The Highlands region of Mpumalanga is sometimes called ‘Trouteng’, because it’s the preferred fly-fishing haunt of Gauteng weekenders. It’s also referred to as ‘The Edge’, because of the sense of sky and space that takes over when you reach this particularly dramatic edge of the Mpumalanga escarpment.
This is fishing, hiking, climbing, strolling and romancing country. It’s famed for its lakes and dams and mountain scenery; for its cold winters, roaring fires and fishing stories.
The Highlands region is also now called the Emakhazeni region and it includes the towns of Emakhazeni/Belfast, Enthokozweni/Machadodorp, Emgwenya/Waterval Boven and Emnotweni/Dullstroom. Emnotweni/Dullstroom is the most well-known of the Highlands towns. A popular weekend destination, it has convivial country hotels, holiday homes, dams and great trout fishing.
The Elands River Gorge near the historic town of Emgwenya/Waterval Boven is recognised as one of the top 10 climbing destinations in the world. Emgwenya/Waterval Boven is a small and charming town with many historic buildings and monuments. These include such as the Old Tunnel and Five Arch Bridge, as well as President Paul Kruger’s official residence where he lived in 1900 before going into exile in Europe.
At the base of the escarpment is Emgwenya/Waterval Boven’s baby sister, Waterval Onder, a small village on the banks of the Elands River below a dramatic 228m-high waterfall.
The town of Emakhazeni/Belfast is one of the coldest places in South Africa, but it has a warm heart and its friendly people have made it a popular weekend spot. Belfast is an established cattle, dairy and sheep farming district. Its cold rivers, streams and well-stocked dams provide excellent fishing. Enthokozweni/Machadodorp is a small town through which the Elands River runs. Also a popular weekend destination for Gautengers, Enthokozweni/Machadodorp has natural springs that are said to have healing properties.
Mashishing/Lydenberg, perched at the top of the Long Tom Pass that leads down to the town of Sabie, is famed for its fishing opportunities, friendly people and glorious escarpment views.
While the Highlands region offers a wealth of weekend pleasures and outdoor adventures, the Heartlands region is more developed and industrialised.
This region includes the towns of Middleberg and Emalahleni/Witbank. It is best known for the cultural produce of the local Ndebele people, whose beadwork and geometric art have been exhibited and sold worldwide. There are some interesting community-based tourism projects here.
Curious travellers can visit villages like Kwaggafontein, Matibidi, Waterval and Twoline for a glimpse into rural South African life.
Look out for
Emnotweni/Dullstroom - South Africa's fly-fishing mecca and a much-loved weekend spot. Emnotweni/Dullstroom is a charming spot with beautiful buildings, excellent country hotels and restaurants, and great arts & crafts. It is also home to some of our subcontinent's rarest birds and Africa's only breeding community of wild black leopard. They hunt in the wild mountain ravines typical of the Highlands habitat. At Velorenvlei Nature Reserve on the outskirts of town, you can the fascinating Crane Breeding Project. It’s an unusual breeding programme for South Africa’s national bird, in which chicks are raised by a human mother in a crane outfit.
Fishing - Fishing is by far the most popular outdoor pursuit in the Highlands region. The best spots are in and around Emakhazeni/Belfast, Enthokozweni/Machadodorp, Emgwenya/Waterval Boven, Emnotweni/Dullstroom and Mashishing/Lydenberg. Most lodges and hotels have fishing gear and are all too happy to assist beginners and pros alike.
Emgwenya/Waterval Boven & Waterval Onder - These two historic towns offer travellers a choice of adventure – ranging from gentle train rides through historic spots to serious adrenalin-pumping outdoor action. You can hurtle yourself into thin air from aeroplanes, bridges or cliffs, go gorge swinging or ride a zip line. The cliffs and crags here are considered by climbers to be amongst the world’s top 10 destinations.
Botshabelo Cultural Village - Step back in time to a Victorian village with a museum complex, parsonage and church, and an authentic Ndebele village. This village has an open-air museum which aims to showcase and preserve Ndebele culture. The Ndebele are known for their colourfully painted huts, bright clothes and amazing artwork (especially beadwork). The Botshabelo Cultural Village is also home to a strong population of Lanatus cycads, which are endemic to the region and create an amazing spectacle when they flower.
The Lily Festival, Roossenekal village - Ten out of ten on the scenery scale, this village-style festival of fun, food and funk celebrates the incredible mass displays of local yellow arum lilies in spring.
Music, food & wine - The highlands area is home to some wonderful festivals, like Baroque in the Bush. This classical music festival is held under the stars in the Kruger National Park. It’s a celebrated event for wildlife lovers who love music and vice versa. The Dullstroom Arts Festival is a quaint highland village festival held in December. It showcases artists, sculptors and musicians, and features fine wining and dining. In March there’s the Tonteldoos Country Festival, near Emakhazeni/Belfast. This is a charming country lifestyle experience featuring wine, organic fare, arts and antiques.
Nature & the great outdoors - The Highlands region is criss-crossed by a series of hiking and walking trails, ranging from easy rambles to seriously tough scrambles. The region is also one of the country’s most popular mountain biking destinations. The Mankele Mountain Bike Park is one of the region’s most popular spots. Enthusiasts also flock to the annual Big Induna mountain bike race - a 75km-long ride through rolling mountains, thick forests, along dirt tracks and grassy trails. It involves a total of 1 820 metres of climbing.
Romancing - With its pretty landscape, moody mountains and convivial country hotels, the Highlands region has long been considered an excellent spot for romantic weekenders. Think misty mornings, roaring fires, gentle strolls and lazy decadent dinners. The region is peppered with chapels and churches and wedding venues, and many a honeymoon has been enjoyed in these hills.