They speak about Mpumalanga as the place of the rising sun. Indicative in many ways of the outdoor lifestyle that is the essence of time-out in Mpumalanga, one goes there for the wide open spaces, the sweeping mountains, torrentous rivers and waterfalls, and valleys enshrouded in mist.
The romance of the lowveld beckons with its game farms, lodges and bush breaks in the southern parts of the Kruger National Park. Think Mpumalanga, and Bourkes Luck Potholes come to mind, followed swiftly by other geographic icons like God’s Window and the Three Rondawels. So much of the Mpumalanga province that lies in the northern eastern parts of the country is now geared to visitors that it becomes a case of being selective about what one does, rather than having to scour for things to do.
The team at SA Venues has put together a list of the top things you absolutely MUST do when in Mpumalanga, followed by a few of the out-of-the-way, need to have been there before places and spaces that you may not know about … Mpumalanga top things to do…
Drive/explore the Panorama Route
This is a self-drive route, heavily inundated during peak seasons, but definitely worth doing for the sheer beauty of the number of natural wonders it incorporates. The Panorama Route drive follows the eastern escarpment of the province and takes in God’s Window, the third largest canyon in the world, and certainly the largest green canyon – the Blyde River Canyon – Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondawels, Mac Mac Pools and Falls, and the towns of Pilgrim’s Rest, Sabie, Graskop, Ohrigstad and Hazyview. Escape the road by doing one of the many activities available to you, from hiking to bungee jumping, white water rafting and even gold panning. The route in its entirety is long, so you might want to do only parts of it, or make it the mainstay of your trip and savour every bit of the way. (More info here: Self Drive the Panorama Route)
Do the Highlands Meander
Another hugely popular tourist route, the Highlands Meander might not have quite the impact of the Panorama Route, but is as popular for its beauty. It lies in the higher reaches of the escarpment and is renowned as the place to go for trout fly fishing, surrounded by imposing mountains and rivers. Highlights include Dullstroom and the Gustave Klingbiel nature reserve, the beautiful Long Tom Pass, Horse Shoe Falls, the Escarpment Trail, incredible opportunities to rock climb and spot rare birds, and the rather quaint towns of Machadodorp, Dullstroom, Waterval Boven and Onder, Lydenburg and Belfast.
Visit the Kruger National Park
A visit to Mpumalanga without time spent in the Kruger National Park borders on sacrilege. By far one of South Africa’s biggest draw cards, two million hectares of lowveld straddle two provinces and give one access to what easily ranks as the ultimate safari experience. A visit to the Kruger Park is more than a game-spotting exercise. Rather it is an immersion into both the incredible wildness and unpredictability of the true bushveld, the heart of the animal kingdom, and what it is to roam free on the plains of Africa.
Take in the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens
The beautiful Lowveld National Botanical Gardens is a 159 hectare green lung that lies in Nelspruit, and is just one of the reasons to visit the town. Through it run two rivers, the Crocodile and the Nels Rivers, both of which add something of their own character to the garden, which is home to 600 naturally occurring plants and over 2000 that have been introduced. Alive with trees and a place to experience Sour Lowveld Bushveld and cycads, spend a day here easily.
Spend a day in Pilgrim’s Rest
Yes, Pilgrims Rest is on the Panorama Route, but you might want to give the historical little town, which is also a National Monument, a bit more than a cursory glance. It’s setting is lovely and it is filled with little historic houses, shops and museums that have managed to retain their original historic appearance thanks to restoration. It’s thus a village lost in the 1870s gold rush. Make sure you include a visit to the Alanglade House Museum.
Swing over Graskop
This adrenaline hotspot in Graskop is renowned. Graskop gorge swing is the highest in the world and in a few seconds you go from zero to 180 km/h that has you flying 130 metres above the ground at a rather different vantage point for Graskop Falls. Whilst a swing may call to mind a sedate seat moving slowly over a gorge, it is anything but. Not only do you go over backwards but the initial part of the ‘swing’ is a free fall bungee, before you dip into a swing that takes you from one side of the gorge to the other in a series of sweeps. Do not have breakfast before attempting this. Oh, and you can do it in tandem, if that makes you feel any safer.
Visit Loskop Dam
The Loskop Dam just north of Middelburg, is not only great for bass fishing, but it is a closer-to-Johannesburg alternative to the Kruger National Park, if you’re short for time. Three of the Big 5 make the reserve their home – white rhino, buffalo and leopard – whilst you will also see hippo, giraffe, warthog, numerous buck and sable antelope. But really this is a bird watcher’s paradise and the fish eagle is not shy about making an appearance. If you can manage to find a place to stay in the surrounding hills of the dam, the views are pretty spectacular.
A quick list of unusual to-do’s
Visit the Elephant Whispers near Hazyview and get to interact with elephants
Walk the Labyrinth at Boondocks, near Kaapmuiden – a beautiful setting in which to experience quiet and meditation
Taste wine made from oranges at Rottcher Wineries, Casterbridge Farm in White River
Experience tree top slides – visit the tree-top canopy tour near Hazyview where a series of slides take you from the tree tops to the valley floor through the Sabie River valley forest.
Walk amongst rhinos – you can do rhino walking safaris in the only wilderness concession in the Kruger National Park (via the Paul Kruger Gate)
Hike Blyderivierspoort – a 2.5 day walk from God’s Window to Bourke’s Luck Potholes through the Blyde River Canyon (perhaps not unusual, but definitely worth it)
Buy directly from farmers at the Nelspruit Farmers Market – this once a month market is a wonderful space in which to pick up fruit, veg and other delicious food
Vist a dairy in the town of Tonteldoos – Pendle Hill Dairy produces organic cheeses
Useful Mpumalanga Links