Tips for Tom Cruise's Hollywood crew: It's all happening in Hoedspruit
With Tom Cruise based in Limpopo to shoot 'Mission Impossible', a local has some insider tips for the star and his crew — and other visitors too
Hoedspruit in Limpopo is hot property right now, with Hollywood star Tom Cruise based there to film Mission: Impossible 8. But way before Cruise touched down in his own chopper on a private wildlife estate there last week, Hoedspruit has been on its own mission, growing from a relatively remote backwater to a trendy and friendly tourism hub. Offering a fabulous combination of bushveld and mountains, it is a gateway to many private reserves, as well as the Kruger National Park.
BEST CRAZY ADVENTURE
Spend a night on an aeroplane in the bush. Yes, really. The first of its kind in SA, Aerotel is a retired Boeing 747-300 that’s been turned into a six-room boutique hotel. Forget queues, horrid airline food and annoying co-passengers. Aerotel is an exclusive and sexy little spot with glorious views of the Blyde River Canyon, a swimming pool, funky aeronautical touches (overhead lockers, a peek inside the original cockpit) and a covered deck offering delicious tapas and gin-tails (that’s a gin cocktail with just about anything). See aerotel.co.za
BEST MATES’ BUSH BREAK
Round up your gang and book out the whole of Bushwillow Villa in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate — yes, the same estate where Cruise is staying at a private lodge.
Bushwillow sleeps six people in three double rooms. It has a spacious open-plan kitchen and lounge with all the gadgets, and doors that open out onto the pool, private deck, fire pit and braai area. You may see kudu, impala, warthog, giraffe and zebra, and the birdlife is great. It’s got that middle-of-the-bush feeling but town is only a 10-minute drive. Chill at the villa, arrange a day excursion or explore on foot, bicycles, horseback, or in your own car for a game drive. See bushwillowvilla.co.za
BEST FAMILY GETAWAY
Khaya Ndlovu is a gracious and artistic manor house with glorious views of the Northern Drakensberg and lots of things to do — game drives, nature walks, high teas, day trips, spa treatments, helicopter rides and more. It is child friendly (they also have a babysitting service) and a great base from which to explore the surrounding delights of the Hoed and beyond. See khayandlovu.co.za
BEST ROMANTIC ESCAPE
Think spacious and utterly gorgeous private suites, outdoor showers, spa treatments and sublime food. Unembeza Boutique Lodge and Spa is in the greenbelt of the Hoedpsruit Wildlife Estate and caters for the conscious traveller looking to connect with nature. Long, lazy breakfasts, light lunches and decadent four-course dinners — the food is excellent, and their wine showcases the best of organic SA wines. See unembeza.com
BEST BUDGET BREAK
Leadwood Tree Safari Lodge, also in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate, has four fabulous self-catering bush lodges at great prices (from R800 upwards for two people). Choose between one or two bedrooms, or get two interleading lodges for a group of six. All have Wi-Fi, TV, well-equipped kitchens and there’s a communal pool with gorgeous sunset views over the river bed. You’ll see plains game roaming around, and the birding at nearby Fish Eagle Dam is excellent. See leadwoodlodge.co.za
BEST DAY TRIP
Take a gentle boat ride on the Blyde River dam and get to see the spectacular setting where Cruise recently started filming. Relax on the waters and gaze up at the peaks and formations of the Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third biggest (after the US’s Grand Canyon and Namibia’s Fish River Canyon). It’s also the world’s largest green canyon. Your boat ride will take you past the incredible Three Rondavels and you can also visit the second-highest tufa waterfall on Earth, which plunges 200m down a lichen-clad cliff face. blydecanyonsafaris.com
BEST KRUGER DAY DRIVE
The S39 Timbavati River Road between Orpen gate and the northern camps of Olifants and Letaba is one of the Kruger National Park’s most scenic drives. It follows the Timbavati River for almost 50km through a diverse mix of woodlands and veld, and crosses over a series of different geological zones that are habitat for many species. The Timbavati River is a tributary of the Olifants and is a water source for game in central and western KNP. The Leeubron water hole on the S39 is rated by photographers as one of the top 10 sites for wildlife photography.
BEST WILDLIFE EDUCATIONAL OUTINGS
Get up close and personal with endangered species like wild dog, cheetahs and vultures and find out more about conservation, rehabilitation and anti-poaching at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. See hesc.co.za
At Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, you can take a two-and-a-half-hour tour to see servals, leopards, and other animals that are being rehabilitated after injury or poisoning. See moholoholo.co.za
Take a slow and scenic drive to Kampersrus, a quaint village 24km from Hoedspruit, under the eaves of Maripeskop and the Blyde River Canyon. Those in the know are snapping up properties here. For the best pizzas and Sunday lunches, visit the new Buck and Berg, a double-storey restaurant with outdoor decks.
The Farm House is a delicatessen and restaurant featuring all things seasonal, fresh, and organic. Try their smoothies, lassis and health juices; build your own breakfast combos with eggs, sourdoughs, seed breads, assorted greens and veg; and shop at their deli for local produce, free-range eggs, herbs and juices, as well as gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free and vegan foods. They also do lunches and children eat free on Family Friday between 3pm and 6pm. See thefarmhouse.africa
BEST FOR NON-BANTERS
La Baguette Cafe’s French artisanal baker does breads and pastries from France and the French African islands. Taste delectable croissants, long French loaves, quiches, pies and pastries, as well as traditional baking from Macatia in Réunion, made according to the secrets of the greatest master bakers. See facebook.com/labaguettebyukuthulabushlodge
BEST BARS FOR HAPPY HOUR
Happy Hour is a well established and enthusiastically protected tradition in the Hoed, with prices averaging R25 for a glass of wine, R150 for a six-beer bucket and R60 for two gins. The Tasting Room offers a two-hour happy hour along with platters and pizzas, plus wine and gin tastings. safariwines.co.za
Sleepers Railway Station Restaurant is a safari-style pub on the old station platform, with cold beer, shady mahogany trees and plenty of fun-loving khaki-clad people. A short hop from town is the Thirsty Giraffe, where you’ll find lekker lowveld food like prawns, espetadas, peri-peri chicken — and you may even get to meet their resident donkey. Find them at facebook.com/SleepersRestaurant.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Brothers Tuwanda Muzeketwa and Stewart Masube trained for more than a decade in Franschhoek, food hub of the Western Cape, before moving to the Hoed to launch The Kassava Café. Its interesting menu twists the traditional and modern with dishes such as Zamalek brisket, bush salad, ox liver and delicious pasta, and vegetarian options too. The name refers to the cassava plant which appears on their menu in things like chips, mustard cassava mash and hash browns. facebook.com/KassavaCafe
The Hat & Creek is an elegant and upmarket spot with an extensive menu featuring just about everything from steaks, rumps and T-bones to venison, lamb and potjiekos. Enjoy their Wild Game Platter where you can select from impala, kudu, wildebeest, eland, gemsbok and ostrich. You can also get seafood — prawns, salmon, hake, calamari and mussels. hatandcreek.co.za
BEST FOR CHILDREN
At the new Hoedspruit Café at the Kamagelo Centre, adults get to relax with fast Wi-Fi, good coffee, interesting cocktails and delicious fare, while babies and children have a tailor-made menu and a fabulous play area under shady trees. thehoedspruitcafe.co.za
BEST STOCK-UP SPOT
Known by locals as the Harrods of Hoedspruit, Le Bamba is a legendary fruit and vegetable supermarket, with a bakery, cold meat section, specialised nuts and seeds, and fabulous exotic specialty fare like hoisin sauce, pickled ginger, bamboo shoots, Chinese rice paper, green peppercorns and rice vinegar. Shop number 2, Le Bamba Centre, Pythone Street.