For many families, the Kruger National Park is a must-see destination at least once. In fact, the park saw more than 250 000 visitors through its gates during the last festive season alone. For locals, this diverse area – spreading across Limpopo and Mpumalanga – is right on our doorstep and a worthwhile school holiday destination.
The park is home to hundreds of free-roaming species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Both the park itself, and the area in which it is located, are rich in history. Kruger is the second oldest national park in South Africa.
There is evidence that early humans roamed the area up to 500 000 years ago, and cultural artefacts have indeed been found dating from 100 000 to 30 000 years ago. There are still many cultural heritage sites in the park, including over 100 rock art sites and a wide variety of archaeological ruins.
It was President Paul Kruger, a leading political figure in 19th century South Africa, who rallied for a designated protected area for wildlife. The park was initially proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve, and it was only in 1926, when the National Parks Act was proclaimed and the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves merged, that it became the Kruger National Park. In 1927, the first motorists entered the park for an entrance fee of one Pound (just over R18 today)
Visitors to the park can learn about all of this and everything in between, while looking out for The Big Five, and so much more. But there is more to a visit to South Africa’s north-eastern provinces than just a visit to Kruger.
“This diverse part of the country has lots to offer, so it’s worth working a few more destinations into a road trip or taking a day trip while you’re staying in the area – if you have the time to do so,” says Avukile Mabombo, Group Marketing Manager, Marriott International Regional Office, Cape Town.
“We have many families visiting Protea Hotel by Marriott® Kruger Gate, especially during school holidays. And while there is certainly plenty to see within the park, which is abundant with wildlife and beautiful scenery, we always advise taking the time to explore the surrounding areas.”
Mapumbugwe National Park is just two and a half hours away by car. Significantly smaller in relation to Kruger, which is said to be as big as some small countries, this World Heritage Site is packed with history and attractions.
According to Mabombo, “What is really special about a visit to this park is that here you may view the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. It’s not often you can see three countries from one viewing point.”
It’s also worth taking one of the park’s heritage tours while you visit to learn about the Mapungubwe People, the animals that now roam this land, the spectacular rock formations that can be found there, and more.
Just over an hour from Kruger, on the Mpumalanga side, you will find the quaint town of Pilgrim’s Rest. The entire town is an official national monument, a ‘living memory of the early gold rush days’ during the late 1800s and early 1900s. A visit to this historic village is like stepping back in time, and isn’t complete without visiting its many museums and historic sites: the house museum, printing museum, and war memorial, to name a few.
About an hour and a half from Kruger Park, or just under two hours from Pilgrim’s Rest, is Kaapsehoop (or Kaapschehoop) – a ‘fairytale town with a rich and monumental history’ – located near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. This historical mining town is home to a number of beautiful hiking trails and incredible scenery, owing to its location on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment. The magical feel of this destination can be attributed to its high altitude, the reason the town is often shrouded in mist. Watch out for wild horses, the descendants of those left behind by British troops during the South African War in the first years of the 20th century.
Nearby Barberton (around 50km, or roughly an hour, from Kaapsehoop) is also worth a stop, for ‘some of the finest scenery in Africa’. If you’re in the area, you can also follow Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route from Nelspruit, taking in God’s Window, Lisbon Falls, Berlin Falls, the Pinnacle, Bourke`s Luck Potholes, and Blyde River Canyon.
Or, if you’re pressed for time, you can explore the small section of the route known as the Long Tom Route which covers the Long Tom Pass, Lydenburg and Pilgrim’s Rest, as well as some of the battle sites of the Anglo-Boer War. On a clear day, it’s worth travelling through these destinations known for some of the best views in South Africa.
So, when you get to mark off that bucket-list item – a trip to the world-famous Kruger National Park – make sure you exploit the opportunity to travel more widely in this fascinating part of South Africa.