Go bush in Hoedspruit
Hoedspruit is a lovely spot in what used to be the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumulanga), nestled into the foot of the imposing Swadini Buttress. This sheer rockface forms part of the northerly extension of the Drakensberg range, and marks the sharp break between the Highveld (the high plateau that forms much of South Africa's interior) and the Lowveld (the flat plain that slopes towards the ocean).
As a town, Hoedspruit is functional but unspectacular - what is so special is the surrounding area. The scenery is nothing short of majestic and many the farms have converted from conventional agriculture to service the more sustainable and lucrative tourist industry. If you have never spent time in the bush, this would be a wonderful place to start, as the game farms and private reserves in the Hoedspruit area are excellent and usually more affordable than their counterparts in the more upmarket Sabie Sands area. 'Going bush' is one of the most relaxing experiences imaginable, and is such a potent antidote to frenetic city life that even notoriously stressed-out Johannesburgers have been known to start mellowing after a couple of hours!
Hoedspruit is a good stop off if you're en route for the Kruger Park and would like to break your journey: the Orpen Gate is only about an hour's drive on a good tar road. It also makes a good base for exploring the escarpment, but be a little wary of travel times when you're planning your itinerary. Because of the steep topography distances that look short 'as the crow flies' on the map often take much longer than you think. For example, to get from Graskop to Hoedspruit takes well over an hour because you have to take the Abel Erasmus Pass down the escarpment and come through Strydom Tunnel - this can be a slow road, as it is winding, passes through villages with speed restrictions and carries quite heavy traffic.
The obvious attraction is the Blyde River Dam (see my travel tip) - this is what you look down on from the Three Rondavels viewpoint on top of the escarpment, although most tourists miss out on seeing it from this angle. There are all sorts of water-based activities on the dam, as well as many hiking trails through the nature reserve. I would also highly recommend the Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Sanctuary (see travel tip), where we've been visiting for the last decade, and if cheetah are your thing, then the Kapama centre is also worth a look. There are also opportunities for a range of outdoor pursuits such as horse riding and quad biking, so you're unlikely to be bored!
More esoteric is the Bombyx Mori factory, where a marvellous range of bedding and clothes are made from locally produced silk - unless you've been lucky enough to have the experience, you'll have to believe me when I tell you that slumbering under a silk duvet is like sleeping under a cloud (see my shopping tip)!