There’s so much more to Mpumalanga than exploring its diverse bushveld. Rich in important heritage sites, tales of abandoned gold mines, and home to the most ancient geological region in the world, the Lowveld will take your breath away.
Day 1. URBAN OASIS
Get to the Lowveld National Botanical Garden early, before the intense Nelspruit heat sets in. The Crocodile and Nels Rivers converge here, making it quite unique, and the summer rainfall produces thundering waterfalls that cascade over the region’s characteristic giant boulders. Pack your binoculars for the birding, with 243 recorded species, as well as a rich array of butterflies, reptiles and even the odd hippopotamus. sanbi.org/gardens/lowveld/
Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature
As you exit the garden, head left towards these award-winning buildings for a quick photo op. The buildings are an architectural feat, boasting state-of-the-art energy-efficient technology, while the dome-shaped central structures pay homage to rural dwelling spaces.
From Nelspruit, head north towards White River on the R40 to the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, a quaint destination with bespoke shopping and restaurants, a thoughtfully curated art gallery, and even a vintage car museum. Pop into Shautany Chocolatiers for decadent handcrafted Belgian and Swiss-origin treats, and don’t leave without visiting Rottcher Winery, which originated when citrus was first used to make ‘wine’ for Holy Communion by the original Mr Rottcher, a German immigrant, in 1916. Try the orange gin or the Limoncello. casterbridge.co.za
Day 2. THRILLS AND VIEWS
The Graskop Gorge Lift offers a 51-metre descent down the sheer face of the gorge into the indigenous forest below, before traversing 600 metres of walkways and suspension bridges across the Motitsi River. Information boards and interactive exhibits offer insight into the surrounding flora and fauna. Instagram-ready points include a butterfly feeding station, replicas of indigenous mushrooms and even a stained glass installation to catch the magical light of this Afromontane forest. The main attraction is of course the 70-metre waterfall. The first 100 metres or so of the walkway is wheelchair friendly, but the remaining sections do have stairs. Quench your thirst afterwards with one of the Sabie Brewing Company local craft beers at the restaurant, before checking out the art and beautifully made gifts and momentos. graskopgorgeliftcompany.co.za
After the tranquillity of the gorge, head south for a scenic pit stop to get the blood pumping on the Long Tom Toboggan, Africa’s longest toboggan run, totalling 1.7 km. A single cart is fixed to a stainless steel pipeline reaching speeds of up to 45 km/h. At 1 700 metres above sea level, Misty Mountain Lodge (which maintains and operates the toboggan) offers panoramic views of the Long Tom Pass, with the ride taking you through lush mountainsides and forest. Bookings are essential. Call 013 764 3377 or 073 375 1817.
Day 3. NATURAL ORIGINS
A short 15km drive from Nelspruit towards Barberton will bring you to South Africa’s only chimpanzee rescue organisation, the Jane Goodall Institute, Chimp Eden. The institute is housed on the Umhloti Nature Reserve, and is home to chimps rescued from across the globe, from night clubs to beach resorts and the bush meat trade. These endangered species are rehabilitated here, where they then live out the rest of their days in a peaceful setting. Book a tour and learn more about our closest relatives. chimpeden.com
Pack a picnic and take a 3.5 billion-year-old trip back in time up the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail, officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July this year. The Barberton Greenbelt offers a record of Archaean Earth between about 3.2 and 3.57 billion years ago, and may also be considered the site of the earliest life forms. The trail spans 40 kms, with various stops offering illustrated and tactile panels where you can discover the significance of the region in lay terms. It’s a fascinating passage through Earth’s history, with some more recent historical vantage points including an old mining ‘ghost’ town in the distance. The road (which eventually reaches the Swaziland Bulembu/Josefsdal border) is steep but well maintained. geotrail.co.za
WORDS: Melanie Reeder