It isn't often that you have to slap yourself to ensure that you're awake and in the land of the living. This mostly happens because you cannot believe that you've found yourself in a position of such magnitude. That is Kurisa Moya.
Nestled in the heart of the Magoebaskloof forest in the Limpopo (between Tzaneen & Polokwane), Kurisa Moya is a majestic place, idyllic in fact. A little golden gem surrounded by the nature, untouched and unspoiled, but with a rich and fascinating history.
Above: Two shongololos (millipedes) giving it a go
You're literally in the centre of the forest. Your (off-the-grid) cabin is hidden and it sometimes feels like you're fighting the Vietcong as you trek through the lushness of the forest in the 422 hectare plot that makes up the farm of Kurisa Moya.
With heritage vested in siPedi culture (a place where shamans would contact their ancestors) and the woodcutters of the 19th century who came to claim the giant yellow-woods and the like, used to carve out South Africa's parliament, the place is simply majestic.
Above: The infamous cabbage tree, also know as the "kiepers-al", because the British troops tried to hide in it during the AngloBoer war and were heard by the boers as they passed by saying "This tree won't keep us all (kiep-ers-al)". Needless to say, I don't think the tree huggers made it.
Around 9 hiking routes are hand-drawn in a hospitality book found in your cabin that vary from easy to difficult, and landscapes that range from deep forest to open plains by the dams and left to your own devices, you feel like a mini-Shackleton, exploring the topography and rich flora and birdlife without any disturbance or contact with another human.
LET'S GET BIRDING
But the real gem is the birding. Over 250 species of bird are abundant in the different habitats that the farm provides. Ranging from the common, but elusive, lifer (the Narina Trogon) to black storks fishing in one of the two dams.
We ended up taking a guide on our final day: Paul Nkhumane. Paul sauntered down from the farmhouse to our forest dwellings at around 7am. He'd driven back from a wedding somewhere in the area at around 1am in order to get to work - and take us out spotting.
Paul is quiet and calm. His presence blends complimentarily into the natural world around. But his mellow nature is over-balanced by his knowledge of the birdlife of the forest.
"Anything you'd like to see?" He asked.
"Narina trogon, green twinspot and Knysna turaco," we bleated, a 3 strike list that might be all too common for a guide who might have expected us to go one level deeper.
Let's just say we saw all three, but what stands out is Paul's incredible ability to establish the identification and location of the birds as well as the direction that they face by interpreting their calls.
A great example of this was the trogon sighting.
We marched down the long driveway that meanders its way from the tops of the hills, through a thick wood forest, with trees that loom above appearing like you're at the foot of an army of men on stilts. My girlfriend, Emma, and I are chatting merrily; a combination of not trying to expect too much and a few bottles of wine breathing their last breaths in our immediate ecosystem from our relaxed night in the cabin.
"Let's just go up here," Paul requests, pointing up a dirt road that seems to lead to nowhere.
About 30 metres up, he lifts his arm and points deep into the thicket. "Do you see there?" He raises his laser pointer, illuminating a thin tree in a maze of erect pick-up-sticks, criss-crossed into the forest math equation in front of us.
"I see it," I reply.
"Now look at the branch above."
"Fuck!" And there it sits. A fucking narina trogon. Perched like the cuckoo popping out of a grandfather clock for all to see. Absolutely still. The red breast is immediately distinguishable and Emma and I jointly elate in bewilderment and joy. The sighting is perfect. We see the specked yellow cheeks, the bright yellow beak and the green hooded face and after a we'd had enough to feed our craving, it flew off. Incredible.
Image: From Sibuya
Paul then took us for a further couple of hours into the forest, ticking off the craziest sightings that without him we'd have no chance of seeing. Pointing his green laser up and around the flora and fauna, identifying bird calls, trees, insects and spiders. I felt geared up after the walk, wishing we'd done it on the first day to test the new skills over the rest of the stay. Well worth the R250.
Kurisa Moya is a special place, made even more so by the owner and avid bird and local culture fanatic (and tour guide) Lisa whose humility and passion for the land around her is attractively infectious. There is a deep sense of serenity being so close to nature, buried in the trees with the cicadas, birds and animals humming their tunes around you. The rich heritage brings your imagination to life as you independently hike your way through the thickets of lush green branches filled with a rainforest-like atmosphere, chasing fireflies and hunting down long-time lifers.
If you're ever in the mood to take a real break, head over to Kurisa Moya.