Hoedspruit is a small bush-town well-situated in the midst of the region's attractions, half way between the Orpen and Phalaborwa gates to the Kruger National Park. The town has a beautiful setting: the towering cliffs of the Escarpment meet endless expanses of bushveld. Plains of marula, acacia, combretum and mopane woodlands stretch as far as the eye can see.
Hoedspruit is well supplied with a variety of shops and restaurants ranging from Spur take-aways to fine dining. It continues to grow rapidly with the establishment of innovative residential wildlife estates over the last decade. It is the centre of an area dedicated to tourism, and you can expect to meet a friendly welcome.
It is worth picking up some of the local newspapers as you pass through - look out for Kruger2Canyon. They carry details of what's on and special events - one particular occasion to watch out for if you are here in Winter is the annual Bush Banquet competition, a fundraiser for the excellent Southern Cross Schools. Here, chefs from the numerous luxury lodges around Hoedspruit compete without the benefit of mod-cons such as refrigerators and cookers, to prepare and present stunning three course meals. A ticket is an essential treat if it is on when you are here.
Shops and facilities
Hoedspruit acquired its name when, after a long trek over the mountains into the heat of the Lowveld, one of the pioneers removed his hat and threw it into the cool waters of the Sandspruit River and decided to stay (it is now largely dry).
There is a heat-repelling plastic statue to celebrate this on the train station lot (Hoedspruit is on the railway between Phalaborwa and Kapmuuiden, although most trains running are of the goods variety). We'll start here, on the R40 coming north from Sabi Sand and Nelspruit, for a whistle stop ('scuse the pun) guide to the facilities.
Here, behind the gas station and government weighing station, you can find the first of a number of traditional Lowveld services. Le-Bamba has been here for ever - before Hoedspruit gentrified - and is a proper old school Portuguese-owned trading station where you can find all sorts of things that you have been in desperate need of, or pining for, in the bush. Its main function is as a grocery and general store; it supplies many of the luxury lodges and sends its own truck to the wholesale food markets in Jo'burg a couple of times a week.
There is also the Bosveld Slaghuuis butchery where local specials sometimes include cuts of warthog and giraffe neck (both best cooked in a potjie on the fire, by the way, stewed for ages until tender). There is excellent eating at Sleepers' Restaurant. They do excellent ribs and piri-piri chicken, and the cape ham and egg pie is a delicious feature on the regularly changing specials menu.
Opposite, on the other side of the R40, is a complex forming part of the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate. This is one of the newer major extensions to the old bush town. It has its own large restaurant and bar to the front of the main gate to the residential area: the Dumb Waiter and Kalahari Oasis respectively. It is also the most modern part of town in feel, resembling a square in any medium sized dorp. There is a Pick'n'Pay for most of your household needs, the Post Office and an outdoor supplies outlet. This is the best place to find something other than a newspaper to read in the small book store. although there is a good second hand book exchange out of town. First National Bank is next to Pick'n'Pay (cash machine).
Dumb Waiter restaurant and Kalahari Oasis bar
Turn left over the railway bridge down into the main part of town and you pass the Spa (to the left, ABSA cashpoint) and another gas station offering Steers burgers on your right. In the same Sunset View complex is the lively Sports Bar Fort Copeiba and eponymous noisy hotel, best saved for those evenings when you have over-enjoyed the local hospitality.
Back on the main drag, take the second right opposite the police station to the Green Door centre to enjoy (unusually, for the region) an authentic curry at Tractors Restaurant. DVDs are for hire here. The town lodge is here, as is the residential area behind where there are a number of small B&Bs.
Further down the strip from the railway bridge is the Kamagelo centre with a number of good eating and drinking outlets, and some nice artisanal shops. Wimpy and a Standard Bank cashpoint are here. A complete list of the outlets is on the Kamagelo Tourism website.
Further still down, immediately on your right as you turn left into Raptors View, Safari Junction is a great, contemporary spot for a cold drink in the garden, before you head to eat at the best restaurant in town, Ollies. Chef Ollie Mentis is classically trained, taking his diplomat at the South African Chef School in Cape Town before heading to Europe to refine his culinary skills and develop his own style. The menu is short, changes frequently, and excellent.
Raptors is a lovely wildlife estate. The Lodge here offers nice two room cottages. Private accommodation can be found on the main estate for groups or families on longer stays.
There are hairdressers and a beautician and spa. There are doctors, a pharmacy and a dentist in town. A hospital is on the Drakensig Military Base. Hoedspruit can do new kit, food, laundry, dry cleaning, fix cars and tyres. Anything more complex may require a trip further afield...
In addition to its central role in regional tourism, the Hoedspruit area is a major agricultural hotspot, particularly for citrus fruit and avocados. The hot tropical summers also yield South Africa's first grape harvest and Peppadews are grown on the farms between here and Tzaneen before being bottled and shipped all over the place.
Things to do in Hoedspruit
A wide range of outdoors activities are available, as befits the centrality of Hoedspruit within the Greater Kruger region. Almost anything you want organising can be done from here - the bush has created a town of fixers, including some who do it professionally and delivered one of David Attenborough's favorite African experiences (observing warring Matabele ants). In addition to the ubiquitous game-based activities, there is a good choice of things to do both indoors and out.Highlights include the Cheetah Breeding Project, the excellent Khamai Reptile Park at Swadini, and the Bombyx Mori Silk Farm.
The animal rehabilitation centre at Moholoholo is wonderful, particularly if there are kids in the party as you get really close up to raptors and some of the Big Five. The Vulture's restaurant is just grotesque, and if you leave your car windows open for too long your lunch will be chomped by the ever-present Marabou storks.
Hoedspruit is a centre for adventure activity: hot air ballooning, white wafter rafting, abseiling, and kloofing are on offer.
A Microlight Flying School is based here, at the runway next to the Spar (note, not at the military airbase). It is possible both to go for casual "flips" over the surrounding Big Five reserves or the Blyde River Canyon, and to learn to fly and take your qualification here.
Horse riding is available close to town at a couple of relatively small properties without the danger of the Big Five, and further afield (very much with the Big Five) at Wait-a-Little Safaris on Karongwe Private Game Reserve.
4x4 driver training takes places on a course near the town centre for those with their own off-road vehicles.
Well worth a slightly less arduous drive is the road up into the forest at Mariepskop mountain, excellent for its views over the Lowveld. Nevertheless, 4x4 is recommended to go all the way to the top. There is a car park, picnic area and short trails at the bottom. There is a cottage available to rent for accommodation at the top.
Getting to Hoedspruit & Orientation
Hoedspruit Airport - known as Eastgate - is a major getting-off point for visitors to the numerous five-star lodges in the locality. Shared with the South African Air Force, the runways are huge and you often land for a five minute high-speed taxi around the Base to the delightful thatched bush-style arrivals lodge at one end of the military complex. It has its own private game reserve which encloses the tarmac. Cheetah are allowed to roam freely to keep down the population of guinea fowl, warthogs and other memmals well-suited to ingestion into a jet engine on take-off or landing.
Chartered or private small planes can land at either the military airbase or on the bush cvil airstip in town. You can also get here by rail.
Car hire is available in Hoedspruit, with Avis at the airport and Budget operating next to Le-Bamba in town (although they meet you at the airport as required).