Mpumalanga in South Africa often referred to as "Big Game Country" is the setting for dozens of sanctuaries teeming with wildlife and birds. Among them, the Kruger National Park is world renowned, as are several of the luxurious private reserves on its western boundary. The entire area of Mpumalanga offers exceptional opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, horse-riding and fishing. Streams once panned for gold have become the haunts of eager anglers and lazy trout.
Mpumalanga is steeped in the history of pioneers, hunters and fortune seekers, fascinating gold rush towns abound. Barberton and Pilgrim's Rest are among the most famous. A special, additional dimension occurs in the Middleveld region which is inhabited by Ndebele people, notable for their traditional costumes and attractively decorated houses.
En route to the Kruger National Park through Mpumalanga, you have the advantage of some stunning scenery. Turn off the N4 to the village of Dullstroom, travel over the Long Tom Pass and its splendid panoramic views to Lone Creek Falls and the charming forestry town of Sabie. Just beyond Sabie, the Mac Mac Falls are worth stopping for; and you can treat yourself to a swim in the crystal-clear pools.
A small detour leads to Pilgrim's Rest; a fascinating historic town, well worth exploring before continuing to Blyderivierspoort Nature Reserve. In the reserve, you can feast your eyes on the Blyde River Canyon and the rich bird life. At the southern tip of the reserve, the view from God's Window stretches to eternity across the lowveld. From there, it's a short and easy drive to some of the finest private game reserves in the country and Orpen Gate to the Kruger National Park.
The Mpumalanga escarpment in the vicinity of the Blyde River Canyon is known for its good rainfall, cool wreaths of mist. There are many popular hiking trails in the area and each one reflects its own charm and distinction. For the visitor, the serene green canopy of pine and indigenous forests and the age old tree ferns reflects its own charm and distinctive attributes. Walking through the dense evergreen forests, verdant with lush ferns and undergrowth may yield the glimpse of a Lourie, its wings covered with dark metallic green.
Samango monkeys stutter their staccato calls in the living silence where rivers tumble over rock faces and the tourist is rewarded with the welcome sounds of cool streams tumbling over shaped rock faces. The wide panoramic views and seasonal grasslands are strewn with wild flowers, aloes and proteas supplemented by terrestrial orchids and species of heath.
Many streams are rich in trout and the relaxing and recharging effect of fly fishing is good therapy to the stressed city worker.
The Lisbon and 150m high Berlin falls is a must-see. So whether you are sight seeing or just breaking away, the crime free relaxing atmosphere of the Mpumalanga escarpment will revitalise your soul. Pack a back pack and make a day of it - Visit the Lone Creek, Mac Mac, Maria Shires, Forest, Bridal Veil and Horse Shoe falls. Have picnic and a swim in the crystal clear water of the Mac Mac pools or stroll around the historical Pilgrim's Rest. See the diggings and go horse riding in the Mountains.
One of Barberton's most elegant old buildings, is now a museum furnished in the style of a wealthy Edwardian family home. Two other museums depicting the early days are Fernlea House and Stopforth House. The only known verdite deposits in the world are found in the rocks of the Barberton district. For hundreds of years, verdite in powdered form has been used by sangomas (traditional healers) for promoting fertility.
The Fortuna Mine Trail in the hills above Barberton evokes images of the hardships endured by prospectors in their search for gold. Annual event: Diggers' Festival in September.
Stretching from the Pinnacle near Graskop to Swadini in the north, the reserve is characterised by striking rock formations and a rich diversity of plants which support an equally rich and varied fauna. Within the reserve, Bourke's Luck Potholes (deep cylindrical cavities) were formed by river erosion and the action of flood water.
The magnificent Blyde River Canyon, a gigantic gorge 26 km long carved out of the face of the escarpment, is one of the natural wonders of Mpumalanga.
God's Window provides a boundless view, stretching across miles of thickly forested mountains, the lush and fertile lowveld and the Blyde River Canyon. The 65-km Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail, which starts at God's Window, takes five days to complete. A number of other hiking trails traverse the reserve which is also the setting for two resorts.
At 1490m above sea level the sky is blue and smog free - Graskop reminds one of a piece of Switzerland. The wooden huts, fire places in all the pubs, mountains and pine trees.
This major international tourist drawcard offers a wilderness experience which ranks with the best in Africa. The sight of elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo is always a thrill, especially at close range on a conducted wilderness trail. After an exciting day in the bush, sunset heralds the crackle of campfire, sundowners and shared anecdotes.
The main camps have an excellent range of visitor facilities, including licensed restaurants, shops, swimming pools and conference venues. Game viewing is easier in winter, but many people prefer the lush vegetation of summer. The park falls within a summer rainfall area. Summer temperatures sometimes exceed 40 degrees Celsius but winters are generally mild and frost-free. The Malelane, Crocodile Bridge, Numbi and Paul Kruger gates to the park are easily reached from Nelspruit.
There are daily flights from Johannesburg to the main camp, Skukuza, where cars can be hired. Your travel agent or tour operator can advise you about fly-drive packages, luxury coach tours and minibus safaris.
The quaint, historical village of Kaapsehoop offers a panoramic view of the Mpumalanga lowveld. Wild Horses frequent the district, and blue swallows are regular visitors from September to April
The turnoff to the garden is situated on the R40 to White River, about three kilometres from the centre of Nelspruit. Set in spectacular scenery on the banks of the Crocodile River, this is one of Mpumalanga 's most magnificent botanical gardens featuring a waterfall and many rare lowveld species. The huge diversity of plants includes South Africa's best collection of indigenous ferns, 500 tree species and the rare cycads for which the garden is famous. A number of trails meander through the garden, which is at its best in summer. Even people who aren't interested in gardening will be impressed by the beauty and variety of the indigenous plants. Trail maps are available at the entrance gate.
Set in a wide, fertile valley against a backdrop of rolling hills and enormous cultivated forests, Lydenburg's major features are its well-preserved old building. The Gustav Klingbiel Reserve, east of town, supports antelope and over 100 bird species, and is the site of archaeological ruins from the Later Iron Age. The Lydenburg Museum is situated in the reserve. Annual event: Peach Carnival in December.
The crystal-clear Mac Mac Pools are idyllic for swimming. About two kilometres further north, two waterfalls plunge into a densely wooded chasm. The 69-km Prospector's Trail from the Mac Mac Forest Station to Bourke's Luck Potholes takes five days to complete.
This 1 000-ha sanctuary between Lydenberg and the Sudwala Caves offers a rare experience of pristine wilderness.
Three trails lead through the reserve which is inhabited by small mammals, including mongoose, caracal, genet, vervet, monkey, baboon and a prolific bird life. Overnight accommodation is available at the hiker's hut at Uitsoek Forest Station.
In the scenic Schoemanskloof, the Crocodile River cascades 12 metres into an attractive series of rock pools. Annual Event: Starting point of Lowveld Crocodile Canoe Marathon in February.
South of Pilgrim's Rest, Mount Sheba is best known for it indigenous forest, one of the few left in the region. More than 100 tree species have been identified, including yellowwood, white stinkwood, Cape chestnut and mountain cedar. Forest mammals such a red duiker, bushbuck and samango monkey are occasionally seen. Bird life is more conspicuous.
One of the best examples of a living museum, the village is a replica of the early gold mining town. Gold was discovered here in 1873, and many restored miners' houses serve as shops. Among a number of fascinating places of interest, the Alanglade House Museum offers guided tours of the former mine manager's house.
The Diggings Museum (just over a kilometre south of town on the Graskop road) arranges conducted tours of gold-panning activities. The Dredzen Shop Museum consists of a store stocked with a range of items in use nearly a century ago. Horse riding trails through the Pilgrim's Rest Nature Reserve surrounding the town are conducted daily. Trout fishing is popular on the Blyde River. Annual event: Pilgrim's Rest Festival in December.
Some of South Africa's finest private game reserves are situated on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga. All of them offer comfortable (in some cases luxurious) air-conditioned accommodation, excellent cuisine and conducted game drives. Most are fully licensed, with bars and lounges.
The town originated in the 1880s as a gold-mining camp. Today, Sabie is the centre of the largest man-made forest in South Africa, supplying half the country's timber needs. The Cultural Historical Forestry Museum houses exhibits depicting various aspects of South Africa's forestry industry. Near town, Bridal Veil Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Lone Creek Falls are well worth a visit. Twelve kilometres of the Sabie River have been reserved for trout fishing, and are stocked with rainbow trout. Brown trout are found in the upper reaches. Biennial event: Forest Fair, April/May.
A series of caverns featuring stalactites and stalagmites. Guided tours are offered seven days a week: 08:30 - 16:30. The six-hour Crystal Cave Tour takes place on the last Saturday of the month. At the adjacent P R Owen Dinosaur Park, full-scale replicas of the long extinct giant reptiles are on display.
Set in an important Mpumalanga agricultural and forestry area, the streets of White River are lined with date palms, bougainvillaea and jacaranda trees. About three kilometres from town, Rottcher Wineries, in Nutcracker Valley, offer cellar tours which will introduce you to unusual orange wines and liqueurs. The orange and ginger liqueurs are attractively bottled in hand-painted stoneware jugs. Closed Sundays and religious holidays. Three large dams nearby are frequented by anglers and water sports enthusiasts. There are several good country hotels, guest farms and holiday resorts in this area of Mpumalanga.
This colorful restored village provides glimpses of the traditional lifestyle of the South Ndebele people and the daily routine of a 19th century mission station. The name Botshabelo means "place of refuge". Ndebele women do beadwork and other handicrafts and paint the attractive murals which are prominent feature of their culture. Excellent examples of Ndebele art are featured throughout the complex. You can explore this area of Mpumalanga on your own or inquire at the open-air museum about guided tours. Phone (0132) 2 3897. Traditional Ndebele crafts can be purchased at The Trading Post.
Excellent trout fishing is the main claim to fame of this peaceful village. Bird-watching and walking trails are also popular in the district. The Steenkampsberg Nature Reserve, outside town, provides sanctuary for the rare wattled crane. Annual event: Trout Festival in October.
The centre of a vast fertile irrigation area of Mpumalanga where maize, tobacco, peanuts, vegetables, sunflowers and cotton are cultivated on a huge scale.
One of the largest and most beautiful of Mpumalanga's provincial reserves. The dam stretches for some 23 km in the foothills of the Waterberg. Boat Anglers often reel in yellowfish, barbel, kurper and carp. Crocodiles and bilharzia are present in the water, so swimming is forbidden.
A resort on the north-eastern shore has a swimming pool and water slides, and offers boating, fishing, a restaurant and accommodation. On the main road through the reserve, you have a good chance of seeing white rhino, giraffe, kudu, sable and smaller antelope species, as well as some 250 species of birds. Open 24 hours a day.
Fifteen varieties of marble quarried near the town of Marble Hall have been used to adorn building throughout the country. Cotton and oranges are grown here in large quantities.
Horse-riding and trout-fishing are popular pastimes in the region. Among a number of hiking trails, the Elkandskrans Trail includes a 30-minute train ride between Waterval Boven (the name means "above the waterfall") and Waterval Onder ("below the waterfall").
The mineral spa at Badplaas is situated in picturesque surroundings. Accommodation and sports facilities, including a swimming pool, are available. An attractive 1 000-ha nature reserve supports species such as red hartebeest, black wildebeest, blesbok, eland and springbok. Good roads and paths for walking and horse-riding meander over the Mpumalanga hillsides.
Laid out in 1858, Wakkerstroom is one of the oldest towns in Mpumalanga. This is a bird-watcher's paradise, as many rare and endangered species are found in the region.
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