Natural beauty, rich history, warm people, loads of wildlife and even the highest brewery in South Africa – welcome to ‘the place where the sun rises’ aka Mpumalanga.
Now if you thought this relatively small province in the north east of the country was nothing more than a bunch of game reserves and potholed roads, think again!
There’s an amazing array of adventures to be had and vistas to admire if you just know where to look.
We check out 11 great things to experience in Mpumalanga:
If you don’t have much time to explore Mpumalanga, this is your go-to drive! It will take you past an array of prominent and breathtaking sites, including the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window, Echo Caves and the Mac Mac Falls. The little town of Graskop is the gateway to the route and also a great spot to use as a base for your explorations.
The Genesis Route takes you to a lesser-known part of Mpumalanga – the town of Barberton and the Makhonjwa Mountains that surround it. The area has some of the oldest volcanic pieces on the earth with evidence of the first oxygen-producing plant, thus the name Genesis route.
Sudwala Caves and Dinosaur Park
Another spot of historical significance in Mpumalanga, the Sudwala Caves are in fact the oldest in the world. Explore them by taking an hour-long tour to appreciate all the amazing rock formations that were apparently formed some 3 000-million years ago. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could always opt for the 5-hour Crystal tour, which will see you crawl on hands and knees for much of the way.
The dinosaur park is situated right next to the cave complex. The museum displays life size models of a range of these prehistoric creatures and you will also find actual live Nile Crocodiles. If you have kids (or have always had a fascination with dinosaurs), it is definitely worth a visit. Check out the Sudwala Dinosaur Park website for more details.
Hops Hollow Brewery (and Long Tom Pass)
While craft beer only really took off quite recently, Hops Hollow has patiently been plying their trade for more than 10 years. Located just past the pinnacle of the Long Tom Pass (also part of the Panorama Route), it is the highest brewery in Africa. They offer four different brews, including the light Digger’s Draught, the spicy Old Bull Ale, the smooth Mac’s Porter or the Blacksmith’s Brew.
Check out the Hops Hollow website for more details.
Lowveld Botanical Gardens, Nelspruit
Receiving rainfall year-round, these botanical gardens are permanently lush and green. They have more than 2 000 plant species as well as the largest collection of cycads in Africa, which are a protected plant. The fact that the Crocodile River flows right through, adds a further measure of wildness and magic.
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We bet you had no idea Mpumalanga had something called a ‘lake district.’ Well, it does and with more than 250 lakes brimming with birdlife, among other things, it’s pretty damn spectacular! The town of Chrissiesmeer forms the very heart of the Lake District, as a variety of lakes and pans can be found in a 20km radius. The area boasts 287 bird species and in late summer, the world turns pink as flocks of flamingos fly in. Check out the Chrissiesmeer website for more details
While the quaint little village does form part of the Panorama Route, we feel that it definitely deserves a mention of its own. Declared a national monument in 1986, the town is a living museum of South Africa’s gold rush era, which took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Visit Pilgrim’s Rest website for more info.
Chasing waterfalls in Sabie
The little forestry town of Sabie is situated in the middle of one of the largest man-made forests in the world and is also home to the largest cluster of waterfalls in South Africa. Follow one of the myriad hiking trails surrounding the town, and you’re guaranteed to come across a delightful selection of falls as you go. However, if you’re looking for something more specific, there are a few names you should be aware of:
Lisbon Falls, which is the highest in South Africa, Berlin Falls, which looks like a huge white candle, Horseshoe Falls, which is quite self-explanatory and finally, the delicate tracery of the Bridal Veil Falls.
Elephant Museum, Kruger National Park
When you’re in Mpumalanga, a visit to the Kruger National Park basically goes without saying. So, while you’re there, be sure to head to Letaba rest camp to spend some time educating yourself about some of the most fascinating creatures around at the Letaba Elephant Hall.
The museum covers elephant evolution, biology, behaviour, ecology and research. It also showcases the ivory of eight of Kruger's greatest tuskers. It’s open every single day of the year from 08:00 to 20:00, except on Sundays when it closes at 18:00. Check out the SANParks website for more details
Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
As far as looks are concerned, the Mbombela Stadium definitely takes the cake for colourful creativity among the arenas constructed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Not only does it boast roof supports in the shape of giraffes, its seating is also laid out in zebra stripe colours. Whether or not sports are your thing, the stadium is well worth a peek!
Check out the Mbombela Stadium website for more details.
Jock of the Bushveld Trail, Graskop
This circular day walk will give you a little taster of the route the legendary canine and his owner, transport rider, Percy FitzPatrick followed during the 1880s. The route starts and ends in Graskop, taking you through absolutely picturesque scenery - from grasslands, to the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment. You can choose between a three- or a five-hour hike. The ethereal Fairyland rock formations are a highlight to be enjoyed on on both!
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