Mpumalanga Province is rich in wildlife, culture, pioneer history, and natural beauty. Situated in the east of the country, it borders Swaziland and Mozambique and encompasses the southern section of the world-renowned Kruger National Park.
Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga © Claudirene
Mpumalanga is 'Big Game Country', and the Lowveld is the setting for dozens of private game reserves and luxury lodges that abound in bird and animal life. Nelspruit is the capital and gateway to the province. Situated two hundred miles (325km) east of Johannesburg, it is South Africa's fastest growing city and has a vibrant CBD.
Although not much of a tourist attraction in itself, Nelspruit is situated in the heart of a region rich in natural attractions, which makes it a favourite jumping off point for exploring the Lowveld area. The city's train station and airport welcome travellers several times a day, most of whom are en route to the Kruger National Park, whose southern Malelane Gate is about 40 miles (63km) from Nelspruit.
It is not only those interested in safaris that come to Mpumalanga, however. Besides wonderful opportunities for bird watching and game viewing, the area is also scenically beautiful, with its mountains, valleys, waterfalls, canyons, and panoramic passes spread across the region.
Mpumalanga's lack of development means more space for its natural finery, which is particularly evident along the scenic meander known as the Panorama Route that takes in spectacular sights along the eastern slopes of the escarpment.
Blyde River Canyon, South Africa © Paul Tosio
Blyde River CanyonThe spectacular vista of the Blyde River Canyon is part of the scenically breath-taking Panorama Route, where sheer cliffs drop into a bush-covered valley. It's worth covering the route as a self-drive trip from Nelspruit, or on a bus tour. Other sights on the route include a trio of green-clad peaks set in the canyon called the Three Rondavels, and the Bourke's Luck Potholes. The latter are huge holes in the mountainside formed by grinding sand. The Blyde River Canyon is the biggest green canyon in the world, and the third largest canyon on earth. Only the USA's Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia are bigger. The river itself offers some challenging white-water rafting, and one of the best ways to experience the canyon is to paddle the river. A five-day hiking trail winds along the canyon, through the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. It is one of the most rewarding walking trails in the country, if not the world. Visitors can also enjoy shorter walking trails, game safaris, horse-riding trails, mountain-biking trips, and abseiling. All of these activities are offered by the nature reserve. Lastly, it's worth mentioning that there is a variety of accommodation in the reserve.
Lowveld National Botanical Garden, Nelspruit © Wernermeiringvdm
Lowveld National Botanical GardenCovering 393 acres (159 hectares) on the banks of the Crocodile River at Nelspruit, the Lowveld National Botanical Garden has the largest collection of cycads in the world and the biggest assortment of indigenous trees in South Africa. The garden has 600 plant and 245 bird species occurring naturally within its borders, but about 2,000 more plant species have been added to this collection. The gardens are traversed by two big rivers, the Crocodile and the Nels, which converge in the garden and form some spectacular waterfalls, which can be viewed from observation platforms. Highlights of the gardens include the aerial boardwalk and suspension bridge through the African Rain Forest section, and a lovely two-hour walking trail that meanders along the Crocodile River banks and passes three waterfalls. There is a restaurant, a tea garden, and a concert stage in the grounds. Approximately 70 percent of the gardens are accessible to wheelchairs. Spending a few hours strolling and picnicking in the gardens is a great way to enjoy the natural bounty of the region, but visitors should note that ball games and pets are not allowed.
Address: Off White River Road; Website: www.sanbi.org/gardens/lowveld
Pilgrim's Rest, South Africa © Olivier.karin
Pilgrim's RestHad it not been for its picturesque setting, Pilgrim's Rest would probably be a ghost town. It is, however, a popular tourist destination, existing today for little other purpose than to entertain and inform visitors about its colourful heyday. It all began in 1873, when a Scottish miner, Alex 'Wheelbarrow' Patterson, discovered gold at Pilgrim's Creek. Before long, fortune seekers had flocked to the little valley, and the town of Pilgrim's Rest was born. Mining continued for decades, but started to dry up in the 1940s, the final mine closing in 1972. The entire town has now been declared a national monument and many of its corrugated iron buildings have been restored. These now exist as living museums, and some as souvenir shops. All development is carefully monitored to ensure the place remains authentic and loses none of its charm. There is an Information Centre on the Main Road where visitors can learn the history of the town before exploring it. Pilgrim's Rest is part of the scenic Panorama Route, north of Nelspruit. Walking into the town is like stepping back in time and it has been used for a number of film shoots in South Africa. Additionally, there are some great pubs and restaurants if visitors feel peckish.