If you’re planning a trip to the Kruger National Park or elsewhere in the Lowveld, you’ll be sorry if you don’t use the chance to stop over at Kaapsehoop 30km from Mbombela (that’s Nelspruit to the oldies). It’s a tiny but pretty town with huge amounts of personality. Learn about its gold rush history, see wild horses roam in the mist, and discover lots of things to do in Kaapsehoop.
Gold rush history
Visitors today are drawn to Kaapsehoop near Mbombela in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province for its attractive architecture and its wild horses moseying along the gravel roads in search of plants to munch. Things were very different some 150 years ago, when the area had a heady gold rush atmosphere. You can imagine the rough and desperate types who came here, fist fights breaking out over territory, finds being celebrated with gun shots fired into the air.
Kaapsehoop (also spelled Kaapschehoop and meaning ‘Cape Hope’) sprung up virtually overnight when alluvial gold was discovered in Battery Creek on the farm Berlyn in 1882. By 1884, some 4000 gold diggers had staked their claims. The little settlement had originally been called Duiwelskantoor (devil’s office) because the rocks reminded people of the walls of a room, while the rolling mists gave everything a dark and eerie cast. After gold was discovered, it was renamed Kaapsehoop to show the hope for rich finds among the diggers and inhabitants of the De Kaap Valley nearby.
Today, Kaapsehoop has a split personality. Visit during the week, as we did, and you’ll find a sleepy little fairytale village of corrugated iron cottages, wild horses ambling along country roads, colourful gardens and a clutch of artisans and funky shops, not all of them open. If you pass someone in the street, it’ll probably be a local and they’re happy to chat. Signs that tell of free-roaming horses, children – even frogs and fairies – will catch your eye. At the right time of year (see ‘best time to visit’ below), you’ll almost believe in ghosts as you watch buildings and rock formations emerge dimly through the mist.
15 things to do in Kaapsehoop
5. Do a multi-day hike. The Kaapsehoop Hiking Trail has four overnight huts, one of them consisting of two train coaches. You can combine various two- or three-day trails to make up your own hike of anything from 16km to 46km. Look for birds, wild horses, bushbuck and klipspringer along the way and keep your eyes peeled for yellowwood trees, aloes, cycads and tree ferns. For info and bookings, contact SAFCOL, tel 013 754-2724, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Go horse riding with Kaapsehoop Horseback Trails. No matter whether you’re a novice or expert rider, there’s an outride – and a horse – for you. Feel the wind in your face, breathe in the clean mountain air and enjoy panoramic views out over the escarpment.
11. Are you keen on birding? Sadly, the blue swallows that used to be a drawcard haven’t nested in the area since 2007. But talk to knowledgeable bird guide Johan, cell 083 294-3370, about going together to look for other bird specials of the area like bush blackcap, Barratt’s warbler, black-rumped buttonquail and many more.
The other pub in town is the corrugated iron Nagkantoor Kuierkroeg next to the chapel, with its old gold-mining vibe. The owner is an ex-journalist who has covered the walls with newspaper clippings and photos that serve as conversation starters.
13. Go browsing and shopping. There’s a number of artists’ studios and interesting little shops in Kaapsehoop, from fine art, glassworks and jewellery to collectibles. I enjoyed browsing the collectibles at Gold Dust Trading, with its porcelain, silver, glassware and other vintage bric a brac. Soul Creations draws inspiration from nature for its jewellery, with the latest range made by dipping Kaapsehoop ferns and other plants in silver.
14. Join a ghost tour. Walk with a guide at sunset to hear hair-raising stories of murder, mystery and mayhem and perhaps a haunting or three. Meet the ghost of an old lady, hear the shattering of plates. This ghost tour takes about an hour.
15. Stay over for a night or three, to allow plenty of time to enjoy all that Kaapsehoop offers. We stayed for two nights and didn’t have time for everything we wanted to do. Just remember that the village is super busy on the weekends, but much less busy during the week (although some shops and restaurants might be closed on Tuesday and/or Wednesday). Google ‘Kaapsehoop accommodation’ and you’ll be surprised at how many places pop up; it’s as if half the town’s population offers at least one room or cottage! Even Miz Gooz Berry owner Berry Legg (see point 12) runs a small B&B. From country inns and guest houses to B&Bs and self-catering cottages, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Check out Kaaspehoop Accommodation for a selection.
Kaapsehoop is a year-round destination, depending on what you prefer. If you hate the oppressive heat of Lowveld summers, you’ll be pleased to find that its high elevation (1486m) makes Kaapsehoop summers much more bearable. Average temperature in December to February is around 23-25 degrees, which is a good 6-7 degrees cooler than Mbombela just 30km away. Summers can also be very misty, but you’ll love the eerie atmosphere that this can create – great if you’re a romantic or a keen photographer.
Winter days are mostly sunny but the nights are cold. This is the time to snuggle up to a logfire with a glass of red wine or mug of hot chocolate in hand.
Before you plan your visit, be aware that it gets very busy on weekends. If you prefer tranquility and a place to yourself and the locals, a mid-week visit might be preferable, although you may find some shops and restaurants closed.
Where to find it
Kaapsehoop is about 30km south-west of Mbombela in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province.
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