Anything but dull

For many travellers, Dullstroom is just a pitstop for a bite to eat and quick browse the main street shops en route to the Kruger National Park or elsewhere in Mpumalanga. After finding some hidden gems in this quaint little town recently, Mary Willemse declares it an ideal weekend getaway when you feel like the city is closing in on you.

I felt I had drawn the short straw after opting for a gravel road trip to Dullstroom in Suzuki’s Vitara Brezza, when the boys in the family were going to be taking an adventurous route to Mozambique with a whole lot of fishing on the agenda. First off, the car. It’s a compact crossover. I am not a small girl and have never been able to pack light (especially not when visiting a place notorious for four seasons in one day). So the “compact” part worried me, especially considering the fact that I was taking my daughter and a friend along. I had serious doubts about whether we would be able to fit everything into this little Suzuki. And when the weather forecast indicated it would be raining for a few days, I had visions of us sliding down muddy slopes at the gravel travel destinations I had picked. Surely a recipe for disaster! Au contraire, my friends – no disaster whatsoever! Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only by the space the Vitara Brezza offers (the 328-litre boot can take a LOT), but also by the comfortable drive. There is ample legroom both in the front and the back, plenty of safety features and its handling truly impressed on some rather rough gravel roads. The fuel consumption was also something to shout about. We filled up when departing home in Jozi and almost completed the entire trip on those 48 litres, which included the 500km there and back as well as much driving in and around town. We even visited the mysterious place called Tonteldoos, but more about that later!

Wine not?

The Dullstroom Cultour Co. at the funky 84 on Main building in the main street was our first stop because… wine not? We were met by the vivacious and energetic Lynetia Botha who is living her “wine dream” since establishing this cute spot with partner, Anton Greeff, in 2020. “I love wine, and have always loved Dullies, so I wanted a way to combine this – and that’s how the Cultour Co. was born,” she tells us. They share a space with the artisanal cheesemaker Bergen Cheese, a doughnut shop, a homemade pasta shop, and a kiosk where you can get “bubble tea”. This, in case you were wondering (as I did), is a Taiwanese tea-based drink that consists of flavoured tea accompanied by the signature “bubbles”, which are tapioca pearls that sit at the bottom and explode in your mouth, enhancing the flavour. So we live and learn – and the pomegranate flavour I chose was certainly refreshing.

But back to my beverage of choice and the wine tasting experience at Cultour Co. Lynetia aims to make sure that her spot is an inviting, unpretentious place for people to enjoy the many interesting wines she tracks down. “I love the stories behind the wine labels and vineyards and try to showcase some new and interesting winemakers’ products together with more traditional brands,” she says. We opted for a tasting of four wines from an old favourite of mine, Delaire Graff. The tasting consists of four glasses – a crisp 2020 Chenin Blanc, surprisingly light and tasty Cabernet Franc Rosé, somewhat woodier 2019 Banghoek Reserve Chardonnay, and the delicious 2018 Botmaskop – and a platter prepared to complement and bring out the tastes (curated by the talented Chef Lana Doyle). After stocking up on some favourites, we said our goodbyes and headed to The Red Barn, which is 20 minutes from town in the Lydenburg direction, and our lodgings for the next two nights.

Back in August (when we initially planned this trip but had to postpone when Covid-19 struck me down), Claire Watson, who runs The Red Barn, had warned that the gravel road to the Dairy Cottage where we were staying can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily the Vitara Brezza’s 198mm of ground clearance helped make light work of the gravel road, and after unpacking, we relaxed on the verandah, enjoying the silence and stunning views surrounding our cottage. Claire and her family popped in later with dinner, and we ended off our first night with loads of suggestions of things to do during our time in their little piece of paradise.

Waking up to the chirping of birds, we had coffee and rusks down by the dam overlooking the rolling green hills and spotted the lone sable antelope, called Zamalek, and the small herd of golden wildebeest which are part of the farm’s breeding programme. Blesbok, springbok and nyala are also kept. We met up with Mike, the Watsons’ son, who promised to show us around and take us bass fishing at one of the four dams. We didn’t have much luck on the fishing front, but we were again impressed with the Suzuki that effortlessly followed Mike’s 4×4 everywhere on this beautiful farm.

Food, glorious food

Since I needed to catch up on some emails and the farm’s signal is patchy at best (heavenly to be off the grid!), we headed to town where I made myself at home at one of the coffee shops offering great Wi-Fi and even better coffee, while the girls headed out to explore the many shops. With work and shopping done, we headed to Fatima’s Kitchen for lunch. We had read rave reviews about this little eatery just off the main road, and since it was a chilly day, authentic Indian cuisine seemed to be the perfect solution. Fatima is an institution in Dullies, and people travel from far and wide for her signature dish, Joe’s Special – a delicious trout with a masala base prepared with almonds and secret spices. We were spoilt with a platter of starters consisting of scrumptious samoosas, spring rolls and aloo paratha (a flatbread stuffed with mashed potato and spices), and for mains a generous helping of chicken biryani, Fatima’s personal favourite. I had read in a previous interview that this is her go-to dish when she wants to impress, and impress this talented chef certainly did.

Fuelled by the hearty meal and hubby Mahmood’s stories of days gone by in this special town which his family made their home in 1916, we decided to go in search of the mysterious Tonteldoos, which is promoted on a massive signboard as you enter Dullstroom. Mahmood gave the Vitara Brezza one look, shook his head and warned of the hectic gravel road we would face. And hectic it was, being strewn with boulders and ditches. Yet, the Vitara Brezza took it in its stride and we never felt unsafe or worried.

When we eventually arrived in Tonteldoos after a 25km gravel challenge, it was sad to see that the once famous cheese factory has closed down due to Covid-19. The place is not much more than one little shop with an interesting mix of local delicacies and – interestingly – a wide range of health foods and a small plaasskooltjie. But hey, at least we can now tick Tonteldoos off our travel list! Now pressed for time, we put pedal to the metal on the way back for a dinner reservation at the famous Flying Scotsman Restaurant at the equally renowned Walkersons Hotel & Spa. We had heard that the views from the patio at this spot are some of the best in town, so we were keen to enjoy a glorious sunset. Of course, we arrived as rolling mist on the winding road to the hotel announced the fourth season of the day (winter). It was all rather ominous, and we felt like we were caught in the setting of a scary movie.

Arriving at the estate, one can’t help but feel like a wealthy aristocrat. The old-school charm, Scottish-inspired dining room, and exquisite three-course dinner were just what we needed. I am still wondering about the painting of the mysterious woman dominating the lounge area: her black pin curls and classic pearls suggest aristocracy, but her scarlet dress, matching lipstick and beguiling brown eyes hint at deeper waters…

Fly fishing and other flying creatures

After checking out of The Red Barn and bidding the tranquil space a sad farewell, we headed to take on a different adventure – clay-pigeon shooting and fly-fishing lessons at Field and Stream, again on the Tonteldoos road. Farm manager Gavin Botha gave us a safety briefing, and we tried our hand at tracking the skeets without much luck (we hit two marks from a total of 25 rounds). Shooting done, we decided to settle into our lodgings for the evening before our farm tour and fly-fishing lesson scheduled for a little later. Field and Stream is well known as a great fly fishing destination, with two dams (Meike’s Meer and Matuka Dam), a weir and 4km of the Witpoort River on the southern end of the farm. Again, the fishing gods were not smiling on us, but it was fun to learn the finer points of fly fishing from Gavin. Apparently, trout are less active and harder to catch when the weather is warmer – so we’ll just stick to that, then! The farm is stunning, with spectacular waterfalls and a 4m-deep swemgat for those brave enough to jump off the cliffs into the ice-cold water.

Since our trout score was zero, for dinner we had to settle for a cheese platter bought earlier from Bergen Cheese and some of the goodies from Cultour Co. We made a comfy bed of cushions and blankets in front of the cosy fireplace, and spent the evening reminiscing about our getaway filled with many culinary and other adventures.

Our last scheduled stop was a visit to the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre, where we hoped to get a flying demo of some of the rescued birds. This is advertised as weather permitting, and we decided that the weather is the deciding factor for many things in this town! The centre’s main aim is to educate the public about the plight of raptors, through flight demonstrations and handling days.

The enthusiastic and knowledgeable Magdali Theron handled the day’s demonstration with a quartet of feathered friends: Libra the Bateleur, Jester the Harris’s hawk, Daffie the spotted eagle owl, and Chew the African harrier-hawk. She explained that flight demonstrations form part of the birds’ rehabilitation and fitness programmes. While it is entertaining to watch, the main aim remains education and rehabilitation. “Sadly, some of our birds cannot be released back into the wild, but still need to be flown to keep in shape and in optimal health – so the flight demos are useful for the welfare of the birds,” she explained. It was special to watch her passion shine through as she interacted with “her” birds. Heading home, leaving a piece of our hearts in “the place of prosperity” as Dullstroom is also known, we realised that although our three days here had been jam-packed, we had just scraped the surface of what this town offers. Yes, it is South Africa’s premier trout fishing area and a great pitstop en route to other major Mpumalanga attractions, but it is definitely worth a longer visit.

Your travel guide to Dullstroom:

The Red Barn: A popular wedding venue, The Red Barn offers self-catering accommodation options:
The Stables: The six en-suite rooms with a communal kitchen, dining and bar area sleeps 12 adults and can be set up with single or king-sized beds. R395 per person per night.
The Homestead: Upmarket accommodation with old-time charm and modern convenience, it sleeps up to eight
adults in four rooms.
The Dairy Cottage: Once a working dairy, the cottage has been renovated and now sleeps six guests in three bedrooms (each with its own en-suite bathroom). R500 per person per night.

CONTACT: +27 71 354 7493 | |

Field and Stream: An ideal getaway spot for trout anglers and families, Field and Stream offers a variety of accommodation options to suit your needs:
The Farmstead: The farm’s original homestead is fenced and offers three bedrooms and two
bathrooms and can sleep up to six people.
The Nest: A cosy one-bedroom cottage sleeping two people (a couple or two singles sharing), with
a covered verandah, braai area and a cosy fireplace.
Cormorant Cove & Eagle’s Crest: Overlooking Meike’s Meer (one of the two dams on the farm),
both of these options sleep six people comfortably but can accommodate up to eight people (if four
people share the loft space). The open-plan kitchen is fully kitted, and the fireplace in the lounge
makes it a great hideaway.
The Lodge: The biggest accommodation option on the farm, the lodge has five bedrooms and four
bathrooms (two en-suite) and can accommodate 10 people, making it ideal for larger groups. The huge
fireplace, braai area, bar and pool table will ensure everyone stays entertained.
*The Farmstead, The Nest and Cormorant Cove is pet-friendly – confirm upon booking.
CONTACT: +27 83 443 4567 / +27 13 254 0431 | |

Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre: Established in 1997, this registered Wildlife Education Centre’s original brief was teaching the public about raptors and promoting awareness of their plight as increasingly endangered species. Since then, the centre has evolved and now also takes in and cares for orphaned birds of prey and other wildlife species. The flying demonstrations are a definite must (weather dependent), and visitors are urged to
support financially through sponsoring individual animals or enclosures.
CONTACT: +27 82 899 4108 | |

Fatima’s Kitchen: Fatima has for years provided and catered traditional, home-cooked Indian dishes. For the past
five years, she has also run a cosy restaurant from the famous blue shop where hubby Mahmood advises on gear for fly-fishing. The shop has been in the same spot since 1924 and is a must-stop for interesting chats and delicious food. You can also pre-order padkos from Fatima for the road home.
CONTACT: +27 13 254 0173 | | @fatimaskitchendullstroom

Anvil Ale Brewery: For craft beer lovers, Anvil Ale Brewery, located on the main road just before you leave town, is a must-stop. This brewer has won numerous awards for its beers, which include a Blonde Ale, Pale Ale, Biere D’Saison,
White Anvil, Black Anvil, and Mjolnir. Grab a tasting tray and a nibble from the kitchen and relax in the gardens
around the brewery’s terrace. If you prefer a caffeine kick, Blacksmith Roastery is right next door. You can order a brew to enjoy in the garden or pick from the coffee beans on offer to take home. They will even grind the beans to suit your
choice of coffee-making device.
CONTACT: +27 63 681 5100 | |

Dullstroom Cultour Co: A first in Dullstroom, Cultour Co. is a wine club experience unlike any other, offering top vineyard wine tastings and food pairings prepared by Chef Lana Doyle.
CONTACT: +27 73 004 6204 | |

Walkersons Hotel & Spa: The beautiful Walkersons Hotel & Spa has enchanted visitors to Dullstroom for more than 20
years and offers luxury accommodation, elegant dining rooms, the cosy Peggy’s bar and lovely lawns where you can enjoy the exquisite views.
CONTACT: +27 13 253 7000 | |

Other interesting places to visit in and around Dullstroom:

Wild About Whisky: Boasting the largest whisky collection in the Southern Hemisphere and the second largest in the world, they offer a menu of 45 set tastings, taken from their stock of over 1 400 different whiskies.

CONTACT: +27 13 254 0066 |

The Clock Shop: With over 7 000 different designs to choose from, The Clock Shop has the largest selection of clocks in the Southern Hemisphere in one shop and is well worth making the time for a visit.

CONTACT: +27 72 460 8288 / Tel: +27 13 254 0022 ||

Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve: A wetland area of international importance, this is one of the few locations where all three of the world’s endangered cranes can be found. It is also home to 55 different orchid species, which flower at different times from September to the end of April. However, plan ahead as it is a closed reserve and an appointment has to be made to visit. A guide accompanies all visitors.

CONTACT: +27 13 254 8800 / +27 63 927 7362 | |

Udderlicious Milkshake Bar: Offering milkshakes like you’ve never experienced before, Udderlicious offers over 40 flavours, including some alcohol-infused ‘adult’ options – this is just the thing for anyone with a sweet tooth. Our favourite flavours include Zoo biscuit, jelly beans, Ferrero Rocher, Turkish Delight and nougat.

CONTACT: +27 64 621 9373 | |

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