to one of the soundest sleeps, far away from the hustle and bustle of any city noise.

Up and at ’em early the next morning, it was a quick 12km drive to Kruger’s Parfuri gate. Entering into the northern section of South Africa’s mighty national park, my eyes were once again opened to a completely different side of South Africa. Dense jungle-like greeny hallmarked the northern reaches of the park and as we stopped for the traditional Kruger skottle breakfast a nyala and elephant calmly wandered through, starting what would be a game-filled day!

And as I marvelled at that elephant up close, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the road that brought me here, the lovely lodges I had seen along the way, and the people working so hard to make a difference in their own communities. And I couldn’t help but feel forever thankful to these people to opening up their hearts, and indeed their homes to us so that we could experience yet another side to stunning South Africa!

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