THE PAARDEPLAATS STORY:
Remember the pre 1970 Kruger Park ambience? No commercial noise, no cash registers. The smell of fresh air, wood smoke, paraffin and creosote. The singing of birds and the cry of the jackal. The laughter of children at play, while you cook a delicious meal on an open fire, and the friendly, helpful staff to escort you, on arrival, to your comfortable, clean rooms. Add to this, stunning escarpment views, the freedom, peace, quiet and safety of unspoilt nature, where the children can take Ouma and Oupa for safe, short nature walks.
This is what we like to call “Elegant Simplicity” and “Family Therapy”
à la Paardeplaats Nature Retreat
On the spectacular Long Tom Pass (Route 37), along the very tracks of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his dog Jock, lies Paardeplaats Nature Retreat, some 12 km from Lydenburg/Mashishing, en route to Sabie.
Set high up in the Mpumalanga Drakensberg, at 2000 meters above sea level, with an annual rainfall of over 1000mm per annum, this 770 ha proclaimed nature reserve, is a haven for birders, hikers and serious nature lovers, who enjoy “elegant simplicity”, so different from the city norms of today.
Built on the ruins of an 1850 miner’s settlement is the restored 12 sleeper stone dwelling, set in total privacy, overlooking a small dam and a beautiful valley and mountains.
Hidden amongst trees and the mining terraces are three restored stone units. Each room has a private view with its own unique character with stained glass windows.
All 4 bedrooms are en suite, with down or wool duvets on all the beds. Meals are prepared in the communal “Miners’ Canteen” with a kitchen so well equipped that even professional chefs comment on it. Wood and gas stoves, two gas fridges and utensils to cater for up to 20 people, guarantee a farm style cooking experience with most modcons (except a microwave). When weather permits, the outdoor, covered, cooking hearth and large veranda is the place to relax and braai, soothed by the sound of running water and bird song.
The fly-fisherman might be tempted to catch a trout, casting almost from the veranda.
The Jafrie Walking and Cycling Ramble is ideal family therapy for those who love nature. The not-so-lazy could pack a picnic basket or a rucksack and embark on one of seven different marked out walking or mountain biking trails, totalling 25km, or just amble down to the nearby waterfall, or take a ten minute stroll to the old gold mine shaft.
THE HISTORY OF PAARDEPLAATS:
Paardeplaats has a rich historical background with several interesting facets – up to the present day!
Firstly there is the very evident geological pre-history, which resulted in the beautiful deep valleys and cliffs, dating back millions of years.
Then there are traces of the San and the Stone Ages, dating back to about 400AD and before.
This area is part of an important historical node, dating back at least 1600 years, to the early passage of migrating Nguni peoples, down the east coast of Africa, who left behind a remarkable record of their dwellings and terraced farmlands. The famous “Lydenburg Clay Heads” dating back to 490AD, are from this period. Looking down from the top of Masjienkloof, many large stone circles are visible in the valley, below. These were cattle kraals, the smaller stone circle in the centre being where the homestead was situated. These peoples smelted iron and made sophisticated tools from it. The stone circles are always situated at the bottom of the valleys as this was closer to the available water and the climate was warmer and more protected.
Early Transvaal History:
Shortly after the start of the Great Trek in about 1840, the white man entered this area in search of land and freedom from the “verdomde Engelse”, and the effects of the abolition of the slave trade.
Initially the area around Ohrigstad was very popular with these “Voortrekkers”, because of its fertile valleys and the abundance of good water and game. However, malaria took a heavy toll, and the inhabitants were forced to withdraw to the malaria safe area around Lydenburg – hence the name of the town referring to the suffering the people had initially experienced, on arrival.
Between the 1850’s and 1870’s many adventurous, pioneering prospectors, mostly English and Welch, came into the area in search of gold and good fortune. The town of Lydenburg became a popular stop-over for transport riders on their way to and from Delagoa Bay. This was big business and was very much part of Paul Kruger’s obsession to secure a harbour for the ZAR. These rough types were often referred to as “Uitlanders” by the local “Boer” population.
The original Surveyor Generals’, farm diagram for Paardeplaats 154JT, is dated September 1870 and is defined in Dutch (there is a copy in our Guest Book). This name would then imply that there were already wild horses here in 1870. The Paardeplaats stone ruins were part of the early gold mining activity in this area. Gold was actively mined here from the 1850’s up until the start of the 20th century. We have discovered 17 worked-out mine shafts on the farm, which have now become shelters and lairs for rooikatte, brown hyenas and even leopards, so don’t even think of exploring them!
The original transport riders’ wagon route over “Mauchs Berg” from Lydenburg to Delagoa Bay traversed the farm and is still visible on the southern side of today’s Long Tom Pass (Route 37). This is the road that Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and Jock would have used on a regular basis as an alternative to “Robbers’ Pass” via Pilgrims Rest. (The book “The City of Gold” by Francis Brett Young, first published in 1939, has some very vivid descriptions of life as a transport rider and prospector in and around Lydenburg at this time).
As a matter of interest, Percy Fitzpatrick was schooled at Bishops in Cape Town. As a young 15 year old, teenager when his father died, Percy, being the eldest son, had to go out into the cruel world to earn a living for his family. His gamble was to become a transport rider – the rest is part of his life’s adventure and saga.
Anglo Boer War:
The friction between the local “Boere” and the “Uitlanders”, inevitably and unfortunately, gave way to war. Much of the second, guerrilla warfare phase of the war, from 1900 onwards, took place in this part of the country. Later, a war within a war developed between General Louis Botha and Sir Redvers Buller, as the “Rooinek” became obsessed with capturing the “Boer”. On a number of occasions Botha positioned his Longtom canons on the Paardeplaats hills across our valley, and overlooking Lydenburg, and bombarded the British in their Lydenburg cocoon, to escape long before the British could even get close to him. This drove Buller mad! The Longtom Pass gets its name from the Boer canons. There are still several forts and sentry posts on the surrounding hills, and also along the old wagon road which traverses the farm – some even, still, with “gun slots”.
This beautiful jewel was rediscovered in 1979 by two adventurous hikers – attorney, Jaap van Proosdij, who bought the farm in 1979, and his intrepid nephew, engineer, and nature lover, Johan Middelberg. They discovered the miners’ ruins, overgrown with huge wattle trees, and decided to restore them into a weekend getaway. Jaap planted all the white stinkwoods, with seedlings from his Pretoria garden in about 1980.
Tragically Johan was killed in a motor accident in 1987.
The photo albums on the bookshelf in the “Miners Canteen” record this period of the Paardeplaats’ story.
The stone graffiti “Jesus” on the “Jesus Hill” was packed by a certain Mr. Reyneke in 1962. It is worthy of comment that he set these letters out geometrically. They are all exactly the same size, all circles are true and all straights, parallel. Many people, over the years, have asked if they might paint them white, but Jaap van Proosdij always said he preferred them as Jesus made them!
Your Host Brian @ Paardeplaats