Limpopo, South Africa
Limpopo Province is, as its former name suggests, South Africa’s most northern province and its gateway to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. A corner of carefully conserved wilderness, it shares borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and stretches from the savannah-like plains of the bushveld in the west to the subtropical lowveld in the east. Bringing to mind images of the bush and the Big Five vital to that most thrilling of African adventures, the Safari, the word “Limpopo” has become synonymous with South African wildlife.
Although it has approximately 50 provincial nature reserves and countless privately-owned game farms that cater for the wishes of wildlife enthusiasts and trophy hunters alike, Limpopo’s greatest attractions are its three National Parks of which the Kruger is king. The ultimate destination for both local and foreign eco-tourists, the Kruger National Park which lies along the Limpopo Province’s eastern border, is the largest and, without a doubt, the most celebrated of South Africa’s Nature Reserves. Stretching 380 kilometres downwards from the mighty Limpopo River to the aptly named Krokodil River, this internationally-renowned wildlife sanctuary is the second of South Africa’s transfrontier parks and home to 147 species of mammals as well as vast numbers of birds and reptiles. Wildlife enthusiasts visiting what is now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, extending into Zimbabwe and Mozambique, can expect to see much more than just the lions, leopards, buffaloes, rhinos and elephants that make up the iconic Big Five.
Moving westward and up into the most northern point of Limpopo, we find the smaller and less commercial Mapungubwe National Park. A place in which one might still be surprised by the mock-charge of an angry elephant, Mapungubwe is an uncorrupted gem quickly rising in popularity. Adding to its appeal as a National Park is its archaeological significance and the fact that it has been proclaimed a World Heritage Site. Although the many cultural artefacts – including the internationally acclaimed golden rhino excavated at Mapungubwe in the 1930’s – is not displayed at the site itself, one can view the Iron Age ruins of a thriving African metropolis when visiting the park. Mapungubwe is also soon to become South Africa’s third cross-border park and when it is incorporated into the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, along with the Tuli Circle in Zimbabwe and the Mashatu Reserve in Botswana, it will be part of the largest conservation area in Southern Africa!
Completing the horseshoe of national parks that lie along the outer borders of Limpopo is the Marakele National Park, a 67 000-hectar park situated in the heart of the Waterberg Mountains. With its deep valleys and rolling peaks, Marakele is not only a place of exceptional natural beauty, but also, as the name suggests, “a place of sanctuary” to many different species of animals and birds, none more so than the endangered Cape Vulture. With more than 800 breeding pairs recorded, Marakele National Park is home to the largest known colony of Cape Vultures.
Although the Limpopo Province has many other cultural, historical and archaeological attractions not mentioned here, the knowledge that the area remains unspoiled and untamed is primarily what makes it such a popular destination for tourists. Whether you want to experience the exhilarating thrill of seeing the big five or whether you simply want to relax and take in nature’s many sights and sounds, Limpopo’s greatest appeal is the idea that when dusks falls, you might just hear a lion roar nearby.