Phabeni, “shelter” in Sotho, is also the name of the stream one crosses shortly after entering the gate. There is often good game viewing in the immediate vicinity of Phabeni because it is a geological island of basalt-like gabbro set among the granite koppies.
The dark clay soils found on gabbro support a sweeter grass than the sourveld associated with the granite. This attracts both grazers and browsers and the vegetation is sparser, allowing one to see further than one normally can in the thickets.
Impala or kudu are usually the first animals to see when entering through Phabeni. The dominant trees here are knob-thorn acacias, marulas and bushwillows.
Phabeni Gate Explorer Options:
- Sabie River Road to Skukuza (S3) 46km (2 hours): dust and tar, thickly wooded riverine forest and then into Sabie River thorn thickets; avoid during heavy rains;
- Albasini Road to Pretoriuskop (S3) 25km (1 hour); dust road, scenic drive through kiaat terminalia woodlands with good lowveld views;
- Doispane Road to Skukuza (S1); 38km (1,5 hours) tar; descend from higher woodlands into Sabie thorn thickets and woodland savanna; usually good game sightings.
Within 100 metres of the entrance, one finds the Albasini ruins, the humble brick remains of João Albasini’s home and trading store which he set up in 1846, having bought the land from Chief Magashula for 22 cows. This is a good place to get out of the car, stretch one’s legs and get a sense of the surrounding bush. The modest display gives one an insight into Albasini’s rough-and-ready life and the kind of comforts one sought in such a remote location as it was in the late 1800s.
João Albasini – lowveld pioneer
João Albasini (1813–1888) was a legendary ivory trader who set up a supply network across the lowveld in the 19th century. A Portuguese-Italian by birth, Juwawa, as he became known, arrived in Delagoa Bay in the early 1800s to seek his fortune.
He soon acquired the reputation of being a good elephant hunter and set himself up as a trader. He established a number of stores in the lowveld, the most famous being the site on Phabeni Creek where a small museum exists today. Albasini met the Voortrekker parties headed by Louis Trichardt and Hendrik Potgieter when they arrived in Delagoa Bay and assisted them with transporting supplies to their encampments inland.
Albasini moved from Delagoa Bay to Phabeni Creek in 1845 after buying the land from Chief Magashula of the Sotho-speaking Kutswe tribe and appointed two headmen – Manungu and Jozikuhlu (Big Josef) – to run trading outposts near Pretoriuskop and at the base of Ship Mountain.
In 1847, Albasini moved to Ohrigstad and then later to Lydenburg where he married Gertina Maria Petronella Janse van Rensburg, the daughter of a prominent Voortrekker. However, he was a restless individual, and soon moved northwards to the Soutspansberg before buying a farm near the Luvhuvhu River north of Punda Maria.
He organised his own private army of Sotho-speakers who assisted him with protecting his trade networks and in hunting elephant. In 1858, he was appointed Portuguese vice-consul to the Transvaal and, a year later, was appointed by the Transvaal government as the superintendent of “native tribes” with the primary duty of collecting taxes from them.
This resulted in something of a backlash against him and he was involved in several skirmishes with reluctant tax payers. Albasini died in 1888 and was buried on Goedewensch Farm near the Luvuvhu River where the Albasini Dam was named after him.
Phabeni to Pretoriuskop. The Albasini Road (S3)
The most direct way from Phabeni to Pretoriuskop is via the Albasini Road (S3) which offers a variety of loops through the foothills incorporating either Mestel Dam or Shabeni Rock. The Albasini road is a beautiful drive linking Phabeni Gate to Pretoriuskop and Numbi Gate. It winds through the domed granite foothills through kiaat and terminalia forests. It has wonderful views over the lowveld, but is not a very productive game drive.
Giraffe are a favourite prey of lion, but they can put up a tremendous fight by kicking vigorously with their strong back legs, and have been known to ward off attacks – and even kill predators – in this manner.