Mpumalanga’s rare combination of lowveld and escarpment, sub-tropical weather, summer rains and unbelievable scenic beauty makes the province one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
Yet despite the millions of tourists who enter the Kruger National Park annually a huge proportion pass through Mpumalanga without exploring the richness of natural beauty beyond the park’s boundaries.
Mpumalanga, place of the rising sun, has a history and natural beauty that will take your breath away.
Explore the Top Ten Natural Attractions in Mpumalanga …
It’s hard to beat the Blyde River Canyon for sheer, dramatic beauty. It doesn’t come much more exciting than this green clad river ravine. Comparisons with the Grand Canyon do it an injustice , so visit without any preconceived ideas(the two are very different) for the Blyde River Canyon, the third deepest canyon in the world, is magnificent; the beauty of the landscape breathtaking.
Head to the viewpoint on the R536, and combine with the Panorama Route. It is best experienced as part of a hike, away from the tourist route.
THE GEO TRAIL (GENESIS ROUTE)
The Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail (a portion of the 260 km Genesis Route) is on its way to becoming the province’s first World Heritage Site. It is a self-drive route that starts in Barberton and follows the R40 to Bulembu in Swaziland for 38 km.
It is one of the top ten drives in Africa following Barberton’s Greenstone belt, an incredible mountain range with some of the best-preserved examples of Archaean Earth rock that hold some of the world’s most ancient rock sediments.
This belt of mountains has been labelled the ‘genesis of life’; the volcanic eruptions that happened here billions of years ago regarded as the reason for earth as it is today. The route is enriched with information panels at various laybys.
This attraction isn’t named after the divine for nothing; the views from up on the Drakensberg escarpment out over the Lowveld, beyond the indigenous forest clad ravine below, are heavenly.
God’s Window, on the Panorama Route, is one of Mpumalanga’s several natural wonders and without doubt the most spectacular viewpoint of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. God’s Window lies literally on the edge of Highveld, with a kilometre of drop beneath your feet over indigenous forest, grasslands and distant Savannah bushveld.
It’s huge. It’s full of wildlife. And it ranks as one of the top things to do in South Africa. As such the Kruger National Park needs little introduction. The sheer diversity and density of game in one of the largest game parks (19 485 sq km) in Africa is difficult to beat.
But the ultimate draw card is being able to self-drive a large network of roads to explore the hugely varied and magnificent landscape (mountains, bushveld, Savannah and tropical forests). Did we mention the 500 species of birds? That’s over and above the elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and zebra.
Two rivers meet at the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon and the effect of their tumultuous and consistent swirling has resulted in a series of cylindrical rock sculptures in a range of brown, white and yellow.
Also known as giant’s kettles, or cylindrical potholes, there are a number of good vantage points from which to view the natural sculptures as bridges and walkways criss-cross the formations. Find them 35 km north of Graskop on the R532 (also part of the Panorama Route).
Surprisingly under-subscribed, the Lowveld Botanical Gardens lie just outside of Nelspruit, perfect for late afternoon strolls and gentle teas. Washed by the Crocodile and Nels rivers, the river banks are dominated by evergreen forest belts whilst lawns and garden beds are alive with 650 tree species, and over 2 000 species of plants that include the largest cycad collection in Africa.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the man-made tropical African rainforest, planted to remind visitors of the rapidly diminishing rainforests of central and west Africa.
These caves get their name from dripstone formations that, when tapped, echo. Discovered by a farmer, whose cattle wondered in here in search of water, the Echo Caves have unearthed a series of Stone Age artifacts now housed in the nearby Museum of Man.
Visit to explore some of the oldest limestone caves on earth along well-lit walkways through the Crystal Palace and Madonna Room. They’re a good alternative to the over-subscribed Sudwala Caves.
THE LAKE DISTRICT
Lake Chrissie is South Africa’s largest natural freshwater lake. It is but one of almost 300 lakes, and a network of pan systems, all within a 20 km radius that form a natural waterway, or lake district, home to literally thousands upon thousands of birds (including the 20 000-odd greater and lesser flamingos that head here to nest and feed), especially during spring and summer when the rains saturate the pans.
The first waders begin arriving in September and stay until March. Unsurprisingly the area is also awash with frogs and known as Matotoland, or land of the frogs (look out for ‘frogging night’ events).
The unique meeting of Highveld and Lowveld in the northern reaches of the Drakensberg Mountains means that Mpumalanga is riddled with long, sweeping mountain passes, many of which form part of the Highlands Meander and the Panorama Route.
A lot smaller than the Kruger National Park, this 2 200 hectare reserve rests at the top of the Long Tom Pass; one of the most beautiful spaces on earth. It is one of the top birdwatching venues in the province, though surprisingly not over subscribed and well worth a visit as a result.
For those not into things on the wing, there are zebras, impalas and kudus.