Why Limpopo should be on your bucket list

April 02, 2019

Sultry days and spectacular sunsets. Awe-inspiring wildlife in the African bush. Ancient baobabs and Stone Age skeletons.

Put Limpopo on your itinerary and feel the city stress seep away as you discover South Africa’s northernmost province. Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store:

Take a walk on the wild side

Bordering Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Limpopo is home to an abundance of game parks and nature reserves, including the wildest and most remote parts of the vast Kruger National Park.

Enter the northern part of the park through the Phalaborwa, Punda Maria or Pafuri gate, but Pafuri is the most exciting option, as the far north is home to one of the park’s most beautiful drives, the Luvuvhu River Drive to Crooks Corner.

This picturesque spot got its name from the outlaws and gunrunners who lived in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The further north you find yourself in the Kruger National Park, the fewer other cars and people you’re likely to see. The animals may be more elusive than in the south, but rest assured, they’re there! In particular, be prepared for some exhilarating elephant encounters. If you’re planning on more than a day trip, book your accommodation in one of the camps or lodges well in advance.

If you prefer to stick to smaller parks, choose Mapungubwe National Park 70km from Musina, a World Heritage Site that is not only home to four of the Big Five, but also the site of the ancient Kingdom of Mapungubwe that existed between 1200 and 1290.

This is where archaeologists excavated a famous small gold rhino and other evidence of this ancient civilisation. Visit the striking museum and interpretive centre, set in an architectural award-winning building, near the entrance to the park to be inspired by the history and heritage of this place.

Image: South African Tourism

Reflect on the origins of humankind

About two hours’ drive from Johannesburg, you’ll find the Waterberg mountains, a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

With rock formations shaped through millennia, this scenic landscape is home to many mysteries. Thousands of fossils, including the remains of the early hominid Australopithecus africanus, dating back more than two million years, have been found in the Makapan’s Valley and caves near Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus).

The oldest of the caves is known as Makapansgat Limeworks. The Cave of Hearths has evidence of human occupation from the Early Stone Age through the Middle Stone Age, Later Stone Age and up to the Iron Age. Other interesting discoveries include remains of the extinct pygmy buffalo (found in the Buffalo Cave), evidence of early iron smelting and the use of fire, and much more.

The Arend Dieperink Museum in Mokopane has an exhibit about these finds and the staff can arrange tours of the caves. The museum also displays San rock art and artefacts relating to the local Sotho culture and the era of the Voortrekkers.

The Waterberg area also offers many opportunities for hiking, birding and game viewing.

Image: South African Tourism

Soak your cares away in a hot spring

No trip to Limpopo is complete without a visit to Bela-Bela – just about two hours’ drive from Johannesburg – to take a dip in the fountains, pools or spas fed by the town’s famous hot springs.

The waters, rich in minerals such as calcium carbonate, sodium chloride and other salts, are widely believed to have special healing properties.

A popular, family-friend port of call is the Warmbaths, A Forever Resort, with a number of hot mineral pools, a hydro and spa, water slides and lots of other water-based activities. Soak, swim or simply relax in the shade.

Nylsvley Nature Reserve about 70km from Bela-Bela is a Ramsar wetland site, boasting one of the largest floodplains in the southern hemisphere and about 400 species of birds, including more than 100 types of waterbirds. There are also about 1 000 species of large mammals roaming here, including leopard, hyena, and herds of roan and tsessebe, giraffe, kudu and waterbuck.

The Bela-Bela Dam 8km from the town is a great spot for water sports, boating and fishing, or take the kids for a guided tour of the massive Thaba Kwena crocodile farm outside town, boasting thousands of these fascinating and fearsome predators.

Image: Brian Dell

Discover the magic of Magoebaskloof

The beauty of Magoebaskloof is legendary. Located at the north-eastern tip of the section of the Drakensberg mountains that lies in Limpopo, the area – known by locals as “the land of the silver mist” – is characterised by picturesque mountains and valleys.

Head straight to the pretty village of Haenertsburg, 60km from Polokwane on the road to Tzaneen. This former gold-mining town, with the Wolfberg as backdrop, has a relaxing vibe and the main street is a great place to hang out for a few hours. Explore the quaint shops, the bookstore with many rare and collectible books and the local museum, and have a bite at one of the many eateries and cafés.

The town loves a good festival, so try to time your visit to coincide with the Berry Festival in February, the Haenertsburg Food, Wine and Beer Festival at the end of April or the Spring Festival in September.

There are plenty of short and long hiking trails to explore, including the 10km Louis Changuion Hiking Trail through the threatened and protected woodbush granite grasslands surrounding the town. If you’re a keen cyclist, bring your mountain bike – there are some great routes to explore.

Limpopo has plenty more to offer – and you can experience it all by simply hopping on a Mango flight to Johannesburg, renting a car through one of our travel partners and hitting the road!

Image: South African Tourism
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