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10 Top Things to Do in South Africa's Lake District

Lake Chrissiemeer
Lake Chrissiemeer | © Mariette du Buson / Chrissiemeer Tourism
The Chrissiesmeer Lake District in Mpumalanga is a treasure for roving travelers seeking solitude and natural grandeur, featuring over 270 scenic lakes and pans centred around the charming little hamlet of Chrissiesmeer. Here are some delightful things to do in the area.

Hear the noisy chatter of birds

Chrissiesmeer is awash with spectacular birdlife and huge flocks of flamingos are a common sight, adorning the wetlands in all their white and pink glory. Also vying for attention around the marshes and lakes are all three species of southern African crane and vocal flocks of southern red bishops, among many other species. The ideal time for twitchers to visit is between September and March, when migrant birds arrive for the summer. Detailed birding maps are easy to come by and can be picked up at most of the local guesthouses.

Flamingos on Lake Chrissiesmeer © Mariette du Buson / Chrissiesmeer Tourism

See the land of frogs

With so much water around, it’s only natural that one would find frogs. This lake area is also referred to as Matotoland, Swazi for “land of frogs,” and frog-catching expeditions armed with a headlamp and plastic bag are popular evening events. The kids will love it, and it’s a fantastic way to learn more about this amazing natural environment as well as the breeding ecology of all 13 frog species found around the lakes. Contact Florence Guest Farm for more information and bookings.

Well-disguised common river frog © Bernard DUPONT / Flickr

Discover fascinating rock formations

Goliath’s Footprint, a large impression in a granite rock face resembling a giant left foot, is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. To some it’s holy, to others, part of a larger conspiracy theory. However, no matter which camp you choose to side with, the giant “footprint” is quite astounding. Another natural anomaly in the area is a 29-yard (27-meter) natural stone bridge that crosses the Vaal River and was used by the early Voortrekkers when the river was in flood.

Stock up on bedding

While this may sound strange, Chrissiesmeer is home to a one-of-a-kind pillow and duvet shop that sells 100% wool-filled bedding with cotton casings. Said to be hypoallergenic and wonderfully snuggly, the bedding is also well priced and worth a browse. McCloud’s is located in a beautifully quaint and historic sandstone building in the town’s main drag, and you can grab a bite to eat there too.

McCloud's duvet and pillow shop © Chrissiesmeer Tourism

Skip through the flowers

The flora around the Chrissiesmeer Lake District is simply stunning, especially from August to February, when spring and summer bring a riot of color to the surrounding landscape. The area is also well known for its 12 species of wild orchids, and guided flower tours can be booked in advance.

Colourful vygies are common © Jolette Roodt / Flickr

Check out some vintage tractors

Farmer Jan Randell’s Ranch Museum has one of the largest collections of vintage tractors in Africa, all immaculately restored and in full running order. There is a constantly updated collection of machines to admire, with the oldest dating back to the 1920s, as well as a collection of vintage cars, trucks, and motorbikes, old engines and church organs, and even a 1948 Beechcraft Bonanza 35 plane. The collection is private, so a viewing appointment must be made in advance. Serious browsers will be pleased to know that there is also a selection of vintage pieces for sale.

For bookings call +27828075515 or mail Jan at jansnr@randellsranch.co.za.

Tractor display at Randall's Ranch © Chrissiesmeer Tourism

Explore the Scottish heritage

Many, many years ago a Scottish settler named Alexander McCorkindale fell in love with this amazing lake area that reminded him of his homeland. He purchased 200 farms from the South African government and gave them beautiful Scottish names such as Lochiel, Dundonald, and Bonnie Brae. Many of these farms still retain their Scottish titles, while the town is awash with beautifully restored sandstone buildings, a further reminder of Scotland. Worth a visit are the Ou Sending Pastorie (Old Mission Parsonage), the old Methodist Church, the old Barclays Bank, and the Old Mill.

Whispers of Scotland in Chrissiesmeer's winter landscape © Chrissiesmeer Tourism

Hop on your bike

The undulating landscape of the Lake District’s grasslands and wetlands lend themselves to cycling while you enjoy gorgeous views and fresh, clean air. Most of the local farmers have no problem with cyclists using their gravel roads. From short mountain bike rides to longer, more strenuous cycles that may require hopping over a fence or two, there’s something for every biker to enjoy.

A group of cyclists enjoying Chrissiesmeer's pastoral scenes © Chrissiesmeer Tourism

Stay on a working farm

The fertile lands of the Lake District are dotted with picturesque working farms where visitors can be woken by the cries of cockerels and watch tractors and cattle passing by. A whole host of accommodation options are available with most offering homely comforts such as wholesome farmhouse breakfasts and cozy fire places that beckon you to curl up and snooze. Family-run Florence Guest Farm is one such option, providing genuine, friendly old-style hospitality. It is also a popular wedding venue, and what could be more romantic than tying the knot surrounded by old sandstone buildings and misty wooded lakes?

Newlywed couple at Florence Guest Farm © Florence Guest Farm

Admire the rock art

Numerous rock art sites and fascinating stories about ancient tribesmen are plentiful in and around Chrissiesmeer. Rock paintings that depict cattle, buck, giraffe, and other wild animals that once frequented the verdant wetlands are woven with tales such as those of the Tlou-tle tribe. Folklore has it that they lived on reed rafts in the middle of the lakes. These eventually took root and grew into islands, while the tribesmen hid underwater for hours on end, breathing though reeds, to avoid the dangers posed by aggressors.