Before heading to Chrissiesmeer, we had to do a Google Maps search to actually find out where in Mpumalanga this place was was. The image on the computer screen revealed exactly why this is called the Lake District of South Africa. Countless patches of blue surround Chrissiesmeer, and their jewel-like appearance is a good metaphor for the importance of these 270-odd wetlands, pans and lakes.
At first glance, Chrissiesmeer is a typical South African farming village with a rusted petrol station, crumbly buildings and ramshackle fences. This shouldn’t discourage travellers from exploring the area though, as there’s much more to “Chrissies” than meets the eye. Amongst the unkempt buildings, there’s a touch of Dullstroom in the sandstone shops, red roofs and old church. We were pleasantly surprised at the charm of the town’s establishments, and we particularly enjoyed The Gin Shop – a beautiful stone building which has sold gin to travellers for over a century and today offers tasting of more than 30 varieties of the potent alcohol. We went for a stroll around town to work off our light headedness, finding more quaint gems such as Randell’s Ranch Tractor Museum, McCloud’s duvet and pillow shop and the Frog Coffee Shop.
Lesser Flamingos are some of the more exuberant visitors to the pans around Chrissiesmeer. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Frogs have a special significance in this village. The watery surrounds make the area a paradise for the amphibians, with 13 different species occurring here. A highlight on the Chrissiesmeer calendar is the annual Frog Night hosted in December, where you’re taken to the pans in tractors before traipsing your way through the swamps to find the noisy little creatures. Unfortunately we couldn’t do any frogging ourselves, but we headed to the pans anyway, if not for their huge aesthetic appeal than for the prolific birdlife (more than 250 species have been recorded). We were rewarded with a natural phenomenon that outshines the frogs, as hundreds of Lesser Flamingos – resplendent in pink, entertained us at Blinkpan, one of the pans we stopped off at.
A shop tenant told us that the pans have huge historical importance too. When the water table is low, archaeologists have found Stone Age tools on the islands in the lakes, suggesting that Bushmen (normally associated with the dry desert) lived on floating reed bed villages in the water. We went to visit several rock art sites around Lake Chrissie – one of the largest freshwater lakes in South Africa – imagining these unique aquatic Bushmen thriving in a land of plenty.
On our short visit to Chrissiesmeer, we were astounded at the number of attractions in and around this humble village. Considering that we didn’t even explore activities like fishing, canoeing, 4×4 trails, hiking and visits to numerous other sites of historical and archaeological importance, it’s safe to say that Chrissiesmeer is one of Mpumalanga’s best kept secrets.