As the N4 steadily winds its way up the mountainous Mpumalanga escarpment, and red Coca-Cola sponsored signboards signal the presence of wild horses on the roads, you are about to enter another realm. Brace yourself – Kaapsehoop is unlike any town you’ve visited. On this month’s Jeep Wonderboom Adventure, we take you there.
The village of Kaapsehoop, 27 km from Nelspruit, literally starts at the signpost indicating the turn-off from the national road. It kind of just “happens” – suddenly and very unexpectedly. Usually, small towns offer a kind of introduction – a gentle lead into the town that somehow readies you for what is to come. It’s mostly a residential area of sorts that has expanded around the town centre, or there is at least a street leading into the town. But not Kaapsehoop. The only barrier between the chocolate-box village and the highway is a sidewalk and a non-operational boom. That’s it. Right there in one concentrated, undiluted cluster of old world charm dressed in a mining-era theme that is carried on throughout.Whether it be a residential house, restaurant, shop, beauty salon, hotel, backpackers’ lodge, guesthouse or self-catering establishment – nothing deviates from the mining town architecture true to its history. Uniform. Pristine. Quaint.
Another unique feature of Kaapsehoop is the intimacy between dwellings. Although it’s in the countryside, the town itself lacks open space or a sense of individuality.Houses and businesses are virtually on top of each other. The stand sizes are a mere 15,7m x 15,7m, resulting in the building taking up the entire property. A double stand is seen as a luxury.Living in such familiarity with one’s neighbours, the denizen of wild horses, free range chickens, native ghosts and holidaymakers, takes a special breed of people.And “special” the folks of Kaapsehoop undoubtedly are.
Reinette van Niekerk came to Kaapsehoop in 2004 to feed her desire to work and live with horses. When she bought her first horse in her twenties, she didn’t have money for food, but at least she had a horse. Since then Reinette has owned 17 horses, raised three orphan fillies that now have homes and bottle-fed 11 of Kaapsehoop’s wild horses that now roam the highways and hills.After owning the local backpackers’ lodge for a few years, Reinette morphed into the “horse lady” – the designated person overseeing the wild horses that epitomise the town. This unofficial portfolio entails rescuing trapped horses in the rocky escarpment, assisting in difficult labours, treating sick horses and sometimes having to shoot those that have been hit by cars, broken legs in falls or become terminally ill.
Reinette works closely with the vets in the area, but often has to make life or death decisions herself. “I know most of these horses very well,” says Reinette, who has become an icon in her Isuzu double cab with her sausage dog, Tastic, on the back seat and Australian Kelpie, Brollox, enthusiastically spinning in circles in front of the Isuzu. “Mr J is one of my favourites. He was an orphaned foal, and I helped raise him. Today he has his own herd.”Reinette started Kaapsehoop’s website and info page, www.kaapsehoopinfo.co.za, and acts as a booking agent for all the accommodation spots in Kaapsehoop. She is also a type of PR person cum tour guide. Any media people or TV crew wanting to do a story on Kaapsehoop will liaise with Reinette. Even the various and diverse groups of ghost hunters, mediums and spiritualists who regularly visit the village in search of “paranormal activity” or to record evidence to prove some of the locals’ experiences and sightings, work through Reinette. “There are many stories and mysterious incidents,” Reinette says.
Christo Germishuys is something of a living legend – a real life cowboy, just like in the movies. He lives and breathes horses on his ranch-style farm, buried away in the Komatieland Forests.The ladies in town are enchanted by this diehard cowboy. His looks certainly are impressive. With his open checked shirt, jeans, boots, cowboy hat, long hair and stark blue eyes, he could easily fit the part in a movie – and not just in a Country and Western.Kaapsehoop Horse Trails is just the place for horse lovers or those looking for an unusual breakaway. American ranch-style living is what comes to mind. Horse paraphernalia is used as decor throughout, offering a unique setting for a stay of a week or more.The horse trails are tailored to suit people who are not professional riders. The hard-core riders usually do their own thing on the farm during the week. “I don’t want to make money from you now and then,” says Christo, his piercing eyes contrasting with the wide, friendly smile. “I want to make money from you all the time.” By this Christo means that he won’t allow anyone to ride for too long. His trails are never more than an hour. “No one should be saddle sore or remorseful about horse-riding to the point that they don’t want to do it again. This first experience has to be the start of a lifelong passion – worthwhile pursuing at the drop of a hat.”
Maxi Erasmus is Kaapsehoop’s pottery expert. To Maxi, age is just a number – one she seldom mentions. Doing the maths in one’s head while chatting to her about her life, it’s clear that Maxi is exceptionally “young” for her age.Maxi is busy, busy, busy. Up and down the stairs she goes in her postcard-like wooden home, working on pottery, answering the phone, selling ornaments from her studio – The Potter’s Shop and Gallery – and organising the yearly White Elephant sale…all while sipping on a glass of rosé.“I love life,” says Maxi. “My husband died unexpectedly in 1981. I devoted myself to pottery as a coping mechanism. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have gone bonkers!” Maxi brought pottery to the Lowveld over 40 years ago. “Back then, no one knew about pottery here. It was the hippest thing ever. I gave pottery lessons for many years. A few of my students have opened studios and galleries overseas and are doing extremely well.” Maxi’s White Elephant Sale in April is in its sixth year. “All the proceeds go to the Wild Horse Fund to help with vets’ bills, medicine and other expenses for taking care of our wild horses.”
Not far from Maxi’s home, a meandering path leads to the hikers’ huts that belong to Komatieland Forests. The handwritten sign on the gate to the path reads, “Die Hemel se Hek” (Heaven’s Gate). Profound words – hiking in this neck of the woods is heavenly.Permits for these eco trails and hikes to the waterfall can be obtained from Rudi du Plessis, who is is contracted by Komatieland Forests to run the huts and keep them in pristine condition.As a longtime resident, building contractor and co-owner of the renowned pancake den in town, Rudi is the perfect person to maintain the wholesome image of Kaapsehoop’s trails and hikers’ accommodation.“We have four hikers’ huts and quite a few trail options,” says Rudi from under his cowboy hat while drilling a hole in a log. He is building a braai area for one of the huts. “There are three two-day options, two three-day options and one four-day option.”
Running out of creative options for making a living is not likely to happen to Charl Fourie, co-owner of Bohemian Restaurant. Charl, his wife Andrea and their two children moved to Kaapsehoop from Hazyview last year to make their dreams come true. “I had my own furniture factory for many years and have always been into decor,” says Charl. “Then the price of steel increased dramatically and business slowed down.” Tired of being creatively stifled and drained, the couple decided to combine their talents and start anew.
Charl’s artistic touch is evident in every table, chair, chandelier, couch and cushion in Bohemia. He is also a painter. He will still do the occasional once-off bit of furniture making, but his paintings take priority. His rusted old trucks are also a hot seller!Andrea is the culinary master at Bohemia. Just because Kaapsehoop is so small doesn’t mean there isn’t much to do.The rock fields, cemetery, church, old prison and miners’ houses are most interesting. Then there is Salvador’s for a great pub evening with friends, Silver Mist Tranquil Beauty Salon for some pampering and a few other unusual shops. But the real attraction of Kaapsehoop is its range of distinctive accommodation.
The guest houses are sublime. There are self-catering homes, cottages and loft apartments all offering a different perspective and experience of Kaapsehoop, making each visit a unique adventure.
Once you’ve been to Kaapsehoop, you will soon be back.
For any information on Kaapsehoop, or to book your stay, contact Reinette on 082-333 2073 or visit their website.