Described as the Limpopo’s most beautiful and tropical forest (a significant accolade), the Holy Forest is sacred to the Venda people, and is said to be protected by a half-man, half-lion creature called the Nethane.
Despite its sanctity, it is open to the public, except for an area that contains an ancient sacred burial ground – called the Sacred Forest. While you may drive past the graves, you may not stop or get out of your car here, and few Venda will go there because it is full of spirits. The Sacred Forest is protected by Nethane and the lightning bird Ndadzi. Also within the area, the sacred Lake Fundudzi is the home of the Python God and the half-spirit, half-human predatory but clumsy Ditutwane – who often fall in the holes they make to catch animals – hence the following warning: “Having only one eye in the human world… they (the Ditutwane) lack a sense of depth, and often fall into their own holes. You should, therefore, be very careful before answering calls for help emanating from holes in the ground.” (The Bewitched Forests and Waters of the VhaVenda). In fact, there is no end to the legends, stories and warnings that go with Thathe Vondo, not to mention the variety in spellings for the names of various mythical creatures and spirits that ‘live there’. Another interesting one is that you cannot look directly on Lake Fundudzi from its shores. Instead, you must turn your back on it and look at it through your legs.
Sadly, some of this beautiful legend-rich ‘bewitched’ area has been converted to farmland for tropical fruits and tea, but there is still enough cloud forest, waterfalls and spectacular scenery to attract all but the exceptionally superstitious and people who still check under the bed for the bogeyman before they fall asleep.
There are walking and hiking trails with picnic areas and overnight huts in the Thathe Vondo wilderness, and although the road can be slippery after rains, you can drive a sedan through Thathe Vondo, making it a lovely scenic drive. It is also a great birding area – many sub-tropical forest and savannah bird species can be seen here, including the Grey-headed Parrot and the beautiful Narina Trogon. Swimming in Lake Fundudzi is not recommended as it is full of crocodiles. Don’t think about camping there either. All considered along with Venda taboos, its best to simply look at it from the Pass.
Thathe Vondo is a State Forest and permission for entry must be obtained from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) before going there. Please call 015 516 0201. Please note, you cannot simply go to the foresty gate. The guard there will assist you in finding a local SAFCOL officer if you have not got prior permission, but it’s just easier to get DWAF authorisation first.
Getting there: From Louis Trichardt take the N1north toward Musina (Messina). This will take you on a windy route up into the Soutpansberg mountains. After km, you will see a sign saying ‘Witvlag’ on your right. Turn here and follow the road to a T-junction. Turn right here for Sibasa. Continue on this road to the top of the pass where you will see the Thathe Vondo gate.