Paardeplaats Nature Retreat

Magnificent & Mesmerising

paardeplaats nature retreat

Paardeplaats Nature Retreat


On Paardeplaats the pristine nature will mesmerize its visitors in many possible ways.
Waking up each day to a magnificent sun-rise and the song of birds, one can enjoy unspoiled nature on foot,  hiking one of the five walking trails, on the farm.


On arrival at this eco-lodge, with it’s superbly restored old mining ruins, you will find a temporary home in one of the four  spacious cottages.
The Fauna & Flora, as surely as the camera has replaced the hunting rifle, will revolutionized traditional family activities. With the growing popularity of nature walks, a unique attraction when venturing out on foot, particularly on a ‘Full Moon Hike’  is the sighting of one of Paardeplaats’s resident cats: the caracal, the serval, the civet or even the leopard.

The Caracal


Caracal Family in the wild

The Caracal is a medium-sized wildcat native to Africa. The name of this cat comes from the Turkish word ‘karakulak’ which means ‘black ears’ and black ears are a characteristic feature of the caracal.
Although the caracal is considered a small cat compared to other wild cats, it is among the heaviest and fastest. It is also referred to as the Persian Lynx or African Lynx although it is not part of the Lynx family. It is more related to the Serval and the African Golden Cat.
Historically caracals had importance in many cultures around the world. In Egypt paintings of caracals and bronze sculptures have been found and also embalmed carcasses as well.
This means that they were of great importance to the Egyptians. In China, emperors gave caracals as gifts. In India, caracals were used by rulers to hunt small game and also their coats were used to in making fur coats. This also shows that domestication of caracals is not something new but rather started centuries ago.

The Serval

serval in the savannah
Little is known about the African serval– but they are an intriguing species. Their exceptional hunting skills have earned them the reputation as the ‘savannah stalker’. The second fastest running cat, after the cheetah, servals are remarkably successful hunters and catch their intended victims about 50% of the time as opposed to other cats that succeed around 20% of the time.
Strong and slender, these beautiful animals could be the Naomi Campbell of the bush. They have the longest legs of all cats relative to their size, making them one of the tallest cats, with longer hind than forelegs. Their average lifespan is ten years in the wild. The longest living African serval in captivity is estimated to be 23 years of age.

The serval is sometimes preyed upon by leopard and other large cats, but their numbers have dwindled largely due to human population taking over their habitat and hunting them for their pelts. In South Africa, serval is listed under the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Biodiversity Act and as such are subject to rigorous legislation to ensure their welfare and survival.

African Civet

african civet

A solitary nocturnal animal, the African civet is a small, agile mammal found mostly in forested woodland areas where they spend most of the daytime sleeping and resting in the trees, safely off the ground away from predators, which include large cats, crocodiles, and snakes. They are very good swimmers and are rarely found in arid areas as they need to be close to a water source like riverbeds.
They have perineal glands that produce a fluid known as civet, used to mark territories – this is also used in the perfume industry to create the aromatic base, musk. Civets survive on a diet of rodents, reptiles, insects, eggs, fruit, berries and birds.

The African civets are not members of the feline family, which some people are led to believe. They have a short, dense coat that is greyish in color with black spots and have a grey face with a black band around their eyes, making their appearance raccoon-like.
The African civet usually gives birth to 4 young and nests in an underground burrow in order to raise her young safely. Civet babies are quite unusual in the fact that they are born with fur and are quite mobile from a young age. They stay with their mothers until they are old enough and strong enough to fend for themselves.

Lydenburg Wine Guild blends themselves into the finals of the Blaauwklippen 2018 Blending Competition

One of the most beneficial ways to gain more knowledge on the subject of wine is to share the experience of tasting wines with like-minded friends.

Most wine clubs try to meet at least once a month. Some clubs are perhaps a little more serious with their tastings than others but in the end, they all offer a great way of learning more about the wonders of the fermented grape!

Generally, this means that members of clubs who have been around for some time should have a reasonable idea of what they enjoy drinking as well as knowing a lot more about how wine is produced.

Blaauwklippen Wine Estate

Recognising this as an opportunity, Blaauwklippen Wine Estate offers the oldest wine club contest, called the Blaauwklippen Blending Competition (BBC), which in 2018 is celebrating its 35th year.

This competition has become an institution on wine club calendars and definitely gives the clubs something to look forward to each year.

Amateur wine clubs purchase the BBC blending kit from Blaauwklippen and then try their hand at blending the “perfect wine” after which they will submit their blend analysis for judging by a panel of professional wine experts.

The objective is to give South African wine enthusiasts a real-life taste of the wine industry, as well as a chance to become involved in the process of wine selection first hand.

Blaauwklippen Wines

“Blend and create a playful but chic blend to enjoy any time with friends and family – but with enough backbone to be savoured at a special occasion.”

This was the instruction from Blaauwklippen Vineyards for the 2018 Blending Competition. And Longtom Wine Guild’s blenders happily obliged on Saturday 9 June at Paardeplaats Nature Retreat.

Once the surprise hamper, containing four base wines and a measuring jug arrives, the fun starts.


Dr Jakkie Swanepoel carefully measuring the raw wines during the blending processAs always, dr Jakkie Swanepoel championed this annual educational challenge, ably assisted by Koos Prince, Michelle and Dawie Ras and Brian and Gerda Whitehorn.

Blaauwklippen 2017 Shiraz, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec had to be blended into a wine that meets the criteria.

The group soon discovered that 45% Shiraz and 35% Merlot resulted in a sound base blend, with a satisfying nose and body. Experiments with varying percentages of Malbec and Petit Verdot added a happy aftertaste, more tannins and structure.

Jakkie carefully measuring the wine

Jakkie carefully measuring the wine

Rounds number five, six and seven resulted in comments varying from ‘getting there’ to ‘lekker!’ At round number eleven, it was unanimous that nothing could beat round number seven – with 45% Shiraz, 35% Merlot and 10% each of the Malbec and Petit Verdot.

ScientificMyBra-Dr Jakkie Swanepoel shaking up a Lydenburg/Blaauwklippen blend

Scientific My Bra-Dr Jakkie Swanepoel shaking up a Lydenburg/Blaauwklippen blend.

So chuffed were the happy blenders with their discovery, that Jakkie blended the remainder of the raw wines to accompany Brian’s hearty winter soup. This is certainly the most entertaining wine lesson of the year, with a long lingering aftertaste…

Orange River Cellars Full Cream Sherry

Orange River Cellars Full Cream Sherry

Dr Jakkie Swanepoel (left) took members on a tour of fortified wines, ranging from Monis Pale Cream to ultra sweet Du Toitskloof Hanepoot Jerepigo.

Jan Neethling assisted with the pouring of the sherries. Oranjerivier Medium Cream was voted Wine of the Evening and Value for Money choice.

For the second time in their 31 years’ existence, Lydenburg’s Wine Guild has made it to the finals of the annual Blaauwklippen Blending competition.

Lydenburg is one of only four clubs countrywide, and the only Mpumalanga contestant, who made it to the prestigious finals.

The winner will be announced at Blaauwklippen Vineyards on Friday 5 October 2018 at a prize-giving ceremony for media and invited guests.

Participants received four “raw wines” – a Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Verdot. The challenge was to blend and produce a playful but chic blend to enjoy any time with friends and family, but with enough backbone to be savoured at a special occasion.

Jakkie & Jan choosing the sherries

It took the handful of Lydenburg Wine Guild members no less than 11 rounds of careful measuring, mixing, swirling and tasting at Paardeplaats Nature Retreat to arrive at a pleasing result early in June this year.

The news came as a welcome surprise for the Lydenburg Guild, who prefer to be known as wine lovers, eager to learn more at the monthly tastings, every third Thursday of the month. The other finalists include two clubs from the Western Cape and one from Gauteng.

2013 Blending Winner label design

For more info or to join the Lydenburg Wine Guild, contact

A Tradition of Outdoor Cooking & Entertainment


 Saucy Chef Cookery Courses are aimed at share a passion for food – not for food snobs or critics those who enjoy fellowship and, but for people who derive pleasure and fun from the process of planning, preparing and presenting food, and of course, enjoying the pleasures and ambience created around the table.

Our hands-on workshops are not only demonstrations, but rather an invite to a fun party, and meal, enjoying the process while learning. Participants are taught to handle the heat in the kitchen, without burning their fingers, and they receive all the recipes, relating to the course.

One Day Courses are held on the farm and are normally planned around a luncheon accommodating up to 18 people. This can be made up of individuals, groups of friends, birthday parties, or work colleagues, or even year-end or team building functions.

Weekend Courses are intended for couples or friends who share a mutual interest in culinary pleasures. The focus is on fellowship and the courses are intended to be fun, and very sociable, based on the fellowship of friends.

Apart from the fun and games in the kitchen and around the table, Paardeplaats also has many getaway alternatives on offer, such as walking, hiking, mountain biking, birding, wildflowers or just relaxing with a good book and a glass of wine.

Brian Whitehorn
Cell: 082 416 1379


Easter 2018 “Son Rise Service”


With Easter only 3 weeks away, it is again time to plan for the Easter Sunday “Son Rise” service on April 1st on the top of the Jesus hill at Paardeplaats, 12km out of town en route to Sabie (route R37).

The service will start at 06h00, come sunshine or mist. It will be wise to arrive from 05h30 or earlier, to allow yourself time to climb up the hill, and settle in.  Although still in darkness, there will be paraffin lanterns to light your way. If you have good torches bring them along.  There will be ample parking down at the gate, with monitors to direct and help you. For those who can’t make the climb up the hill, there will be a tractor and trailer with benches, which will leave from the gate at the bottom at 05h45. This will be able to carry up to 20 people, and should be reserved for the elderly and those who have health problems and restrictions. One could load blankets and chairs on the trailer to make the ascent easier.

It will be essentially a family affair, non denominational and open to all who want to celebrate this very special occasion. (Most probably the celebration of the most important event in the history of mankind). We will have a fixed program with traditional hymns and songs to be sung.

Wear a pair of good walking shoes, and bring a hat for later when the sun rises, which will be around 06h00. Dress warmly and watch the weather forecast. There are some large logs that can be used as benches. Bring folding chairs, blankets and cushions, tea/coffee and hot cross buns.  The service will take about an hour, and will end with a sharing of the buns and coffee.

This special event is a very inspirational experience, as we gather in the dark to watch the “Sonrise”, and then go off to celebrate at our various churches and with our families.

Please feel free to phone Brian 079 694 9462 or 082 416 1379, to find out more.

The Gurney Sugarbird is alive and well on Paardeplaats says Gauteng Bird Ringers

The Gurney’s Sugarbird is alive and well and living in Lydenburg’s surrounding hills. This was confirmed recently by members of Birdlife Northern Gauteng Bird Ringers Club who came to Paardeplaats Nature Retreat on an annual ringing weekend. In spite of rainy conditions, they caught no less than six Gurney Sugarbirds in their ringing nets – one juvenile and one re-trap from last year’s expedition.

Birdlife Northern Gauteng Bird Ringers Club in action on Paardeplaats Nature Retreat.

The group of avid ringers were joined by Dr Michael Cunningham, a geneticist from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology. With his student, Evan Howarth, they took blood samples of Gurneys for research into the relationship of different populations of this scarce species.

The Gurney has been identified as one of four grassland birds in decline and could be added to the list of threatened species, Cunningham explained. This is probably due to the decline in Protea Roupelliae in which the birds build their nests.

Their strongholds are the KZN and Mpumalanga Drakensberg, the Soutpansberg and Waterberg areas. There are isolated populations in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands and they have been spotted as far south as Grahamstown – the only place known where they overlap with the Cape Sugarbird.

Cunningham confirmed that the Gurney’s Sugarbird research done by ornithologist Dawie de Swardt, originally from Lydenburg and for many years now at the National Museum in Bloemfontein, provides a valuable base for students. “But there is still a lot we do not know about this special bird and its movements,” he said.

Birdlife Northern Gauteng Bird Ringers Club

The bird ringers’ efforts add tremendously to the on-going research in the field. Other than the 6 Gurneys, the expedition caught and recorded the following species at Paardeplaats Nature Retreat:

Olive Bush shrike, Malachite and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Wailing and Lazy Cisticola, Cape Canary, Long-billed Pipit, Drakensberg Prinia, Mountain Wagtail, Cape White-Eye, Speckled Mousebird, White-throated Robin Chat, Cape Robin Chat, Streaky Headed Seedeater, Neddicky, Bar-throated Apalis, Willow Warbler, Cape Batis, Cape Rock Thrush, Redwing Starling and House Martin.

Julian (17) started his ringing career at the age of two, accompanying dad Chris on birding trips. He has handled well over 1200 birds in the qualifying process and has released more than 430 birds marked with his own rings.


Dainty Sugarbush covers the veld on the Land’s End hiking trail

Hiking on Paardeplaats Nature Retreat is a very popular hiking activity for the whole family. Lands’ End with its panoramic views and the easy trail has to be maintained during the rainy season. Brian made a beautiful discovery this week while cutting the Land’s End trail with a tractor. The dainty sugarbush was abundantly blooming like a ground cover in the veld.

Protea Parvula veld on Lands' End Hiking Trail

Protea Parvula veld on Lands’ End Hiking Trail

Protea parvula Beard. Is a near threatened plant on the red data list from the. PROTEACEAE family. This commonly called Dainty Sugarbush was first found near Kaapsche Hoop in Mpumalanga in 1928 by Dr E.P. Phillips
The dainty sugarbush is one of the summer rainfall grassland proteas. It is a low-growing shrub of below 20 cm in height, which contributes to its demise during fires. The seeds of Protea parvula, fortunately, survive these fires typical of its habitat, however.

Protea Parvula in bloom on Paardeplaats Nature Retreat
For the past 100 years, the population is has been decreasing and is estimated to have reduced 20-30% is estimated based on 28% habitat loss due to afforestation (pines), mining for soapstone and alien plant invasion.
It flowers in December through to March in the Mpumalanga, KZN and Swaziland habitats. Like many proteas, it grows in rocky terrain in acid soil.

Lands End hiking trails where the dainty sugarbush was discovered

The grassland at the high altitude of the habitat is characterised by short grass. Birds pollinate the plant and wind disperse the seed.

Lands’ End -A hiking trail that is definitely worth a visit!

Trout, the darling fish of weight watchers

Dullstroom and the Mpumalanga Highlands, with its close proximity to Gauteng, has been dubbed Trouteng with good reason.


Trout has become synonymous with fly-fishing as a recreational activity. Areas with pristine waters have become popular tourist attractions. Leisure farmers, guest lodges and numerous tourism enterprises are luring outdoor lovers to their establishments.

Salmon and Trout represent the backbone of aquaculture worldwide and South Africa is no exception. Trout started reaching the South African food market in noticeable volumes by the mid-seventies. It was first introduced around 1890 when brown trout ova arrived on a sailing ship from Scotland. The first fingerlings were hatched at a Cape Town brewery where Newlands is today. Few people realise that trout pioneered aquaculture in South Africa.



Fish consumption has globally increased more than five-fold in the last fifty years with aquaculture becoming the fastest growing sustainable food producer in the world. The world’s food requirements are expected to double over the next 35 years to sustain the planet’s population of 9.1 billion people.Natural fisheries cannot meet the demand and aquaculture, with its green economy, has become a lifeline in food production.



Trout aquaculture is a good choice for a variety of reasons.

•              Talk trout and you talk minimal carbon emission with an infrastructure footprint that relatively small in relation to production.

•              T trout is not a consumptive water user and has little impact on river health.

•              Trout are cold-blooded and do not require energy to maintain body temperature. Their feed conversion ratio is 1.2 to 1 which compares favourably with other farmed animals.

•              Trout is accordingly SASSI Green Listed.


Trout has become a popular alternative to weight watchers and health-conscious consumers.

It is known to be:

•              High in Omega 3 & 6 oils

•              Recommended as a healthy way to reduce risk of heart attack, stroke or heart disease

•              Ideal for weight loss

•              0% carbohydrates

•              0% trans fats

•              High in Vit D and Vit B-12


Although trout appeals to the health-conscious and the general fish lover this fish has also become preferred cuisine to people with cultural or religious preferences.  Suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner and functions, many caterers use it as an affordable salmon replacement. The processed products make for convenient, easy starters and canapés.

Suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner and functions, many caterers use it as an affordable salmon replacement. The processed products make for convenient, easy starters and canapés.

Cool Cuisine caterer Bevvie Marais from Kook, lists filled pancakes, crostini’s, mousse and trout pies amongst her popular catering favourites.

Saucy Chef Brian Whitehorn’s Trout with lemon and herb butter accounted for 40% of his sales in his awarded Dullstroom restaurant,  Die Tonteldoos Bistro. Brian served trout for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Source: Lunsklip Fishing





Vulture Restaurant on Paardeplaats


A vulture restaurant is an area where non-toxic, poison-free meat and carcasses are provided for vultures and other scavengers. This area must be free of human traffic and totally undisturbed. The supplementary feeding, such as an animal carcass, supports the vultures in times of food scarcity and when young birds fledge.

As well as providing a safe food source, vulture restaurants provide landowners with a clean and cost-effective way of disposing of waste and unwanted carcasses. Using vulture restaurants, Paardeplaats Nature Reserve is contributing to conservation efforts and disposing of their waste in an environmentally-friendly way.

Local farmers and landowners bordering Paardeplaats Nature Reserve have started donating domestic livestock that otherwise had to be buried or burnt and is that are unfit for human consumption. Carcasses that have been euthanized or treated with certain veterinary drugs or dips are poisonous to vultures and Brian and Gerda check the validity of the donated carcass for safe feeding.

The Whitehorns utilise their vulture restaurant to raise public awareness of the plight of the species’ as these restaurants play an important role in eco-tourism.


Vultures, positioned at the top of the food chain, are an indicator of the health of the environment below them – and dependent for their survival on a healthy environment.

They form an important ecological component of our natural environment, cleaning up dead carcasses and decreasing the spread of some diseases. Despite this, vultures face an unprecedented onslaught from human activities. They have to cope with the changing landscape of progress such as electrocutions and collisions with electrical structures as well poisonings, to name a few.

In order to ensure the future of these vultures, we need to work together, spread the word, and actively contribute to the conservation of our indigenous vulture species.



Hiking in Paardeplaats Nature Retreat

explorePaardeplaats Nature Retreat

Hiking and mountain biking for both the serious and not so serious is a popular pass-time on Paardeplaats Nature Retreat

You have a choice of seven different routes totalling about 25 kilometres
The views on all the routes are absolutely spectacular!
Enjoy the explosion of sub-alpine flowers and plants in summer and the wonderful birding and small selection of game through all seasons.

No guides are needed and time is of no importance on your trail of exploration to a nearby derelict gold mine (10 – 15 minutes). Alternatively, you can follow the river to the top of the waterfall (20-30 minutes).

Pack a picnic basket for the longer hikes which are well suited for families. Don’t forget to bring binoculars and a birding book.!

Mountain biking is allowed on the Jafrie Ramble Route

hiking & mtb Paardeplaats

The Gurney’s Sugarbirds of Paardeplaats Nature Reserve

Gurney Sugarbirds on Paardeplaats Nature Retreat

Gurney’s Sugarbirds and the Paardeplaats Nature Reserve has become synonymous, mainly because of the clump of proteas on the slopes near the Sabie – Lydenburg road and the scattered protea sites all over the farm which provide a perfect habitat for these birds. During winter there is an influx of sugarbirds feeding on cultivated proteas (Western Cape species), aloes and other flowering plants. The influx to the town areas, however, is not like that observed in the 1980 and 1990’s, as fewer sugarbirds were observed in the suburban gardens during the past several years.

gurney sugarbird eggs This seasonal movement occurs mostly after the summer flowering periods of the Silver Protea (Protea roupelliae), but was also influenced by the rainfall seasons and the fire regime in the area.

Sugarbirds (and in this case – Gurney’s) has formed a close relationship with the protea species. They nest in these plant species and use the old protea flower seeds to lay out their nests for their breeding season which lasts from November to March when abundant protea flowers are available. The protea flowers, in turn, attract insects and beetle species on which they foraged. A very beneficial relationship! The conservation of their protea grassland habitat remains a high priority.

Protea bushes for Gurney Sugar BirdsGurney’s Sugarbirds have a limited distribution range on the eastern escarpment of Southern Africa in association with protea species, mainly the Silver Proteas, and this habitat are also affected by fire regimes.

These proteas are killed by hot fires and regrowth only occurs from seeds in the ground or in canopies of the trees which escaped the fires. During winter months the sugarbirds will move down the ravines on Paardeplaats where they will forage on the winter flowering Krantz Aloes (Aloe arborescens), but will return to the protea clumps which have still have flowering protea flowers available to forage on.

Guney bird ringerThe Paardeplaats Project

Paardeplaats is a private nature reserve at the foot of the Long Tom Pass in the Kruger Lowveld. The closest town is Lydenburg.
Dawie de Swardt, who is the Head of the Ornithology Department at the National Museum in Bloemfontein, has initiated a ringing project in the Lydenburg area to study the seasonal movements of the sugarbirds as far back as 1986.

Gurney Sugarbird school kidsRegular revisits to the sites have been made over the years to obtain recapture data of the sugarbirds. Dawie and other interested bird ringers have covered the lower lying suburban and higher mountainous areas which included the Gustav Klingbiel Nature Reserve and surrounded farms such as Sterkspruit, Potloodspruit and Paardeplaats Nature Reserve on Long Tom Pass. There is one locality on the Steenkampsberg which is also monitored on an annual basis.

The Paardeplaats site is the only locality monitored since 1986 and data have been collected for more than 30 years. An amazing total of 317 sugarbirds have to date been ringed at Paardeplaats with 39 “recaptures” – birds found moving to lower town areas (and to surrounded protea clumps) and also again captured at the Paardeplaats site. A whopping total of 894 sugarbirds has already been ringed in the Lydenburg area!

Paardeplaats NatureRetreat

Sugarbird ringing at Paardeplaats has always been a very popular annual event on the birding calendar. Local school children are given ringing demonstrations and registered SAFRING bird ringers have the opportunity to handle (and ring) sugarbirds and other bird species. This well-attended bird ringing trips also create lots of training opportunities for trainee bird ringers.

Gurney birdringers

The way forward for the Gurney Sugarbirds of Paardeplaats Nature Reserve

Dawie de Swardt has played a pivotal role in the research project on sugarbirds (and SABAP2 bird atlassing project) at Paardeplaats and his interest and devotion to the Gurney Sugarbird have been the driving force behind the success of the project. However, he has assured that the project will continue even in his absence. The bird ringers of BirdLife Northern Gauteng in Pretoria have committed themselves to the Paardeplaats Project and they will monitor the bird populations annually in February, or any time of the year.
The Gurney Sugarbirds have come quite celebrities since nature photographers have discovered that they became quite tame visiting flowering aloes.

Credit:  Dawie de Swardt