All you need to know about Hoedspruit and more…
You probably haven’t heard of Hoedspruit, in spite of the fact that its very much the Big Five Safari capital of South Africa. But thats OK because this lovely little lowveld town is a well-kept secret, even though its steadily growing in reputation as the gateway to the Greater Kruger region!
Its a small town with a big heart and has a history that goes back hundreds of years to when the MaPulana people made the area their home. The highest peak in the magnificent Drakensberg Escarpment that towers over Hoedspruit and its surrounds is named Mariepskop, after the legendary MaPulana chief, Maripe Mashile.
Towards the middle of the 19th Century, a different tribe moved into the area – the Afrikaaner farmers, or Boere. Enter Dawid Johannes Joubert – the first official owner of the farm known as Hoedspruit, which means hat creek.
The farm was registered on the 5th of May 1848 and was so-called because of an incident following a heavy storm when the young farmer lost his hat in the flooded Zandspruit river. The name stuck, even though Dawid lost his life in 1860 to a leopard.
Border disputes with the Portuguese in neighbouring Mozambique meant that the fledgling South Africa – or Republic of Transvaal as it was then known – under President Paul Kruger, rushed to have the land in the area surveyed and the border correctly demarcated. This saw the farm Hoedspruit carved up into much smaller portions by surveyors brought into the area from the UK and mainland Europe, who named these smaller portions after places they were familiar with.
This is why you will see roadsigns to places like Essex, Guernsey, Liverpool, Berlin and Madrid as you explore around the Hoedspruit area.
By the end of the 1800s and turn of the 20th Century, the area was growing rapidly, thanks to the discovery of vast deposits of minerals and major mines springing up in Gravelotte and what is now the Phalaborwa area.
Transport routes were opened up by one Abel Erasmus, who helped move ore from the mines to the port of Lourenco Marques (now known as Maputo) with trains of wagons pulled by Erasmus legendary teams of oxen.
Today, the pass through the Drakensberg is named after this local hero, permanently enshrining his name in the local history books.
Eventually South Africa rail system extended to Hoedspruit with the formation of the Selati Line in the early 1900s, which eventually opened up the region to tourism through its route to Skukuza in the Kruger National Park.
And so this small, unassuming town began to attract visitors from all over South Africa and the world – something that it continues to do to this day.
It may not be world-famous (yet) but Hoedspruit is special nonetheless, with its warm, welcoming vibe and wonderfully relaxed atmosphere making it the perfect base from which to explore the amazing area that surrounds it.
The Drakensberg Escarpment is home to one of the worlds largest green canyons – the Blyde River Canyon. Part of the Unesco Kruger to Canyons Bioshpere Reserve, the Blyde River Canyon is simply breathtaking, both from above where visitors can marvel at the incredible views down into the Lowveld, and from below, on the Blyde Dam, where daily scheduled boat trips give guests a completely different perspective.
The top rim of the escarpment forms the world-renowned Panorama Route, while below, just 40 minutes from Hoedspruit, the Kruger National Park's Orpen Gate offers direct access into one of the world's most legendary game reserves. Between Hoedspruit and the Kruger are a myriad private game and nature reserves, most of which are open to the Kruger, making this the absolute capital of the Greater Kruger region and one of Southern Africa's prime game viewing hot spots.
Most of the farms surrounding modern Hoedspruit are either citrus farms or game reserves, so you are guaranteed an appreciation of nature and a real passion for the environment wherever you go.
The road that leads from the mountains is dotted with roadside fruit stalls, nurseries and local attractions.
As you head into town, some 40km from the base of the Drakensberg Escarpment, you're greeted with a wide road (inherited from the days when you needed space to turn a span of oxen) and a collection of shops and restaurants, from the tourism-centric Kamogelo Centre to the aptly named Hat and Creek bistro. There are also curio shops and roadside stalls, galleries and coffee shops aplenty, from the Stoned Olive to the Fig and Bean.
Two shopping centres are home to major supermarkets (Spar and Pick 'n' Pay) as well as an eclectic collection of shops, banks and healthcare providers.
Finally, in the heart of our little town, just minutes from our major shopping centres and world-class restaurants and eateries, lies Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate So as you sit on your private deck overlooking our open, wilderness area, where you're likely to see wonderful plains game like giraffe, kudu, nyala and impala, you can marvel that you are in the bush in a town that has made that bush its own.
A real wildlife haven and one of South Africa's best hidden gems!
A wealth of things to see and do around Hoedspruit
Hoedspruit is so much more than a quiet little town in South Africa’s lowveld. It’s the Rainbow Nation’s Big Five safari capital and the gateway to the legendary Kruger National Park, being positioned bang smack in the middle of the Greater Kruger region.
It’s also geographically blessed, with its western horizon dominated by the impressive peaks of the northern Drakensberg escarpment, carved by the wind and rain of untold millennia into the spectacular vistas of the world’s third largest green canyon – the Blyde River Canyon.
Spread out below this incredible landmark is the vast lowveld and the central and northern reaches of the Kruger and its adjacent private game reserves, stretching all the way to Mozambique and, eventually, the shores of the Indian Ocean.
On a clear day it is said you can see the see from the top of Mariepskop, the highest peak in the escarpment, which at 1,945m towers above this huge expanse of African wilderness, looking out like a silent sentinel.
So, Hoedspruit has the looks and the landscapes, the wildlife and the wilderness. What more could it offer to travellers hungry for adventure and excitement. Plenty, is the simple answer.
From full-day safaris in the Kruger National Park and gentle cruises along the Olifants River to hot air ballooning and mountain biking, Hoedspruit and its surrounds are literally packed to the rafter with a range of amazing activities, day trip opportunities and exceptional experiences, all of which we are happy to arrange for you during your stay at Bushwillow Private Villa.
Here are a few of the absolute “must do” things on offer:
A Kruger National Park Safari:
No visit to Hoedspruit and the Greater Kruger Region would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Kruger National Park. This legendary game reserve is home to the Big Five – buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion and leopard – and is the oldest and most iconic national park in Africa.
Take advantage of a full-day guided safari experience in an open game vehicle, allowing you the chance to immerse yourself in the African wilderness while learning about its precious ecosystem and the wild animals and plants that call it home from your qualified and experienced safari guide.
It’s a very early morning start at 05h30 but the effort is more than worth it as you travel the short distance (around 40 minutes) from Bushwillow Private Villa to the Kruger National Park’s Orpen Gate, where your adventure begins.
After a short stop at Orpen Camp, where a fresh cup of coffee can be bought to help clear the last mists of sleep from your eyes, together with a range of snacks and sweets, it’s off to explore a small part of this 20,000 sq km reserve.
That’s a little smaller than Belgium, and considerably larger than Israel and Wales! The park is 350km long and 60km wide, and is bordered by Mozambique and Zimbabwe. On your full day safari you will travel the area around Satara, where you will stop for lunch, game viewing along the way, stopping at look-out points and picnic spots for comfort breaks where you are allowed to leave the vehicle and use the facilities on hand. While no sightings are ever guaranteed, your safari guide will make all efforts where game viewing is concerned and the area you will traverse is renowned for great year-long game viewing. So here’s hoping you have a great, game-filled day!
If you are on a Bed and Breakfast arrangement, a packed breakfast will be prepared for you before you leave in the morning. Satara camp has a restaurant offering a range of light snacks and a well-stocked shop.
You should arrive back at Bushwillow at around 17h00.
The Panorama Route:
One of the most beautiful tour routes in South Africa, the aptly named Panorama Route takes in some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country, together with some of its most well-loved tourism attractions.
Departing at 08h00 in the morning, you wind your way up the magnificent Drakensberg escarpment that dominates the western Hoedspruit horizon. Climbing all the way to the top of the escarpment you will wind your way to the magnificent Blyde River Canyon, stopping at dedicated viewing points along the way. From here it’s on to Bourke’s Luck Potholes where the meeting of the Blyde and Treur rivers has carved incredible formations into the sandstone bedrock that can be explored in detail, then it’s off to visit some of the legendary waterfalls that have helped to make the Panorama Route so sought after. You then take in the inimitable God’s Window look-out point from where, weather permitting, you can get amazing views of the Lowveld from the top of the escarpment and Pinnacle rock formation. This full-day trip is packed with incredible experiences. You’ll stop for lunch along the way, but remember to take a few drinks and snacks along for the road, as well as a hat, a good pair of walking shoes and your camera!
Morning and afternoon game drives in a private Big Five game reserve:
There’s very little to beat the thrill of big game encounters in an open vehicle. That’s why we offer our guests at Bushwillow Private Villa the chance to experience both morning and afternoon/night drives in a nearby Big Five private game reserve, where experienced qualified guides will share some of their amazing bush knowledge with you as you explore the African wilderness with them.
You stand the chance to see the legendary Big Five wildlife species – buffalo, elephant, rhino, leopard and lion – and learn about them and the other inhabitants of this wonderful region of South Africa. Most of all, game drives are the best way to immerse yourself in nature and understand the complex and wonderful relationships between plants and animals and how we, as humans, have such a critical role to play in helping to protect and conserve these last remaining wilderness areas.
An open vehicle is just that – open to the elements – so in the winter months (June to August) you will need to bring warm clothing with you as it can get very cold in the early mornings and evenings. While we are blessed with warm days during winter here in Hoedspruit and its surrounds, it does get cold enough for a beanie hat, gloves and scarf on game drives, so don’t be fooled into thinking that Africa is always hot!
You’ll also need a hat, sun-screen, insect repellant, binoculars and a camera, of course, with which to record the amazing wildlife you see. While no sightings are ever guaranteed, you stand a great chance of seeing some of our beautiful antelope species such as impala, kudu and waterbuck, as well as a range of amazing, colourful bird species. Predators like lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog are also seen regularly on our game drives, as are elephants. So it’s fingers crossed and enjoy the amazing adventure!
You can choose to self-drive to the pick-up point or get a transfer. Collection times for the morning and afternoon game drive are usually 05:00 and 14:00 respectively. The game drives start at 06:00 and 15:30. Ask us about drinks and snacks.
Nyani Cultural Village
Experience the vibrant and diverse cultures of South Africa’s fascinating tribal communities at Nyani Cultural Village, just outside Hoedspruit, where you will learn all about the history of our indigenous people. Through a mixture of theatre, dance and ancient tribal drum rhythms guests are immersed in the story of the San bushmen, the Shona, Venda, Tsonga, Balobedu, Pedi and BaHananawa or Tswana people, with Swati and Zulu dances included to honour the role they have played in shaping South African history.
Starting out with an hour-long show featuring the colourful costumes, dances and songs that depict the journey of our tribes from their beginnings to modern day, you are then introduced to all aspects of the functioning Shangaan village. With interaction and lots of hands-on participation you’ll learn how huts are built, how maize is ground to make maize meal, why boys go through an initiation process, how girls learn to bead and all of the stages of life in a traditional Shangaan household.
Nyana’s talented performers will teach you about all of the ways of the Shangaan people and then you’ll have the chance to sample a traditional meal in the traditional African style – eating with your fingers!
This is about the conservation of South Africa’s heritage and works wonderfully well in concert with the game drives where you learn about the conservation of our iconic wildlife species.
Nourish Community Project
Visit the Sigagule community and the Nourish Community Project to find out more about how this wonderful non-profit organisation is helping to fight poaching by first fighting poverty.
Nourish works to connect conservation issues and community issues and its goal is to grow resilient communities that have the ability to grow their own food, speak good English and can access jobs, creating empowered people who can make their own decisions about the custodianship of their African heritage.
Our tours take you around Nourish, showing you some of the projects that the organisation is working on, allowing you to interact with community members and understand the challenges facing this and other communities like it.
A not to be missed activity that we encourage all of our guests to take part in.
Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC)
The life’s work of Lente Roode, founder of Kapama Private Game Reserve, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre was established to help conserve and protect rare, vulnerable and threatened species, with a focus on cheetah.
Founded on Mrs Roode’s compassion and amazing work over the years in rescuing an untold number of orphaned and injured wildlife, HESC has adopted a holistic approach to its conservation activities and plays an active part in helping to educate local communities about the reasons why our iconic species need saving.
Funded through tourism activities as well as philanthropy, HESC runs regular guided tours of the facility each day, looking at issues such as breeding, rehabilitation and poaching and what can be done to help save both our wildlife and our last remaining wilderness areas.
Through an informative introductory video explaining how HESC operates to first-hand experience of seeing some of the animals in its care, the tours of the facility are both educational and enjoyable and suitable for all the family. There is also a wonderful coffee shop serving a range of light meals and snacks as well as a beautiful curio shop and small museum.
Tours run regularly throughout the day and last around two hours.
Blyde Dam Boat Trips
Cruising the Blyde Dam is one of the best ways to view the incredible Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world and one of the greenest, thanks to its unique microclimate.
Located beneath the distinctive, towering peaks of the famous Three Rondavels and with views of Mariepskop – the highest summit in the Drakensberg escarpment range – the Blyde Dam is fringed by these soaring mountains and thick montane forests. This is home to a range of wildlife species such as kudu and duiker, as well as leopard and other small carnivores. The dam itself is home to hippo and crocodiles, which you may be lucky enough to spot on the leisurely 90-minute cruises that depart each morning and afternoon. You’ll also visit the beautiful Kadishi tufa waterfall.
Enjoy the incredible scenery as you pass by some of the most photographed mountains in South Africa. A camera is an absolute must, and a pair of binoculars will come in handy to look out for some of the amazing birdlife that calls the canyon home, including the African fish eagle and the rare Taita falcon.
An Olifants River Boat Cruise:
Take a gentle cruise along the magnificent Olifants River on the “Kambaku” – a a custom-designed house boat offering the perfect way to experience this spectacular African waterway. Along the way, you’ll get the chance to spot a variety of wildlife on the lush banks of the river – one of the largest in the Kruger National Park – that’s home to hippo and crocodiles and is frequented by elephants, buffalo and waterbuck as well as a rich variety of birdlife.
This is the perfect way to experience the magic of the African wilderness.
Luxurious Spa Treatments:
Experience luxurious spa treatments and the ultimate indulgence in the comfort of your own room. Our well-trained spa therapists come to you and spoil you with a range of treatments, using essential and aromatherapy oils made just outside Hoedspruit by Godding & Godding.
Designed to relieve stress, relax muscles and induce a sense of wellbeing, the treatments are aimed at revitalising body and soul and are a great way to spend some much-needed “me” time.
Alternatively, we can arrange a therapy session at the nearby Africology Spa.
Exploring Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate:
Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate (HWE), home of Bushwillow Private Villa, literally offers you a wilderness in your back yard! One of the best things about staying with us is that the estate is home to a variety of wildlife and amazing bird species, so there’s always something interesting to see without going further afield!
The centre of the estate is designated as a green belt and has been left as a wilderness area. It has its own network of roads, hiking and mountain bike trails and as there are no elephant, buffalo, rhino or lion you are able to explore either on foot, on two wheels or four, and even on four legs because African Dream Horse Safaris are based on the estate and offer horse trails for riders of all ages and abilities.
We encourage all of our guests to take some time out of their schedules to explore their own “back yard” and take in the beauty of their surroundings.
Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars with you as the birdlife on the estate is truly spectacular with fish eagles and other large birds of prey as well as the smaller, more colourful species, from woodpeckers to sunbirds and canaries. You’ll also see lots of game on your walks, from grey duikers and warthogs to impala and kudu. There’s also giraffe, nyala, bushbuck, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest and zebra on the estate, so feel free to go out and explore!
Graskop Gorge Lift
The spectacular Graskop Gorge Lift, located just outside the small town of Graskop on the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment, is an hour and a half’s drive from Bushwillow Private Villa, on the Panorama Route.
The lift centre itself is home to a range of curio shops and stalls where local people sell a variety of trinkets, from textiles and wooden carvings to ceramics, beadware and hand-crafted jewellery. There’s also an excellent restaurant and bar with breathtaking views over the gorge.
The lift itself allows you to descend to the floor of a breathtakingly beautiful gorge and explore a magical natural ecosystem, where waterfalls and a small stream create a thick lush rainforest that’s home to an amazing array of wildlife and incredible variety of plants and trees.
Access is given via a raised wooden walkway with interactive viewing points and information stations along its path, winding over suspension bridges and along the banks of the stream under the forest’s canopy. A not-to-be-missed experience for all ages.
Cycling and mountain biking:
Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate and the region around Hoedspruit itself are prime cycling locations attracting cyclists from all over the world who come to experience the magic of our open terrain and breathtaking views. Bring your own cycle and do-it-yourself along well marked routes or take advantage of guided trails on rented cycles both in the estate and surrounding hotspots. Just let us know what you’d like and we’ll arrange something to suit your requirements so that you can take advantage of this mountain biking heaven we call home.
Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate is home to African Dream Horse Safaris which offers a range of outrides and trails to riders of all ages and ability levels. Horseback offers a unique perspective on the African wilderness as you ride among the wildlife which tends to see only the horse, and not the rider, giving you exceptional, up-close-and-personal game viewing experiences.
Hot Air Balloon flights:
There’s very little to beat the magic of a lighter-than-air flight in a hot air balloon, so combining it with the magnificent landscapes of Hoedspruit and its surrounds is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that’s not to be missed. The hour-long flights take in the beauty of South Africa’s Greater Kruger lowveld region and its ranging farmland, private nature reserves and wildlife estates as well as the magnificent Drakensberg Escarpment that dominates the western horizon. The photographic opportunities are endless so don’t forget your camera! Please note, this activity is very dependent on weather.
Microlight and Helicopter Flips:
Experience the Greater Kruger region and spectacular Drakensberg Escarpment in a uniquely exciting way courtesy of a microlight flight. Taking off from just outside Hoedspruit, you will soar over the town and its surrounding game reserves and wilderness areas, viewing the edge of the escarpment and the magnificent mountain peaks that call it home.
Try your hand at game viewing from above as you fly low over the breathtaking landscapes and breathe in the amazing fresh air in this open-to-the-elements flying experience that’s a definite tick on your “to do” list!
Helicopter flips can also be arranged, taking in the spectacular Blyde River Canyon and the hidden gems of the Drakensberg escarpment that are only accessible in a chopper. Please note that these activities are very dependent on weather.
We can offer our guests guided walking safaris in the nearby Balule Private Nature Reserve, which is home to Africa’s legendary Big Five and forms part of the the nearly 3,5 million-hectare greater Kruger National Park. The reserve is home to a wide variety of fauna and flora, with fascinating topography and breathaking vistas and views of the distant Drakensberg escarpment.
Walking safaris allow you to immerse yourself completely in the African bush, learning about the small things as you go, taking in the way eco-systems are inter-dependent and work in harmony with one another. They are one of the best ways to appreciate the intricacies of nature and are thoroughly recommended.
So there you have it – a host of things to do and see while you’re our guest at Bushwillow Private Villa. And don’t worry about getting here or getting to any of these amazing activities, because we can sort that out for you too.
Let us arrange hassle-free road transfers for you during your stay with us. We can organise transfers from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit, Skukuza Airstrip in the Kruger National Park and Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport. We can also arrange transfer services to a range of activities and attractions in Hoedspruit and the surrounding area, as well as to restaurants.
We hope to see you soon!