Although Mpumalanga is not the only province in South Africa with excellent game viewing, national parks and luxury lodges, it's here that the safari experience has been perfected. About half the Kruger National Park is in this lovely province and there are so many private game reserves and lodges than you will have a hard time choosing. Like Limpopo Province to its immediate north, Mpumalanga straddles the escarpment between the Lowveld and the Drakensberg, so the different parts of the province have different characters. The Lowveld is hot and humid with broad-leaved forests and wide, slow rivers, while the Highlands are cool and green, with rolling grasslands, pine plantations, pockets of indigenous forest and cheerfully gurgling mountain streams and waterfalls. Most of the game is in the Lowveld, while the attractions of the Highlands include hiking, horse trails, river rafting and other adventure activities, such as gorge swings and abseiling.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, near the town of Waterval Boven, is one of South Africa's most popular climbing destinations. The fly fishing in the Highlands area is awesome, particularly near the pretty town of Dullstroom, where there are loads of dams and streams well stocked with fat trout. There are awesome birds to be spotted, both in the game reserves and in the Highlands, where you're likely to see some montane grassland species, including the rare and endangered blue swallow. For a bird's eye view, rather than a view of birds, you can choose between microlight flights and gentle floats in a hot air balloon. Mpumalanga also has some fantastic paragliding and hang gliding launch sites - particularly along the escarpment. The mountain biking is great. Even with so much to do, many people visit Mpumalanga just to sight-see. The Panorama Route is a scenic meander taking in some fabulous sights, including the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke's Luck Potholes, the Three Rondawels, the Swadini Dam and many beautiful waterfalls and spectacular vistas including one called God's Window.
The Blyde River Canyon is the biggest vegetated canyon in the world. Second in size only to the Grand Canyon in the USA, and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, it is lush and green with a plethora of plant and animal life and is a major centre of endemism. It's also where Antarctica and Madagascar split away from Africa a few million years ago during the break-up of the super-continent Gondwanaland. Also in the canyon, is Bourke's Luck Potholes - a fantastically contorted area of scenic potholes, and deeply scoured canyons. The Blyde is a great river to raft, with some pretty challenging rapids, but it also offers fun family paddling on a gentler section. The Three Rondawels are three conical hills and the Swadini Dam at the end of the canyon is a lovely stretch of water. Also on the Panorama Route is the rather cutesy museum town of Pilgrims Rest. The mines were active until the 1970s when they became terminally unprofitable, and the whole town was bought up by the provincial authorities to be converted to a tourist attraction. Museums, cute craft outlets, coffee shops, restaurants and the original hotel with its characterful bar bring the gold rush era vividly to life. Pilgrims Rest was the venue for the World Gold Panning Championships in 2005.
Mpumalanga's cultural attractions are particularly colourful. The iconic Ndebele artwork that is almost synonymous with South Africa is produced in the museum village of Botshabelo. Colourful beadwork and small painted articles can be admired and purchased while the magnificent painted buildings are - unfortunately - not for sale as souvenirs. They're well worth photographing, though. Kids will love the dinosaur park, just outside the deep and convoluted Sudwala Caves. Mpumalanga has a very interesting technical freshwater diving destination that will appeal to technical divers.
Note: If you are planning to travel to the north eastern parts of Mpumalanga or Swaziland please be aware that this region is malarial. Consult your doctor or travel clinic for advice and refer to our article on malaria.
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