The Northeast of South Africa has quite festive wildlife, especially where the country borders Botswana and Zimbabwe. This area of intersection is called the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, which comprised Mapungubwe National Park established in 1995. Although it is one of the most recent parks in South Africa, it is built on one of the most ancient regions of the country. The Mapungubwe Hill at the park was once home to the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. Judging from a golden rhino figure during the excavations, wildlife is not such a new thing here.
Mapungubwe is waiting to entertain and inform tourists through its extensive tours with a little touch of ancient South African history.
The park covers an area of 28,000 hectares between Venetia Diamond Mine, Mapesu Game Reserve, and Botswana and Zimbabwe borders.
Kolope river, which is the intersection of Limpopo and Shashe rivers runs through the park as the primary source of life.
Limpopo is generally a mountainous area, so the geography in Mapungubwe has a similar fashion alternating between sharp hills and deep plains with occasional flood plains formed by Limpopo River.
What is quite unique about the park is the massive sandstones formed through years of erosion and harsh winds. The surfaces of these stones are usually covered with cobalt and granite, forming red-brown layers.
The nearby Venetia Mine is worth noting for its high yield of diamonds.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Like other transfrontier parks, Mapungubwe boasts several habitats with different vegetation. The most prevalent vegetation is the bushveld with a dense population of Mopane Trees. The plains around the river are more fertile for woodland. Other commonly found trees include baobabs, the yellowish-green fever tree, nyala tree, and cluster fig.
The transfrontier region has a decent wildlife scene with a large number of rare species.
There are currently 90 mammal species in the park, including both black and white rhinos, wild dogs and elusive big cats like cheetah, lion, and leopard. Elephants are usually seen looking for water near the riverbed.
There are some rarely encountered mammal species in the park. The Vervet monkeys are found in huge numbers as well as two hyena species. Notable antelope sightings include kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, and the rare red hartebeest.
Another specialty of the Mapungubwe is the yellow-spotted rock hyrax, for which the park has arranged successful conservation.
The reptile population is just as diverse, considering there are over thirty snake species, although some of them remain hidden most of the time. It should be noted that some of them are poisonous, so you should avoid wandering off in the bush without guidance.
Bird lovers should feel just as thrilled as big-game seekers since the park is home to 456 species of bird, not to mention the migratory birds. Limpopo Forest Tented Camp is an excellent spot for watching the birds.
Last but not least, Mapungubwe has one of the largest populations of Nile crocodiles in Southern Africa.
Because of the cultural heritage in the area, Mapungubwe is one of the few national parks where game drives can be combined with historical tours.
The management established a museum near the main entrance, where you can get detailed information about the famous Golden Rhino statue and the first inhabitants of the park.
The museum tours can be combined with heritage tours where you will be taken to historical sites like the ancient amphitheater.
Game drives are present twice the day, after sunrise and before sunset. Night drives are organized upon request. An astonishing alternative to drives is the guided bushwalk in the morning usually done in groups of 5 to 8.
Who can resist a mouth-watering traditional South African barbecue against postcard-worthy views? With prior booking, you can get to enjoy the bush while taking a bite from you braai meat and watching the view of the dam and the riverine forest.
The park is within a semi-arid climate zone with a decent rainfall of 300-400 mm annually.
The summer season falls between October and April, while the rest of the year is a dry winter season.
The rains are heavier in summer, while the temperature can rise to nearly 45 degrees. The winters also experience some extreme conditions like ultra-low temperatures at night below zero. Drought is also a possibility during this period, which is a source of struggle for the fauna of the park.
The closest airport to Mapungubwe is in Polokwane, which is 200 km from the park.
From Johannesburg or Pretoria, you can take the N1 to reach Polokwane. Once you reach Polokwane, take R521 to Dendron for about 63 kilometers to reach the entrance and reception.
The roads in Mapungubwe are gravel.
Self-driving is possible with both sedans and 4×4; however, the length of roads you can access via a sedan will be more limited (35 km as opposed to 100 km)
There are five distinct accommodation sites with a variety of self-catered lodges and campsites. These are:
- Leokwe Camp
- Limpopo Forest Tented Camp
- Tshugulu Lodge
- Vhembe Wilderness Camp
- Mazhou Campaign Site
The places you can stay depend on the type of vehicle you are driving. The campsites on the eastern section of the park are only accessible by 4×4.
If you’re driving a caravan, you can still stay inside the park, although the eastern section will be inaccessible to the caravan. You will be able to stay at Mazhou Campsite.
You should note that there are no fuel stations inside the park. The closest stations are Musina and Alldays both 70 km away from the main gate. So, you should make sure to fill petrol before entering the park.
As with any safari experience, following the rules is essential. You should always follow the instructions of the ranger, especially when wild animals are close by. Leaving the vehicle and engaging with the animals is strictly forbidden.
Mapungubwe and the surrounding area are part of the malaria zone, so you should consult with your doctor to be informed about the risk.