Hardly anyone knows about Mapungubwe National Park…
It lies on the south bank of the Limpopo River at the meeting place of three countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, about five hours north of Gauteng.
It’s more than a national park
It’s also a world heritage site and serves as a cultural icon for its evidence of early civilisation.
And, whilst its famous for its archaeological digs (scroll for more on this topic), its wildlife and scenery are pretty spectacular too.
And it forms part of the Greater Mapngubwe Peace Park, formalising co-management between three countries of the game reserves that meet on the banks of the Limpopo River.
In the process of making the three parks free for animals to roam at will, fences have come down, and there is slow but steady co-operation.
There’s a mystery surrounding its name
There are a couple of explanations for the name – Mapungubwe – although most people will tell you it means hill of the jackal, which comes from both Venda and Shona. It’s also known as ‘place of the stone of wisdom’, which for my money sounds a lot more romantic.
The park is divided into two sections
East and West. And to do it justice you’ll need to set aside at least a couple of nights in each section. Anything less than that, you’d do better to stick to one side of the park, and leave the other for next time.
The tree-top boardwalk is incredible
Through the trees on the edge of the Limpopo River with the forest floor beneath you, this is one of the highlights of Mapungubwe. If you’re still enough, there could be wildlife just beneath your feet.
There’s a bird hide up here too, where you can squirrel yourself away and watch, undetected.
The confluence is where you can see 3 countries at once
A short, but steep, bricked pathway takes you up to a hill lookout where there are a series of decks on a high ridge overlooking the floodplain of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers. It’s from here that you literally can see into three countries, across hundreds of baobabs.
It’s highly likely too that you’ll spot elephant, while you’re at it, loping through the mopane trees.
The Maloutswa Hide is one of the best places to see game
Overlooking a watering hole in the park’s western section, Maloutswa sees a steady stream of game, particularly after heavy rains when not only will you see elephant, warthog, monkey, and the occasional leopard, but the bird life is spectacular as well.
Mapungubwe Hill was home to a highly sophisticated people, who traded gold & ivory with China
Up on the top of the distinctive, flat-topped Mapungubwe hill, surrounded by unassailable wall-like sandstone and rock cliffs, is what remains of an ancient civilisation. This unusual ‘rock’ served as the centre of a kingdom; home to a royal family, until they abandoned it in the 14th century.
Because of the area’s obvious importance at a crossroads between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, it functioned as a major trading centre around 1220 and 1300 AD.
The evidence of an ancient social system is believed to be the first class-based social system in southern Africa.
There are also stone structures, most of them the remains of stone walls, all over the park that hail back to this period.
Mapungubwe was kept secret until 1993
Despite its discovery in 1932. Finding a highly advanced indigenous society didn’t fit into the apartheid ideology.
The scenery is incredible
You’ll see magnificent baobabs, fever and ana trees, Nyala berry trees, leadwoods and common wild fig trees, whilst the chance to sight game is at almost every turn. More than a couple of excellent 4×4 routes take you through an incredible landscape.
The park’s treasure is a little golden rhino
In a little, modern and innovatively designed museum in the heart of the park is the park’s gold rhino, discovered a couple of decades ago during archaeological digs.
Leowke rest camp is a great overnight
These beautiful cabins have their own kitchens and back yards, as well as outside showers.
You can catch a glimpse of black rhino, wild dog, cheetah, brown hyena and Pel’s fishing owl
If you’re lucky. All of them are in Mapungubwe.