Mpumalanga lies in the east of South Africa, north of KwaZulu-Natal and bordering Swaziland and Mozambique. In the northeast, the land rises towards mountain peaks and then terminates in an immense escarpment. In some places, this escarpment plunges hundreds of meters down to the low-lying area known as the Lowveld.
People are drawn to Mpumalanga by the magnificent scenery, by the fauna and flora and by the saga of the 1870s gold rush era and a wealth of fascinating tribal legends. Mountains, panoramic passes, valleys, rivers, waterfalls and forests characterize the landscape. This is also Big Game Country, the setting for dozens of sanctuaries teeming with wildlife and birds. Visit the world’s most famous game reserve, climb the world’s third-highest canyon, explore the world’s oldest cave and spend the night in the world’s best private game lodges.
The entire Mpumalanga area offers exceptional opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, horse-riding and fishing. Streams once panned for gold have become the haunts of eager anglers and lazy trout. Steeped in the history of pioneers, hunters and fortune seekers, fascinating gold rush towns abound. Mpumalanga offers something for everyone.
Mpumalanga means “Place of the Rising Sun” and is the name given to the new province in Eastern Transvaal in 1993. It includes part of the old Transvaal and the former homeland KaNgwane, as well as parts of Gazankulu and Lebowa.
The capital is Nelspruit (recently renamed to Mbombela).
In 1873, Alec ‘Wheelbarrow’ Patterson discovered alluvial gold near what is today Pilgrim’s Rest. At first he tried to keep it a secret, but then a similar discovery was made by William Trafford. This led to the world’s biggest gold rush of the time. But in 1886 reef gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand, which caused an even bigger rush. Many people left Pilgrim’s Rest and went to the Witwatersrand, but mining in the eastern Transvaal still continued until 1972.
Anecdotes abound the story of Jock of the Bushveld, a Staffordshire bull-terrier whose hunting exploits during his life in the lowveld were immortalized in the story of the same name, by the famous pioneer Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. The story, popular with all age groups, characterizes much of the lifestyle of the early days in the lowveld.
The Kruger National Park is the oldest game park in South Africa. It was named after the ZAR President Paul Kruger, who wanted to create a game reserve between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers in 1898. At first it was called the Sabie Game Reserve, but in 1926 the name was changed to the Kruger National Park. The Park is very large. It is even bigger than Swaziland! There are more than 500 types of birds and more than 130 types of mammals, including the Big Five, leopard, lion, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo.
Throughout the Mpumalanga hills and mountains exists hundreds of examples of San (bushman) art. This art serves as a window looking into the lives of the San hunters and gatherers who inhabited the area centuries before the arrival of the Nguni people from the north.
The Wakkerstroom area in the Southern Mpumalanga highlands is a world renowned birding hot spot. The special birds that tourists travel to see are the Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark, Wattled Crane and Yellow Breasted Pipit among over 300 grassland species.
The towns in the region have much to offer, like the African Silk Farm near Graskop and the Coffee Farm nearby. Many activities including the big jump, mountain biking, quad biking, horse trails, river rafting and big game viewing are endemic to the region. This is “big five” territory.
Other major tourist attractions include the Sudwala Caves and the Blyde River Canyon