Affectionately known as the alternative route to the coast, it starts in Mpumalanga and passes into KwaZulu-Natal, winding through Paulpietersburg, Vryheid, Melmoth and Piet Retief before ending in the seaside town of Mtunzini, home to the Raphia Palm and the extremely endangered palm-nut vulture.
The Rainbow Route is ideal for those with a deep love for nature, culture and history and the perfect way to explore a myriad of undiscovered little towns set amongst immense grasslands and the fragile natural beauty of the cosmos country. En route, you can expect to follow in the footsteps of the Voortrekkers, bump into the British and experience the history of the noble Zulu nation.
The Mpumalalnga stretch of your journey – through the towns of Carolina, Kriel, Bethal, Ermelo and Chrissiesmeer – will take you through South Africa’s coal belt, a section of the country that reflects the harsh history of coal mining and power generation. There’s another side too though. This area is also known as the grass and wetland region of Mpumalanga – a land of shimmering lakes and rivers and abundant bird life. Once you cross into KwaZulu-Natal, you will trace the eastern edge of the famous Battlefields Route. Stop overs in some of the towns will enable you to unearth a wealth of local history.
A perfect spot to make your home while exploring the region is the Gooderson Natal Spa Hot Springs and Leisure Resort, just 9km from Paulpietersburg, this resort is set amongst ancient giant Cambrian boulders on a 550 hectare stretch of beautiful bushveld beside the picturesque Bivane River. Discovery of the spa, which is fed by a natural hot spring that surfaces on the southern approaches to the 1 536m Dumbe Mountain, comes with its own historical yarn. Apparently, in 1888, Oom Piet Wessels was taking a dip in the river when resting up during a journey between South Africa and the then Lourenco Marques. He found a whole lot of ‘hot spots’ which he marked with sandbags and eventually returned to buy the farm with the help of his boss, General Smuts. During the Boer war in the 1900’s, soldiers used one of the rocks on the far side of the river for target practice. The pock marks are still visible to visitors. The thermal waters rise up along fault fissures and are heated at source to between 36 and 45 degrees Celsius. These “triple waters” contain healing chlorides, sulphates and carbonates which help heal all sorts of ills. There is also a water park, supertube, mountain bike trail as well as many lively activities available and the new Flight of the Eagle zipline, featuring a 370 metre long zipline.
Near to the resort, is the town of Paulpietersburg, a small, pretty farming town nestled below the big, flat-topped, triangular Dumbe Mountain which is named after the wild tubular dumbe fruit which grows on its slopes. The town is popular with both paragliders and hikers who regularly stride out on local walking trails to appreciate the exotic flora and magnificent views. Paulpietersburg has the largest collection of grass orchids in South Africa and local guide, Horst Filter, organises photographic and nature tours when these bloom in December. He also runs 4 x 4 trips to the Engodini Crater high up in the mountains, where visitors can take a dip in a mountain stream and view Bushman paintings. Paulpieterburg is rich in history from both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars. The town is named after Boer leaders Paul Kruger and Piet Joubert. Outside the town are three boulders which mark the spot where, in 1902, General Louis Botha met with the Utrecht Commando to elect delegates to the peace talks in Vereeniging to end the second Boer War. The peace treaty was eventually signed at the nearby Egode River.
Another town to explore is Löneburg – Founded by German missionaries in the late 1800s, this little town is home to a fascinating small museum. The town cemetery is the last resting place of some of the 80 British soldiers who died during the battle of Ntombe Drift in March 1879, when about 500 Zulu warriors, under the command of Prince Mbilini waMswati, ambushed a supply column. Those who are not history buffs can seek out the fascinating walking trails, including one at nearby Wagendrift. The Dumbe Trail is a 10km mountain trail through areas with old mine shafts and lovely birdlife.
Then there is Vryheid, once the capital of the Nieuwe Republiek, a small Boer republic proclaimed on August 16, 1884 after land was donated by the Zulu Kingdom through a treaty, this slightly larger town has three museums. Visit the Prince Imperial Monument which marks the end of France’s Napoleonic dynasty. Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial of France and the only son of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugéni and his family had been exiled to Britain after the Prussian War of 1870. He begged Queen Victoria to allow him to join the British forces when reinforcements were sent to South Africa after the defeat of the British Army at Isandlwana. At just 23, he was killed during a reconnaissance patrol.
Melmoth is a former gold rush town that lies on a mist belt surrounded by timber plantations, a bird sanctuary, the Nkandla forest and the beautiful Nkwaleni Valley.
Ulundi is worth a quick detour, the former capital of Zululand. Here, you can visit the mystical Valley of the Kings, the kraal of Cetshwayo and the grave of Piet Retief who, together with his party of Voortrekkers, was executed there on Dingaan’s orders in 1838.
Visit the fascinating Dlinza forest in Eshowe, with its aerial boardwalk, the Entumi Nature Reserve, the Mpushini Falls and Vukani Museum which is housed in the landmark three turreted Fort Nongqayi.
To explore and discover all these hidden gems and you need a place to use as your base, call the Gooderson Natal Spa on 034-9950300 or visit www.goodersonleisure.co.za. T’s and C’s apply.