Named after the river that runs through it Limpopo is the country’s most northern province, often overlooked by visitors who head, instead, to the country’s more exciting provinces like the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
But if you consider that seven of the country’s eleven languages are spoken in Limpopo; that the area has some of the most well established nature and game reserves with a rich stock of wildlife, as well as some of the most breathtaking mountainous scenery – and that’s excluding the Kruger National Park, which functions as the country’s main attraction – then the province has more to offer the visitor than meets the eye.
When next in Limpopo, visit all of the Top Ten Natural Attractions in Limpopo…
1. BAOBAB TREES
Africa’s giant upside down tree is one of the highlights of any visit to the Limpopo province, north of the Soutpansberg mountains. Not only are they ‘upside down’ but their flowers bloom at night, and are pollinated by bats. They function as water storage containers, their large trunks providing elephant, eland and other animals who chew their bark, water during the dry season.
The largest ever recorded baobab is thought to be the Sunland Baobab, in Modjadjiskloof – 22 m high and 47 m in diameter.
The country’s largest game reserve needs no introduction. The sheer density of wildlife brings visitors from all over the world to self-drive a huge network of roads in search of elephant, buffalo, rhino, cheetah, lion, giraffe, hippo, zebra, well over 500 species of bird, and thousands of other animals besides.
Vast African plains interspersed with granite kopjes, rivers, the Lebombo Mountains in the east, and a series of forests in the far north, dawn game drives, thatched roof accommodation and the eerie night chatter of hyenas or wild dogs on the prowl make this a firm favourite of any visit to the Limpopo.
This enchanted body of water, said to be one of the only true natural inland lakes in South Africa, is one of the most sacred places of the Vhatatsindi, or the People of the Pool. When full it measures 5 km by 3 km, created by an ancient landslide that blocked the course of the Mutale River. It is safeguarded by its people, and visits are only possible with permission.
If you do visit, and stay with the locals (roads now make the approach a little easier), remember to turn your back to the lake, bend down, and look at it through your spread legs.
Known as the Land of the Silver Mist the Magoebaskloof is a dense forested area in the mistbelt of the northern Drakensberg. Regarded as a birding and hiking paradise it is a series of pine and eucalyptus plantations, green valleys and some of the most extensive Afromontane forests in the country. The Magoebaskloof Pass connects Tzaneen and Haenertsburg, rising quickly to 558 metres, its famous S-bends and hairpin corners famous for mist and fog as it ascends the Magoesbaskloof.
Visit Woodbush Forest, the largest remaining tract of indigenous montane forest in the country, and Debengeni Falls.
Nowhere else in the world will you find such an extended and complete record of hominid occupation than in the Makapansgat Valley. The limestone caves, once a marshy wetland supporting a huge diversity of plant life and animals, have expelled an impressive quantity of ancient mammal remains and fossil evidence of an early human-like primate ancestor.
After analysing well over 7 000 fossil bones scientists conclude that they date back to an era before stone tools when tools were made from bone, teeth and horn. They name this time the Osteodontokeratic Culture.
South Africa’s most signficant Iron Age site lies where the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers meet, close to Zimbabwe and Botswana. Once the largest kingdom on the sub-continent (between 900 and 1 300 AD, at the same time as Europe’s Dark Ages), it was abandoned in the 14th century. Today the untouched remains are preserved as a Cultural Landscape by UNESCO.
The most intact artifact, now kept safe by the University of Pretoria, is a little gold rhino figurine. Visit Mapungubwe National Park.
Lying in the midst of the Waterberg Mountains, Marakele gets a raw deal because of the looming presence of the Kruger. The park, however, is not your average ‘bushveld’ experience, access to the Big Five (buffalo were introduced in 2013) aside. Not only is the huge Kransberg Mountain home to the world’s largest colony of Cape vultures, but the constant presence of the mountains functions as refreshing landscape.
Bushveld birdlife here is incredible, and includes the Verreaux and Wahlberg eagle. Bontle campsite is unfenced, and the three-day eco 4×4 trail at the top of the mountains is well worth doing.
Home of the Rain Queen, Modjadji, the Modjadji Cycad Reserve is 560 hectares of unspoilt forest in which grow some 12 000 cycads, some as high as 13 metres with 34 kg cones. A hike through the reserve will reveal the largest collection of the rare and endemic Modjadji cycad (Encephalartos transvenosus); a species of fern considered billions of years old, and protected by the Rain Queen.
There has been no rain queen since 2005 when the sixth Queen Makobo died of Aids. Her daughter, sired by a ‘commoner’, is unlikely to find acceptance as the rightful heiress to the crown, and no new queen has been chosen since Makobo’s death.
An internationally renowned Ramsar site, the Nyslvley reserve is 4 000 hectares that include the Nyl River floodplain, the country’s largest floodplain that stretches over 70 km between Modimolle and Mokopane. Best to visit during the summer flood season (though not guaranteed annually) when up to 80 000 birds (370 species) make the wetland their home.
A fire in 2013 burnt three of the bird hides, which have yet to be rebuilt, but the fourth, at Vogelfontein, is still intact.
The first savanna biosphere reserve in southern Africa, the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve covers some 15 000 square kilometres, one of the country’s champion conservation projects and an incredible, malaria-free space in which to view wildlife. Within the reserve are two major game reserves – Marakele and Welgevonden, and the Lapalala Wilderness Area.