South Africa’s ‘place of the rising sun’ is one of the most beautiful provinces in the country. Boasting dramatic scenery; a combination of mountains, valleys and bushveld; historical towns and the incredible wildlife of the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga is a popular destination for travellers looking for a combination of diverse experiences.
As everyone knows, the Kruger National Park is a national treasure and the province’s primary attraction. Here you’ll find the Big 5 and a wealth of bird life. There are different ways to approach this trip. You can make it a day outing or spend a few hours there. Realistically, though, it is best to stay over at one of the numerous rest camps for a few nights.
If you prefer your game viewing as part of a more pampered experience, head for the luxury lodges of the Sabi Sand Reserve. It offers 5-star accommodation and service, personalised game drives, spa experiences and world-class cuisine.
En route to Kruger there are a few quirky towns worth stopping at. Hazyview and Sabie are well known for adventure activities – from quad biking to abseiling to kayaking and kloofing. You’ll also discover why so many people consider Sabie to be one of the most beautiful towns in the country.
The little town of White River has the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, a superb place to shop for local goods and enjoy some deli-style dining. Kaapschehoop offers lots of small town charm and the wild horses in the area are deservedly famous. You’ll find a range of accommodation to suit all budgets in these towns.
At this point you may want to vary your itinerary with some quasi-urban experiences. While not exactly bright lights and big city, the provincial capital of Mbombela (previously Nelspruit) is a bustling Lowveld centre. Infrastructure and facilities have recently been overhauled for the 2010 FIFA World Cup©. It will serve you well as a stepping stone to access the region’s other key attractions.
The first attraction, as you head away from Nelspruit/Mbombela, is the Sudwala Caves - known as the world’s oldest dolomite caves. This is the beginning of a superb tour: Mpumalanga’s scenic Panorama Route.
It includes the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels and the Long Tom Pass. The Blyde River Canyon Reserve is where you’ll find the world’s largest green canyon. Along the way you can throw in a spot of local culture with a visit to the Shangana Cultural village.
Sticking with the cultural theme, there are various Ndebele cultural homesteads found across the province that are worth visiting, including the Botshabelo Historical Village outside Middelburg. History buffs will enjoy various locations of Anglo-Boer War sites, many of them located in the Grass & Wetlands region.
The historical theme is continued in the towns of Pilgrim’s Rest and Barberton. Pilgrim’s Rest is a touristy kind of place, but it’s still particularly quaint. Having a beer at the fabled Royal Hotel is a good idea.
With its origins in a gold rush, Barberton was – quite astonishingly – home to South Africa’s first stock exchange. Today it has a few fun cafes, restaurants and arts and crafts shops.
If you’ve got some extra time on your hands after exploring all these attractions, add places like Chrissiesmeer and Dullstroom to your list. Both are known for superb trout fishing and Chrissiesmeer also has regular ‘frogging safaris’. Dullstroom, has some excellent fly-fishing spots, complemented by good restaurants, and some fine hotels and guest houses. Birdwatchers will want to head for the Birds of Prey Centre outside Dullstroom, or slightly further afield to Wakkerstroom.
If you haven’t had enough wildlife in the Kruger Park, there are plenty of other nature reserves in Mpumalanga. These include the Sterkspruit Nature Reserve and the Mount Sheba Nature Reserve. For more close-up wildlife experiences there’s Chimpanzee Eden near Nelspruit/Mbombela, and the Elephant Sanctuary.
By now you should be thoroughly exhausted. But, if you still want to add a good measure of adventure, go rock climbing in Waterval Boven, take outback rides in Kaapschehoop, skydive in Witbank, or take on the Big Swing at Graskop. Walking and hiking trails are also plentiful, and you can go quad biking, kloofing, paragliding and kayaking.