Is cultural immersion important to you when you travel? With tales of a python god and crocodile-infested waters that are safe to swim in, Venda's Lake Fundudzi is a fascinating place to visit and a prime example of South Africa's cultural wealth and beauty, and just one of the gems we discovered on our Ultimate South African Road Trip.
Lake Fundudzi and Venda's Vhatatsindi people
Close to Thohoyandou in northern Limpopo Province is mystical Lake Fundudzi, one of the sacred sites of Venda's Vhatatsindi people who inhabit the lush, mountainous and fertile lands in this region. High in the Soutpansberg Mountains, Lake Fundudzi was formed when a landslide blocked the course of the Mutale River. Legend has it that this event was a curse for a kraal who refused to offer food and shelter to a passing leper. The lake's waters covered the kraal, and the cries of the drowned people and bellowing of cattle can still sometimes be heard.
Much like the story of its origin, the enchantment of Lake Fundudzi lies in its mysticism.
The lake is said to be protected by a python god who lives in the hills around the lake. After bathing in the lake he beats his drums - large stones near the shore, and resident say they can hear the sound. He is celebrated annually with the Domba, or Python Dance performed by young adolescent girls from the villages close by. The level and colour of the lake's water are said to reflect his mood. Although three rivers flow into Lake Fundudzi, it never overflows.
Adding to the lake's sacred status is the mystery of the water level, which rises and falls independently of rainfall. Locals can recount recent tales of a foreign developer who wanted to build a resort on the edge of Lake Fundudzi. After construction had begun, the lake's waters rose to submerge the building site. Not to be that easily put off, the developer simply moved further up the shore and began again. Once more, the level of Lake Fundudzi rose to submerge the site. Frustrated, the developer left and the waters receded.
Whether you believe all that you hear or not, there is no denying that this lake holds a vital place in the spiritual life of the local Venda people. For the visitor, it is a fascinating insight into Venda culture and a chance to explore the cultural diversity of one of South Africa's many people groups.
Visiting Lake Fundudzi
A visit to Lake Fundudzi is best enjoyed in conjunction with two other Venda sacred sites close by - the Thathe Vondo Forest and Phiphidi Falls. What is more, it is essential to have a local guide with you, not only because of the sacred nature of the sites you will explore but also because of the incredible value of having a cultural guide explain the significance and relate the traditional stories of the sites. We were priviledged to have Nelson Maphaha of the African Ivory Route's Fundudzi Camp show us around. Nelson has been awarded the Lilizela Tourism Award for the best cultural guide in South Africa, and his knowledge and understanding of this region was invaluable to your visit.
Lake Fundudzi is situated high in the Soutpansberg Mountains and the journey to the lake included a number of forestry tracks of varying condition. Nelson's jokes and good humour about the bumpy ride in combination with some beautiful mountain scenery more than made up for any discomfort we might have felt along the way.
At first sight of, visitors to Lake Fundudzi must greet the lake in the traditional way; the ukodola. To begin, stand with your back to the lake, bend over and greet it upside down through your spread legs using a Venda phrase that if Nelson’s translation was to be believed, isn’t appropriate for publishing here! The next step is to spit on the ground and throw a small stone through your legs towards the lake behind you. All of this we did. When in Venda…
Another unique feature of Lake Fundudzi is that even though it is inhabited by crocodiles, locals can swim and fish in the lake without fear of attack. Nelson recounted stories of having crocodiles swim past him when he was playing in the lake as a child. Not knowing if this protection extended to white visitors, we decided not to risk it, even though the day of our visit was uncomfortably hot and dry - typical of summer in Limpopo!
It is essential to have a guide take you to visit Lake Fundudzi. We would highly recommend Nelson Maphaha of the African Ivory Route. His insight into Venda culture and Lake Fundudzi itself, and the friendly and helpful manner in which he conducted the tour makes it clear why he has been recognised as one of South Africa's best cultural guides.
The African Ivory Route's Fundudzi Cultural Camp offers comfortable self-catering or catered accommodation above Mukumbani Village, close to Thohoyandou. Set high in the mountains, the cool greenery and open-air living area makes for a refreshing escape from Limpopo's heat! With five two-bed thatched rondavels the camp can accommodate groups of up to ten.
A 4x4 vehicle is recommended for your visit, given the changeable condition of the roads around Fundudzi Cultural Camp and en route to Lake Fundudzi itself.
Map of Fundudzi
Book accommodation at Funduzi
When to go
Limpopo Province enjoys sunshine mostly year-round. The summer months (October-February) can be extremely hot while the winter months (May-August) are cold overnight and in the early morning. A visit to Lake Fundudzi is possible at any time of the year.
What to pack
For your day's outing, don't forget to pack:
- Layered clothing depending on the season
- A hat, sun cream and sunglasses
- A picnic lunch
- Swimming costume and towel
Excellent hiking, birding and mountain biking is available in the mountains around Fundudzi Cultural Camp. If you have some days to spare we'd recommend taking along the necessary gear for one or more of these activities.
Directions to Fundudzi Cultural Camp from Louis Trichardt and Thohoyandou:
Drive north on the N1 to Makhado/Louis Trichardt. From here take the R524 to Thohoyandou. At the big traffic circle (S22°59.041’ E30°27.427’) turn left onto the R532. After 5 km, just past the Caltex garage, turn left staying on the R532 (S22°56.928’ E30°28.197’). After 9.1 km turn right on Road D3681, direction Gondeni and Donald Frazer Hospital (S22°57.023’ E30°23.487’). After 10 km turn left at the signpost for Mukumbani (S22°53.782’ E30°27.142’). Follow the road for 3.3 km before it becomes a gravel road (S22°53.957’ E30°25.571’). Follow the road for 1.3 km and keep right (S22°53.729’ E30°25.017’). Follow the road and signposts for another 1.3 km before reaching the camp (S22°53.668’ E30°24.273’) On the way you will drive past the stone walls of the Royal kraal and a water reservoir. Park in the open area behind the big Fundudzi sign (left of the road) and take the steps up to the camp.
The total distance from Thohoyando is 25 km and takes 30 minutes to drive. Watch out for pedestrians and livestock on the road. The last 3 km to camp is on a dirt road and is difficult to negotiate with a sedan vehicle, especially during or after rains.