Category: South Africa.

The best bush in the business


By Chirs Moerdyk

It is not the biggest jewel in the crown of South Africa’s awesome national parks, but it is certainly the most exotic and unique.

It is called Mapungubwe and a visit there is not just about animals and bush but going back about a thousand years when a sacred mountain was inhabited by a royal family governing a highly intelligent people. The forebears of the majority of South Africans? No-one yet knows.

Situated on South Africa’s northern border and spanning the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers where, from spectacular view sites, one can almost toss a pebble into Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa without too much effort.

It is a World Heritage site and the newest of South Africa’s national parks, having been proclaimed in 1998 and is spectacularly mountainous, dotted with thorn bushes, Nyala trees and dominated by majestic Baobabs at every turn.

It is land of mystery, intrigue and wildlife which reeks of ancient civilisations and elephants dung.

Put it this way – I do not recommend a visit to Mapungubwe by anyone who is considering leaving the country to live overseas. Because a few days here and there is no way you will ever be able to get on that plane and go.

In the few years that Sanparks has been managing Mapungubwe, they have done an exceptional job in creating the most wonderful hides, treetop walkways and rest camps. The main one of which is Leokwe where a number of two bedroomed and single bedroom cottages are available.

Well, not quite cottages but rather pretty spacious houses – all air conditioned with big kitchens for self catering, large bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and outside showers as well as spectacular patios and bomas. From ours we could practically lean out an touch the elephants as they walked by. Accommodation on par with some of those upmarket private game ranches.

Mapungubwe gets is name from an oblong, flat mountain where 70 odd years ago some hunters uncovered graves containing gold and jewellery along with evidence of a highly advanced people who were able to work gold and smelt iron into farming implements. People who had no weapons but had sophisticated granaries and water reservoirs, people who were clearly connected to traders from the East – given the nature of the gold and other jewellery fashioned from previous and semi precious stones.

Most spectacular of which was a golden Rhino unearthed from the grave of one of the Royal family. A grave that yielded up more than two kilograms of wrought gold.
The University of Pretoria has been conducting archaeological research since the 1930’s and many of the artefacts stored at the University will be sent back to Mapungubwe early next year when a new and architecturally fascinating centre is opened at the park.

To this day, no-one knows precisely what the name Mapungubwe means. The people who lived there in the year 1050 AD disappeared some time later for about 200 years and then it is believed they reappeared at the site of great Zimbabwe to the north.
No one is sure where they came from or where they disappeared to. But, they were a highly inventive and creative people to whom many of the surrounding tribes lay claim today. Zimabwe’s Robert Mugabe apparently believes he is a descendant of the people of Great Zimbabwe. I asked our guide, a Venda, why no-one had done any DNA tests to determine of whom they are the ancestors. I was told with a sly grin that “this would probably cause the third world war”.

Birdlife is great, especially along the Limpopo River 4×4 trails and on the wooden walkways suspended above the ground and weaving between fever trees to a hide overlooking the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers.

We counted four or five herds of elephants totalling about 50 in total. There are giraffe, Waterbuck, Eland, Kudu as well as Leopard, Cheetahs and Lion, Rhino and so forth. The cats are pretty rare sighting but Elephants are all over the place.
Right now, a 4×4 is pretty much essential to make the most out of Mapungubwe.
But all the main view sites can be accessed by car.

And those views are stupendous. The kind of views that make one proud to be African. The kind of views that would make you seriously homesick if you ever decided to leave this country.

Interestingly, just after the riches of Mapungubwe were discovered in the 1930s, the SA prime minister, General Jan Smuts, had the region declared off limits by an act of parliament.

When the Nats came into the power in the late 1940’s this was the very first law that they got rid of, handing the land back to white farmers.

Thankfully, Mapungubwe Mountain it is now back where it belongs.

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Category: South Africa
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