Mapungubwe: Africa’s golden dawn

2014-09-28 15:01

Our series on our World Heritage Sites continues with Mapungubwe in Limpopo. Bridget Hilton-Barber offers the lowdown on how to make your stay one to remember Mapungubwe

To Asia

To Europe and North Africa

To Southern Afrika


To Europe


How to get there

From Joburg, take the N1 to Polokwane. Continue on the N1 into Polokwane (you’ll now be travelling on Thabo Mbeki Street). Follow the R521 signs to Dendron/Alldays. Continue through Dendron to Alldays for 86km. From Alldays, head east on the R521 to Pontdrift, and shortly before Pontdrift turn right on to the R572 to Mapungubwe. The distance from Alldays to the main gate is 49km and the travelling time is roughly 45 minutes. The total distance from Joburg to Mapungubwe’s main gate is about 580km.

Stopovers en route

If you are camping and self-catering, Polokwane is the best – and last – place for a decent shop. There are no supermarkets in Alldays. There are good supermarkets in both the Savannah Mall and the Mall of the North in Polokwane; and the city also offers plenty of restaurants and takeaway joints.

If you are already stocked up, head for a break in Alldays at Delicious, which is a little bistro and arts and crafts shop next to the garage and bottle store. Or try some local colour at the legendary bar they call

At se Gat, which is pretty tame by day and does a good, hearty breakfast and lunch.

Remember, Alldays is also the last place you can buy petrol and diesel before Mapungubwe. There is no garage or shop in the park.

Where to stay


Head for Mazhou Camping Site in Mapungubwe National Park, which is in the western section of the park. Remember, you must first check in at the main gate in the eastern section before proceeding to the camp.

This pretty, wooded campsite has 10 spots with power points, communal showers and kitchens, as well as 10 caravan sites. Watch out for raiding monkeys.

Mazhou is near the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp and there is a good network of game drives around, and great birding.

Self-catering camps

Leokwe Camp is Mapungubwe’s main camp and is set among amazing sandstone hills in the eastern section of the park. Leokwe has self-catering cottages

of various sizes, a swimming pool, a sun deck, and a central braai area. It’s close to the Treetop Hide – good news for birders – as well as the fabulous Confluence view site and picnic spot.

Limpopo Forest Tented Camp is set in a riverine forest in the western section of the camp – remember to first check in at the main gate before proceeding to the camp. The camp is remote and is excellent for birding as it is close to the Maloutswa Pan bird hide.

Catered camps

Built on a small ridge, Vhembe Wilderness Camp is in the eastern section of Mapungubwe and set on a small ridge. This is designer camping and caters for groups looking for a bit of pampering. You can go

with a guide on foot to both the Limpopo River and up Mapungubwe Hill, both highly recommended.


Tshugulu Lodge is a luxury lodge that sleeps 12 in a bush house with a swimming pool and tailor-made ecotrails.

Outside the park

If you arrive after the park has closed, try nearby Mopane Bush Lodge, which is on the R572 towards Musina.

This small, luxury ecolodge has African-style thatched chalets set in a remote stretch of bush and

is a good base for day visits to Mapungubwe. Go to for more info.

Additional costs

It costs R36 per adult and R18 per child per day to enter Mapungubwe. Go to mapungubwe/tourism/tariffs for more information.

When to go

The best time is during winter, when the days are mild, the nights are cool and there is little chance of rain (this is a semiarid area). Temperatures in summer can reach as high as 45°C. If summer is your only option, opt for early morning and late afternoon activities.

Where to eat

The only restaurant in Mapungubwe is the Golden Rhino Restaurant, which is in the Interpretation Centre near the main gate. The restaurant is open from 8am to 5pm. It offers good breakfasts, simple lunches and preprepared meals if you order early and collect before 4pm.

The Golden Rhino catering service also does bush breakfasts and bush braais for a minimum of four people. Ordering in advance is essential. Check out the menu online.

Activities and attractions

»?Get the full story Start out with a visit to the award-winning Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre. It’s an icon of African architecture, designed to feel as if it has risen out of the earth.

A series of wooden walkways lead through the vaulted domes in the centre, where you can browse the museum or take a guided tour and find out about this incredible 12th-century African civilisation.

In its heyday, the realm of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe spanned 30?000 square kilometres and was inhabited by thousands of people and a royal settlement.

Ivory, gold, bronze, copper, iron and animal pelts were exchanged for beads, cloths and ceramics from Sofala in Mozambique and as far afield as China, Persia and Egypt. The site was first excavated in the 1930s and golden artefacts and beads, as well as copper and glass, were unearthed.

The most famous of these is the Mapungubwe golden rhino, a replica of which is in the museum.

»?See the ConfluenceA soulful spot at the joining

of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers and the meeting of three countries – Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Wooden walkways lead to lookout points with views of baobabs and elephants.

Pack a picnic or arrange a braai – you can hire a skottel at the little tuck shop – or just head out for a slow and soulful sundowner.

»?Head up Jackal Hill A highlight of a visit to Mapungubwe is the tour of Mapungubwe Hill, which means hill of the jackals. This is the main site of Mapungubwe’s ancient civilisation. The king and queen of Mapungubwe are buried here. There’s a powerful sense of history and the views are wide and wonderful. Book at the Interpretation Centre.

»?Take to the treesA great option for families. A wooden walkway leads through the trees at canopy height and takes you through the riverine forest with some lovely views beyond.

»?Explore the parkSurreal sandstone formations, mopane veld and baobab trees form the backdrop for good game viewing – including elephant, giraffe, rhino and assorted antelope.

You can either do your own drive – 35?kilometres

are accessible in normal sedans and a further 100?kilometres in 4x4s – or take a guided drive in the morning or afternoon. Caravans are confined to the western section.

»?Go birdingThere are 400 species at Mapungubwe and the birding is excellent. There is an overlap between bird species from the arid west and the

wetter east; there are forest species in the riverine forest and rock-loving species in the sandstone hills. Look out for kori bustard, tropical boubou and Pel’s fishing owl.

Essential Information

Mapungubwe is a malaria zone, so take precautions.

There are no fuel stations in the park. There are no debit card facilities. Payments can only be made via cash or credit card. No cheques. There are no ATMs or shops.

There is an entry fee (see Additional costs). The gate is open from 6am to 4.30pm from September to March, and from 6.30am to 4pm from April to August.




»?Tel: 015?534?7923/24

»?Fax: 015?534?7926

»?Park manager and Interpretation Centre: 015?534?7925

»?Emergency/duty manager: 084?700?4367

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