Mpumalanga, South Africa - Stein Travel

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Welcome to Mpumalanga

Mpumalanga, meaning 'land of the rising sun', is a province rich in wildlife, African culture, pioneer history and natural beauty. Situated in the east of the country, north of KwaZulu-Natal, it borders Swaziland and Mozambique and encompasses the southern section of the world-renowned Kruger National Park.

Mpumalanga is 'Big Game Country', and the Lowveld is the setting for dozens of private game reserves and luxury lodges that abound in bird and animal life. Nelspruit is the capital and gateway to the province, situated two hundred miles (325km) east of Johannesburg, and is South Africa's fastest growing city with a vibrant Central Business District. Although not much of a tourist attraction in itself, Nelspruit is situated in the heart of a region rich in natural attractions, which makes it a favourite jumping off point for exploring the Lowveld area. The city's train station and airport welcome travellers several times a day, most of whom are en route to the Kruger National Park, whose southern Malelane Gate is about 40 miles (63km) from Nelspruit.

It is not only those interested in safaris that come to Mpumalanga, however. Besides wonderful opportunities for bird watching and game viewing, the area is also scenically beautiful with its mountains, valleys, waterfalls, canyons and panoramic passes. Mpumalanga's lack of development means more space for its natural finery, which is particularly evident along its scenic meander known as the Panorama Route that takes in spectacular sights along the eastern slopes of the escarpment such as the Blyde River Canyon and God's Window, as well as lesser-known vistas like Bourke's Luck Potholes, Wonder View and the Three Rondavels. The little town of Pilgrim's Rest is a popular attraction for those interested in the history of the 1870s gold rush, while streams that once held the promise of gold are now a haven for trout and fly-fishermen, particularly near the town of Dullstroom. The region is also home to the Ndebele people, famous for their beadwork and uniquely painted houses.


Mpumalanga is a summer rainfall area and has a subtropical climate with hot summers and mild winters. The highveld region to the west experiences more extreme temperatures and is hotter in summer, colder in winter and generally drier than the rest of the province. The lowveld, which includes Nelspruit the provincial capital, has hot summer days and warm nights, with warm, sunny days in winter and cold nights.

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. Travellers cheques and some foreign currencies are accepted at larger hotels and shops, but commission is charged, otherwise all commercial banks will exchange them.

Local time is GMT +2.

The spectacular vista of the Blyde River Canyon, with its sheer cliffs dropping into a bush-covered valley, is part of the scenically breathtaking Panorama Route, worth doing as a self-drive trip from Nelspruit, or on a bus tour. Other sights on the route include the Three Rondavels, a trio of green-clad peaks set in the canyon and the Bourke's Luck Potholes, huge holes in the mountainside formed by grinding sand. The Blyde River Canyon is the biggest 'green' canyon in the world, and the third largest canyon on earth, smaller only than the USA's Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. The river itself also offers some challenging white water rafting.

Covering 393 acres (159 hectares) on the banks of the Crocodile River at Nelspruit, the Lowveld Botanic Gardens has the largest collection of cycads in the world and the biggest assortment of indigenous trees in South Africa, totalling 650 of the 1,000 known species. The gardens have 600 plant and 245 bird species occurring naturally on its turf, but about 2,000 more plant species have been added to this collection making this haven a feast for botanists. A two-hour trail meanders along the Crocodile River banks and passes three waterfalls.

Had it not been for its picturesque setting, Pilgrim's Rest would probably be a ghost town. It is, however, a popular tourist destination, existing today for little other purpose than to entertain and inform visitors about its colourful heyday. It all began in 1873 when a Scots miner, Alex 'Wheelbarrow' Patterson, shouted 'Eureka', having discovered gold at Pilgrim's Creek. Before long fortune seekers had clogged the little valley, and the town of Pilgrim's Rest was born. Mining continued for decades, but started to dry up in the 1940s and the final mine closed in 1972. The town has now been declared a national monument and many of its corrugated iron buildings have been restored. These now exist as living museums, and some as souvenir shops. There is an Information Centre on the Main Road where visitors can learn the history of the town before exploring it. Pilgrim's Rest is part of the scenic 'Panorama Route' north of Nelspruit.

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