Mpumalanga – formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal – is best known for its incredible wildlife and safaris. But there is far more than the Big 5 to discover in the province whose name translates, rather evocatively, as “the place of the rising sun”.
The province’s largesse lies ready to welcome you, just a short but scenic drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria. Families, thrill-seekers, culture lovers, nature junkies and lovebirds will find plenty to do in this beautiful province – on any given weekend or during the plethora of arts, wine and leisure festivals that adorn its calendar.
Nothing dull about Dullstroom
Many Gauteng day-trippers are already closely acquainted with anything-but-dull Dullstroom. Located less than three hours’ drive from Joburg, this bustling country hamlet is basically the halfway point to the Kruger National Park and is well worth a stopover – or even a longer sojourn.
Dullies, as it’s known, is a fly-fishing paradise and you simply must try a delectable savoury trout pancake at one of the village’s many local eateries and pubs. During nippy weather, there’s nothing better than cosying up over a bottle of vino or visiting the fabled local whiskey bar.
The spectacular scenery in the Highlands Meander area makes it a drawcard for hikers, picnickers, horse riders, mountain bikers, golfers and breakfast-runners. Plus, you can shop for original handcrafted items and artisanal wares that you won’t find in your common-or-garden urban department store.
Commune with nature’s wonders
Within an hour’s radius of Dullstroom, towards Lydenburg, are several nature reserves offering outdoor enthusiasts the chance to get away from it all, unwind, savour the tranquility … and just breathe.
One of these is the small but pretty Sterkspruit Nature Reserve, a wonderland for twitchers (bird watchers), hikers and fisherfolk. The private Ohrigstad Dam Nature Reserve near Pilgrim’s Rest boasts mountain vistas to die for, while Carolina’s El Dorian trail, near the Badplaas resort, also reveals a rugged wilderness tailor-made for exploring on foot or on horseback.
Of course, the ultimate nature reserve – not to be confused with game reserve – in Mpumalanga has to be the exquisite Blyde River Canyon Reserve. The stunning 50km-long canyon is the third-largest in the world, with the lip of its escarpment said to mark where the super-continent of Gondwanaland broke apart 130 million years ago. But the canyon is only one component of this must-visit park, with its treasure chest of natural riches.
This is literally Mother Nature’s playground, teeming with geological wonders such as the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels, Pinnacle Rock and God’s Window. No wonder it’s part of the Panorama Route – it’s an unending vista of scenic splendour. Don’t forget to check out the Mac Mac Falls near Sabie too.
Get your adventure kicks here
Sporty Mpumalanga doesn’t shy away from adventure fun, with white-water rafting, abseiling, canyoning, caving, tubing, zip-lining and much more to tempt adrenaline fiends.
But one unusual activity to try out is the Long Tom toboggan run, a winding and thrilling 1.7km ride through the forests and past the wild flowers of the Long Tom Pass mountains – on a toboggan at 45km/h!
For another natural high, you have the luxury of getting your kicks either vertically or horizontally amid the indigenous vegetation of the tiny town of Graskop. Try out the big swing – a 68m freefall in three seconds on one of the world’s highest cable gorge swings, or check out the waterfalls from the 90m-high high wire or “foefie slide” across the gorge. Not for the faint of heart or the delicate of stomach!
Quaintly magical Kaapschehoop
Step through a tear in space-time and straight into the Shire, when you venture into the whimsical, Tolkienesque village of Kaapschehoop. It’s so pretty you may just want to weep.
Set along a mountain pass a stone’s throw from Nelspruit in the Lowveld, this picturesque idyll is known for the large herd of wild horses roaming its misty plains, as well as its cosy eateries, pubs, art galleries and shops.
Bundle up and go for a leisurely walk in the forest or hills, or get toasty-warm indoors and simply sit back, relax and enjoy good company and the hearty local fare. Above all, revel in the air of the mystical and the magical that permeates Kaapschehoop.