Sunday 5 June 2016

Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge: Butterflies and birdsong

At the turnoff to Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge, a woman and her small boy were waiting for a lift - and we obliged. It turned out that they were heading the same way we were, up a slightly bumpy gravel road to this little retreat in the foothills of the Soutpansberg Mountains.
Vervet monkeys play on the stoep of the Fundudzi suite at Madi a Thavha
"I'm Confidence," said our hitchiker. "And this is Odwa." 
I liked that: Confidence Mudau, whom it turned out would be our housekeeper, introducing herself with confidence. It was a mark too of the place we were going to stay, one that is a Fair Trade tourism lodge actively engaged in bringing work and dignity to the local community.
Madi a Thavha means "water from the mountain". Another word might simply be "oasis"!
The lodge lies 10km west off Makhado (formerly Louis Trichardt), on the southern slopes of this northernmost mountain range in South Africa and about a four-hour drive from Gauteng.
View of the Soutpansberg from the lawn at Madi a Thavha
We were on route to the northern part of the Kruger National Park and wanted a self-catering place where we could chill out for a few days. I'd camped before in the Soutpansberg and was keen to return to this beautiful area.
I'd chosen Madi a Thavha purely on the recommendation of TripAdvisor, and because the website said they had an on-site gallery called the Dancing Fish featuring local Venda and Tsonga arts and crafts.If you were heading up to Beit Bridge on route to Zimbabwe, it would make an excellent stop. For those living in Gauteng, it would be a good hideout for a long weekend.
We stayed in Nwanedi, a suite which had its own little stoep looking out on the mountain slope. I'd wanted to book Fundudzi,  which has a more elevated stoep with an even better view but it was occupied.
Nwanedi's comfortable stoep and a place to make a fire.

Bedroom mural in the Nwanedi suite
The best thing about Madi a Thavha, however, is its sense of tranquility. We had two nights there and so ample time to explore the mountainside where you can take a relatively easy walk to see a baobab or scramble up to a waterfall (it was just a trickle when we were there, no doubt due to the protracted drought that has affected most of South Africa). 
Spot the embedded horseshoe
On our forest walks, we caught a glimpse of a couple of bushpigs, saw a buck creep across the path and I heard countless bird calls. Although forest birds are notoriously hard to spot, I identified the call of the black-headed oriole, the purple-crested turaco, the black-collared barbet, among others. In the distance, a pair of Verreaux's eagles soared along a ridge.
The baobab was impressive.
And rather magically, although the birds were being elusive, the forest was filled with many, many butterflies, few of which stopped in one place long enough to be photographed.

One of the many butterflies we saw
If you plan to visit, I'd recommend you take along a good book, a couple of bottles of good wine and stop in at Ackermans butchery on Rissik Street in Makhado to buy a steak or two to sling on the coals. Then you'd be all set!
Paperbark acacia in the foreground, mountains beyond...

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