There cannot be many places on earth where one can be said to share a window with God through which to view some of the most unbelievably beautiful natural scenery in the world.
South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province however, counts as one such a place, if not the only one.
The province, located in the far north-east of the country, is home to what is known as God’s Window, one of the most famous scenic vantage points in South Africa, located along what is known as the Panorama Route. The name encompasses what this beautiful region is all about.
If ever there was a place that does justice to the word “panorama” it is the view from this place high on the eastern escarpment, perched atop 700m high cliffs, where one can literally see the world stretching away in all its beauty across South Africa’s Lowveld and the world-famous Kruger National Park, all the way to the Lebombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique.
Of course God’s Window is just one of the many spectacular scenic experiences this beautiful province has to offer.
Others include the southern half of the Kruger National Park, the iconic and breath-taking Blyde River Canyon, stunning waterfalls such as the Kadishi Tufa Waterfall, Horseshoe Falls, the Lone Creek Falls, the Mac-Mac Falls, the Lisbon Falls and the Berlin Falls, the Lake District near Chrissiesmeer, Bourkes’ Luck Potholes, the Sudwala Caves, the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens, and some of the oldest evidence of volcanic activity on earth with fossils of the first oxygen producing plant called the Collenia.
Add to this historical attractions such as Pilgrim’s Rest, the little gold mining town still stuck in the late 1800s with its bungalows and saloons; the memorials to Jock of the Bushveld, the famous and brave Staffordshire Bull Terrier of author Sir James Percy FitzPatrick, near Barberton and in the Kruger National Park; the interesting museums in Barberton and White River among others; the Barberton Heritage Walk; the towns of Waterval-Boven and Waterval-Onder where Transvaal President Paul Kruger set up government in railway carriages during the Anglo-Boer War before going into exile in Europe, and the area in which the fabled Kruger Millions treasure is said to still be buried; the old Boer forces’ canon called Long Tom, still standing in the Long Tom Pass from where the Boers fired 38kg shells across 10km, causing havoc among British forces; and more.
Among the many cultural discoveries to be made here are the Botshabelo Mission Station and Historical Village where you can learn all about the history of the town of Middleburg and Ndebele culture; the Nkomazi Game Reserve where you can see rock art sites dating back more than 300 years; Xintu Village where you will learn about Shangaan culture, food and their way of life and attend the Evening Festival in the Chief’s Kraal; the Jane Goodall Institute where a guided tour reveals all about the chimpanzees that they have rescued; and the Elephant Museum in the Letaba Camp of the Kruger National Park that captures the history of human and elephant interaction in the park.
In fact the entire province is a melting pot of cultures and influences, from the Koi-San whose rock art is found in the many caves throughout Mpumalanga, to the colourful geometric arts of the Ndebele cultural villages. Modern day Mpumalanga has artists’ routes, township tours, labyrinths, shopping centres, casinos and much more.
There are also a number of other somewhat unusual experiences to be enjoyed, such as the Kaapsehoop Ghost Tours where, entering into the realm of the paranormal in this small, misty mountaintop town you can meet its ghosts. Or go on a Whiskey Tasting Tour in Dullstroom, which has the largest collection of whiskey in the Southern Hemisphere.
Mpumalanga derives its name from the Zulu language, meaning “the place where the sun rises”. And indeed it is here where every morning the first rays of sunlight reach South Africa from the east across the Lebombo Mountains. The province is bordered by Swaziland and Mozambique in the east, and by the South African provinces of Limpopo, Gauteng, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. A number of excellent highways, railway lines and airports connect it with Johannesburg and Pretoria, and with the rest of the country.
Mpumalanga’s major attractions, drawing visitors from around the world, are of course its magnificent scenery, the astounding variety of fauna and flora, the Kruger National Park with its abundance of wildlife, including the Big Five, the saga of the 1870s gold rush era, and a wealth of fascinating tribal legends. The Blyde River Canyon is among the world’s largest, and is known as a green canyon because of its subtropical foliage.
Furthermore visitors can delight in the majestic mountains, panoramic passes, the many valleys, rivers, waterfalls and forests that characterise the landscape, and dozens of sanctuaries teeming with wildlife and birds. The province is renowned for offering exceptional opportunities for bird-watching.
For the more adventurous there are, apart from viewing wildlife, numerous hiking trails, 4X4 routes, mountain-biking adventures, kayaking and river rafting opportunities, cave exploration, horse riding, fishing, or you can climb the cliffs of the world’s third highest canyon. The parks, game reserves and surrounding towns and countryside offer some of the most luxurious accommodation as well.
In the many bustling, modern towns such as Graskop, Hazyview, Lydenburg, Middelburg, eMalahleni (Witbank), Bethal, Ermelo and Standerton visitors can spend their time shopping in crafts markets and modern malls, eat in a large variety of fine restaurants, visit interesting cultural and historic sites, or meet the locals in the many buzzing pubs.
The province is also renowned as the country’s trout fishing mecca by avid fly-fishers, with the town of Dullstroom at its epicentre.
The provincial tourism authorities, the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, have divided the province into seven regions for travellers to visit. These are:
Cosmos Country, a region in the southwest around the towns of Balfour and Standerton that transforms into a rainbow of colours during the summer, known for its cosmos flowers.
Cultural Heartland, in the west around Middelburg and eMalahleni (Witbank) is famous for the indigenous Ndebele tribes, with their bright multi-coloured arts and crafts and the distinctive colourful patterns with which they decorate their homes.
Grass & Wetlands, in the southeast around the towns of Chrissiesmeer, Ermelo, Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief, are considered excellent for star-gazing and bird watching, with 82 aquatic and 170 non-aquatic bird species, many of them rare. Water dominates the region, with lakes, waterfalls and rivers brimming with bird life. Chrissiesmeer, with some 270 lakes and pans is the Lake District of South Africa.
Highlands Meander, including towns such as Dullstroom, Belfast, and Machadodorp is a favourite playground for nature and adventure lovers, and is also South Africa’s trout fishing mecca.
Lowveld Legogote, provides direct access to the Kruger National Park. Major towns are Kaapsehoop, Nelspruit and White River. Nelspruit is located on the banks of the Crocodile River and, known as Mbombela, is the capital of Mpumalanga.
The Panorama, a region that is the undisputed gem of Mpumalanga with its beautiful treasures such as the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, the Mac-Mac Falls and Pilgrim’s Rest, the latter being a National Monument and a living museum. Major towns of the area include Pilgrim’s Rest, Lydenburg, Hazyview, Graskop and Sabie. Graskop and Hazyview are home to many artists who have their studios and galleries here.
Wild Frontier, is bordered by Mozambique, Swaziland and the Kruger National Park. From here you can visit three countries in one day. The historic town of Barberton provides a fantastic reminder of South Africa during the gold rush years. There are also a number of important archaeological sites in the area that date back more than three billion years.
Mpumalanga certainly offers one of the greatest varieties of attractions and experiences anywhere in South Africa. Be sure to visit this beautiful province soon.