The Place where the Sun Rises
In isiZulu, Mpumalanga translates as ‘the place where the sun rises’. And when looking to experience the real flavour of Africa visitors can do worse than spending a week exploring the old Eastern Transvaal province of Mpumalanga.
This historical region lies approximately six hours away from Johannesburg by car, so it is easy enough to drive to. With so much to see and experience, it can be a bit confusing planning an itinerary.
The following are the most popular attractions in the region, and give an idea of what this wonderful area has to offer:
Mpumalanga is renowned for its game reserves and conservation efforts. And topping the list of game reserves is the Kruger National Park. The greatest opportunity to enjoy African wildlife lies within this historical game reserve. This is the daddy of African game parks, and home to ‘The Big Five’ (lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo)! The most common method of exploration is self-driving around the park, while staying overnight in one of the twelve camps. You can however also take part in guided walks, bicycle rides, night time game drives or even a round of golf right in the middle of the wilderness at the Skukuza Golf Course!
Bordering the Kruger are many private game lodges, offering opulent surroundings and exquisite services, while you relax in the African bush. Wherever you stay you can be sure to view a huge amount of diverse wildlife, from zebras and springbok to any of the other bigger game that call this corner of the continent theirs. My personal favourites are gemsbok and warthogs. Discover the tale of ‘Jock of the Bushveld’ as well – a more faithful dog would be hard to find!
The area is home to many stunning waterfalls, which are all within day-trip distance of each other. The top falls include the Berlin Falls, Eland River Falls, Forest Falls, Lisbon Falls, Lone Creek Waterfall, Mac-Mac Falls and Montrose Falls. All of the above waterfalls can be found with ease just off the main roads, although there is a short hike to the Forest Falls. Swimming is permitted at both the Berlin and popular Mac-Mac Falls.
There are many wonderful beauty spots in Mpumalanga, but perhaps the most popular one is the Blyde River Canyon. This massive natural canyon cuts through the famous Drakensburg Mountains, and has much for the traveller to discover and admire. God’s Window, Wonder View, the Pinnacle, the Three Rondavels and Bourke’s Luck Potholes are all must-see items that should be included on any tour of the ‘Panoramic Route’ of the canyon.
The eerie, yet beautiful Sudwala Caves offer a different kind of exploratory visit to tourists with its complex system of tunnels and rock formations. This is where ‘Kruger’s Millions’ may even be hidden, although they have never been found…
Towns and Villages
There are a number of towns that should be visited in order to appreciate the history of the area. Sabie is generally associated with outdoor pursuits. Walks on offer include simple one day hikes, to the more extreme 70km Fanie Botha Trail, complete with basic camps with no hot water! Fly-fishing, the Long Tom ultra marathon, rock climbing and various other activities can be enjoyed, while the town offers plenty of curio and art sellers and lots of choice in places to eat.
Graskop is another wonderful little town, which, like Sabie, is close to many tourist attractions. The town has plenty of accommodation and is famed for its specialty pancakes! It is a favourite memory from my childhood.
Pilgrims Rest is a step back in time. A time when gold prospectors came to the town in the 1800’s. The town has been restored to how it would have looked back then, and is a national monument. An overnight stay in the Victorian style Royal Hotel, or gold-panning the old fashioned way are highly recommended.
There are also cultural villages to be visited such as the Ebutsini and the Matsamo cultural villages. South Africa has a population as diverse as its wildlife. These villages give visitors to the country a chance to see how the indigenous tribes lived in earlier times. Guests can stay in these villages to experience genuine African food, ceremonies and other activities such as horseback riding. So why not dump the luxury for a few nights and share some amazing experiences with some amazing people! There is also a more recent Haute Cuisine route, taking you from Mbombela to Hazyview – which promises to enlighten your tastebuds to the treasures of African culinary delights!
There are other farms and business ventures worth seeing as well, so take yourself off the beaten track and follow your own curiosity. Mpumalanga is a province rich in history, teeming with wildlife and covered in beauty. It is the story of nature and wildlife. The story of mining and agriculture. Of struggle and of people, and now the story of amazing tourism. It is a destination that should be explored at least once in a person’s life!