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Limpopo Travel Guide | South Africa

The Drakensberg mountains, KwaZulu-Natal The Drakensberg mountains, Kwazulu Natal
This Barrier of Spears (Zulu) has towering mountain scenery, hiking, climbing, horseback riding, adventure and tranquility.

Limpopo - See and Do

Limpopo at a Glance

Adventure - A family friendly destination, the diverse terrain of mountains, valleys, open bushveld and forest hosts hiking, climbing, biking, 4x4 trails, fishing and white water rafting.

Cultural Arts and Pottery - The rural women of Limpopo are incredibly talented at pottery and making ceramics. Some of the old methods of decorating with ochres are still used. In fact the whole province is saturated with local artists who excel in woodwork, pottery, beading and more.

Wildlife and Nature - Almost 70% of Kruger National Park lies within the Limpopo Province - plus 3 more National Parks, 1 Transfrontier Park, 7 Provincial Parks and 32 Nature Reserves. Look out too for the Baobab trees. Some of these ‘Big Trees’ are over 3,000 years old.

Shapes of the Ndebele - The Ndebele people have a beautiful tradition of decorating their homes with bright angular shapes and designs. The Ndbele women express themselves with artistic and creative costumes, jewellery and beadwork.                       
                                                     More Highlights of Limpopo Province

Calendar of events
Tours to this country Mpumalanga Tour Companies and Photo Journals - South Africa links
Honeymoon & safari destinations Gauteng Province - Gateway to South Africa - link
Gauteng - gateway to South Africa and destination for business travellers and visitors to international conventions.
KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and Battlefields Country Routes KwaZulu Natal Country Routes - Midlands and Battlefields - link
Explore country towns and artists of KwaZulu-Natal's Midlands and historic Zulu, British and Boer Battlefields
Honeymoon & safari destinations KwaZulu Natal Province - link
The Drakensberg mountains, beaches, scuba diving, surfing, game reserves and historic Anglo-Zulu-Boer Battlefields.


Limpopo Province - locale within African perspective


Photo (above): Traditional dress

 

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Country Roads
4x4 Trails
Hiking

Other Special Interest Activities

Highlights of Limpopo Province

The Limpopo Province was formerly known as the Northern Province and before that it was known as the Northern Transvaal - the northern region of the old Transvaal province. It was renamed after its most significant river, the Limpopo, in 2003. By any name, it is still a fantastic destination. The southern border is just an hour and a half by road from Johannesburg. It shares its border with 3 neighboring countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Domestically it shares its borders with Gauteng, Mpumulanga and the North West Province.

South Africans are fortunate to live in a country that produces export quality fruits - and a fair share of the crop is grown in the Limpopo Province: sunflowers, bananas, litchis, pineapples, table grapes, mangoes, paw paws (papaya) and a variety of nuts.

It is also an important mining region producing copper, diamonds, gold, emeralds, iron ore, chrome, quartz and more.

How to get there

By air:
Polokwane International Airport is the main airport for the province and receives flights from Johannesburg on South African Airways operated by SA Airlink.

Other airports nearby are:

Air charters:
There are many airstrips in the parks and reserves that allow visitors fly directly to safari lodges in the Limpopo Province. These air charters also fly into the local airports of Polokwane and Phalaborwa.

By road:
The road system is very good and a straight toll road, the N1 highway, travels north from Johannesburg through Polokwane. Secondary routes are prefixed with 'R' and will take visitors to the smaller centers. These are the routes that lead to the reserves, parks and other places of interest.

The distance from Johannesburg to Polokwane is about 331km (205 miles)

By bus:
A number of services are available from Pretoria and Johannesburg up to Polokwane. Companies to consider include:
Translux, InterCape, Greyhound, City to City, SA Roadlink and
Citiliner.

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Map of Limpopo Province


View Limpopo Province South Africa in a larger map

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Scenic Country Roads in Limpopo Province

There are a number of wonderful guided or self drive routes that focus on specific themes within the province. This is a good way to plan a vacation geared towards a focused interest. They will include places of interest based on history, culture, archaeological heritage, wildlife, arts and crafts and birding. Most of the Routes will cover more than one region.

Maps of the routes are available from Limpopo Tourism offices.

Wildlife and outdoor activities: African Ivory Route

This route spans the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions of Limpopo Province.
Theme: Wildlife, 4x4 drives and outdoor activities

The network of roads that makes up the African Ivory Route traverses a vast 3.6 million hectare area, encompassing national parks, nature reserves and game farms. The route follows the eastern, northern and western edges of Limpopo Province and travels a total distance of 2,000km (1,240 miles). It follows a spider’s web of roads as it meanders across the province. There is no starting point or prescribed route to follow and travelers should plan their trip according to personal interest. It is better suited to vehicles capable of driving off-road since it passes over and through some rugged terrain and across three mountain passes: the Strydpoortberge in the south, the Waterberg in the northwest, and the Drakensberg Lebombos in the east.

Best activities along the Route:

Best wildlife sightings along the Route:

Manyeleti Game Reserve offers fantastic lion and leopard sightings and large numbers of elephant and buffalo are seen at Letaba Ranch. Hippo and crocodile are abundant in the Letaba River. Another great option along the Route is the out of the way Makuya Park which is well known for its elephant, buffalo, hippo and lion sightings.

Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park elephant

Elephant - Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park

Best cultural places along the Route:

San Rock and archaeological sites are found at Thulamela in the Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe in the north and Makapan’s Caves near Mokopane (previously known as Potgietersrus).

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History and archaeology: Makapan’s Caves

Theme: History and archaeology

The Caves are found quite a way off Route 101 northeast of Mokopane, in the Mokopane Valley of Limpopo Province. They were formed in limestone strata and extensive excavations have unearthed strong evidence that Hominids roamed the Waterberg two to three million years ago. It is for this reason that Makapan Valley is now protected as a World Heritage Site, facilitating further archaeological diggings.

In 1854 the caves also served as protection for Pedi Chief Mugombhane’s army which was forced to take refuge here when war broke out between the Pedi tribal nation and Boer forces, led by General Piet Potgieter. When the Boer forces eventually stormed the caves many weeks later, they found that 1500 of the Pedi warriors had died from starvation and dehydration. One of the caves that were used was the Cave of Gwasa but it was later renamed Makapan’s Cave. A memorial has been raised to commemorate the fallen.

One of the caves, the Cave of Hearths, is one of two Stone Age sites in the world that has shown a time line from Early Stone Age to Late Stone Age. Much of this is evident in the archaeological findings within the cave.

The Arend Dieperink Museum in Mokopane has a wonderful display of historical artifacts from the Voortrekkers and Sotho people and is very informative, recounting the wars that took place in the region, as well as stories about the Voortrekkers (pioneers) and Sotho people. The museum is also a great place to get accurate directions to the caves.

Arend Dieperink Museum in Mokopane

Arend Dieperink Museum in Mokopane

Visits to the caves and the valley is by appointment only and prior arrangements must be made with the Mogalakwena Bushveld Community Tourism Association.

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Tradition and Culture: Heritage Route

Covers the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions of Limpopo Province.
Theme: Tradition and culture

The Heritage Route follows Route 561 from Baltimore (N11) to Marken and then via Route 518 to Shongoane and Lephalale. The road from Ga-Shongoane and Ga-Seleka is also included in the Route.

The Heritage Route is ideal for visitors looking for a cultural, rural, local feel to the Waterberg where traditional dancing and food, local crafts and village visits are available. Try to include the Rhino and Waterberg Museum in Melkrivier and the Big Five and Mama Tau white lion breeding project when visiting.

Myth, Legend and Culture: Limpopo Valley Route

Covers the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions
Themes: Myth, legend and culture

The Route travels along the N1 highway towards Zimbabwe and many of the attractions are found along the Limpopo River.

A suggestion is to start the Route in the western Vhembe region with the Blouberg Nature Reserve and then move on to the larger wildlife areas. Limpopo is the primary destination for hunting and the area tells a comprehensive story of South Africa hunting history especially in places such as Vivo and Alldays. In fact the area where the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers meet was a very important big game hunting area in the 18th century.

The Route also follows the old Limpopo River trade route that the local people used to reach the east coast. Trading with Arab and Portuguese merchants on the coast was extremely popular and lucrative. Some reminders of this time are the ruins of Mapungubwe which is the burial place of an ancient African royal family and the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. Mapungubwe is now a heritage site and a very worthwhile stop for visitors. Other interesting places to visit are Musina, Mutale for its arts and crafts centers and Thohoyandou.

Musina (previously known as Messina), is the most northerly town in South Africa on the border of Zimbabwe. In prehistoric times the people of the region found copper and evidence has been found that they mined it. In the 20th Century, it was rediscovered by pioneers. The name of the town was changed from Messina to Musina to correct the misspelling of its name by the colonialist settlers.

Some places of interest near Musina are:

Thohoyandou is a small rural town and former capital of the independent homeland of Venda. The name means ‘head of the elephant’ in TshiVenda. It is located on the main road between the town of Louis Trichardt and Kruger National Park.

Some places of interest near Thohoyandou are:

Baobab and Cycad

Baobab (left) and Cycad "Bread" Tree (right)

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Ancient Civizations and Panoramic Vistas: Mapungubwe Route

Covers the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions
Theme: Ancient civilizations, panoramic vistas

This is a very interesting route but not a well travelled one and should not be missed. It traces the history of Southern Africa’s first Kingdom, the ancient Kingdom of Mapungubwe. It is believed that the monarchy reigned some time around 1000 AD to 1300 AD, on and around Mapungubwe Hill also known as the ‘place of jackals’.

It was discovered in 1932 by a farmer and his son who had been a student at the University of Pretoria’s archaeology department. They reported it to the University which has continued its research of the site and is in possession of many of the artifacts found here. Artifacts found include pottery, trade glass beads, Chinese celadon ware, gold ornaments, ceramic figurines, sculpted ivory and bone and refined copper and iron. Unfortunately the site is not open to the public but some of the artifacts are on display at the University of Pretoria.

It is thought that up to 5,000 people lived around the hill and that these ancient people were traders within the Indian Ocean trade network of Arabia, China, Indonesia and India. The existence of some glass remains, charms and jewelry show evidence of trade with these nations.

The Mapungubwe inhabited the region well before the Great Zimbabwean civilization was established. In July of 2003, the whole area was declared a World Heritage Site, thereby preserving it as an African Iron Age archaeological site.

Also found on the Route is the new Mapungubwe National Park which integrates the World Heritage Site. On the park’s northern border lies the Limpopo River flanked by enormous fever trees, mashatu and very large sycamore fig trees. A look out point on the Route offers two fantastic panoramas, one where the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers meet and one where three countries meet: Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana. Other fantastic features to look for on the Route are the sandstone cliffs, balancing rocks, riverine forests, mopane bushveld and many local plant and flower species.

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Arts and Cutural Experiences: Ribolla Open Africa Route

Encompasses the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions
Theme: The Arts and cultural experiences

The Route is found in the Polokwane region (previously known as Pietersburg) along the N1 highway en route to Musina about 4 hours from Johannesburg or 1 hour from Polokwane. Knowledgeable local guides are available - or go on an organized tour of the region to fully appreciate it. Contact the Ribolla Tourism Association for references to reputable guides and tour companies.

Polokwane - Limpopo Province

Polokwane, Limpopo Province

Bakone Malapa Museum near Polokwane

Bakone Malapa Museum, Polokwane is a living museum. Experience the rich culture of the BaSotho people.

For visitors looking for a cultural as well as an enriching art experience, the Ribolla Open Africa Route will serve up artists such as Noria Mabasa, Jackson Hlungwane, Phineas Masuvhelele and Sarah Munyai and many others who make up a group of traditional dancers, storytellers and singers. It is here that visitors can learn about the traditional ways of the Venda and Tsonga people. There are opportunities for an overnight stay in a traditional Tsonga, Shangaan or Venda village and it is one of the best places to purchase wood sculptures and pottery.

Venda Arts and Crafts

Venda Art - Wood Sculptures and Pottery

Venda Artist and Pottery

Venda Arts and Crafts

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Birding: Soutpansberg-Limpopo Birding Route

Covers the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions
Theme: Birding

This is not only a route but also a non profit organization promoting birding and tourism in general in Limpopo Province. It concentrates on the area stretching from Blouberg to Kruger National Park, including Makhado (previously known as Louis Trichardt), Venda, Thohoyandou, Tshipise, Musina, Mapungubwe, Alldays and the Mogalakwena River. It is very involved in rural community upliftment through tourism.

By contacting the Route visitors will be given information on birds in the area, their habitats, birding sites, events, birding lists to identify the over 540 species found here, maps and help with finding accommodation. http://www.birdingroutes.co.za/limpopo/glbr-birding-sites-slbr.html

Scenery and Wildlife: Valley of the Olifant Route

Covers the Waterberg, Capricorn, Mopani and Vhemba regions
Theme: Wildlife and scenery

The Route of the Elephant is accessible either from Hoedspruit in the east or Polokwane in the west and roughly follows Route 71 from either town before branching off on Route 36 to reach Modjadjikloof.

From Polokwane it travels into the escarpment at Haenertsberg and Magoebaskloof down to Tzaneen. The scenery around Magoebaskloof is simply beautiful and a number of interesting places deserve a stop along the Route such as the museum of Chief Makgoba who fought with the Boers, Debengeni Falls and the Sapekoe Tea plantations.

Debengeni Falls Limpopo Province

Debengeni Falls, Magoebaskloof, Limpopo Province

The Debengeni Falls, ‘place of the big pot’, is located at the foot of the Magoebaskloof Mountains near Tzaneen and is a wonderful stopover for hikers and anyone looking to cool down in its ‘pool’ during the summer months – December to March. The rare Grey Wagtail and other bird species love it here. Also near the Falls is a challenging 15 to 18km (9 to 11 mile) downhill hiking trail.

From Tzaneen, follow a northerly direction to the town of Modjadjikloof where visitors can go to the homestead of the renowned Rain making Queen Modjadji of the Lobedu people. A walk through a very unique Modjadji cycad reserve is a must to see the world’s largest cycads. Queen Modjadji died in June of 2001. She was a direct descendant of the royal house of Monomotapa that ruled over the Karange people in the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the same royal house that supervised the building of Great Zimbabwe.

Other attractions along the Route include:

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Nature Reserves and History: Waterberg Biosphere Experience

Covers only the Waterberg region
Theme: Archaeology, Nature Reserves and History

This route is of special interest to archaeology and history buffs. From Pretoria, the route leads northwards towards the town of Bela-Bela (previously known as Warmbaths) on the Great North Road (the N1).

This is an area that is rich with wildlife including the Big Five, found in both privately and publicly owned nature reserves. The route proceeds northwestwards via Thabazimbi with the Marakele National Park nearby, through Vaalwater and the Waterberg mountains and onto Mokolo Dam and the nearby Lapalala Wilderness reserve.

The canoe trip at Mokolo dam to the tented safari camp offers excellent bird-watching opportunities and serves as an excursion into local archaeology and history. The journey into the past continues the next day on a guided walk in the Masebe Game Reserve.

The route then turns to explore the greater Waterberg area and the small towns along the route towards the provincial capital city of Polokwane. Along the route the tourists can visit interesting sites such as the Doorndraai dam, Moorddrift monument, Percy Fyfe nature reserve that specializes in roan antelope species and the Makapans Caves near Mokopane.

4x4 Routes

Limpopo province is definitely 4x4 country with the Waterberg region offering some of the best trails. Sekhukhune region takes second place with the challenge of its rocky terrain. Truly beautiful scenery is found along the northern region of the Olifants River near Chuenespoort.

Some trails to consider:

All Fours
Distance: various
Nearest Town: Mookgopong
Approximate duration: 3 hr, 1 hr and ½ hr trails
Doornrivier 4x4
Distance: from 1 – 70 km (0.62 – 43 miles)
Nearest Town - Ba-Phalaborwa
Approximate duration: 3 – 6 hours
Grootwater 4x4 Trails
Distance: 30 km (18 miles)
Nearest Town: Lephalale
Approximate duration: 4 - 5 hours
Jobedi
Distance: 45 km (28 miles)
Nearest Town: Vaalwater
Approximate duration:
Mabote River Camp
Distance: 18.5 km (11 miles)
Nearest Town: Mokopane
Approximate duration: 2 – 4 hours (4 trails)
Madlabantu Trail
Distance: 24km (15 miles)
Nearest Town: Ba-Phalaborwa
Approximate duration: 4 – 5 hours
Mananga Trail
Distance: 48km (29 miles)
Nearest Town: trail is in Kruger National Park
Approximate duration: 3 – 5 hours
Maretshane Leisure Trails
Distance: 30km (18 miles)
Nearest Town: Mokopane
Approximate duration: 1 hour
Mateke 4x4 Trail
Distance :19 – 23 km (11 – 14 miles)
Nearest Town: Thabazimbi
Approximate duration: 4 – 5 hours 
Melk River 4x4 Trail
Distance: 45km (28 miles)
Nearest Town: Vaalwater
Approximate duration: 4 – 6 hours
Moegatle 4x4 Trail
Distance: 21km (13 miles)
Nearest Town: Thabazimbi
Approximate duration: 6 – 8 hours
Nonokani Adventure Trail (Kruger Park)
Distance: 54 km (33 miles)
Nearest Town: Ba-Phalaborwa
Approximate duration: 4 – 5 hours
Popallin Ranch
Distance: 30km (18 miles)
Nearest Town: Tshipise / Musina
Approximate duration: 7 – 8 hours (5 trails)

Rust de Winter 4x4 Bundu
Distance: 80 km (49 miles)
Nearest Town:  Rust de Winter
Approximate duration: 2 days

Schamach
Distance: 15km (9 miles)
Nearest Town: Modimolle
Approximate duration: 4 hours
Serendipity Eco Trails
Distance: from 1 – 36 km (0.62 – 22 miles)
Nearest Town: Modimole, Mookgopong or Naboomspruit
Approximate duration: 1 – 6 hours
Shelanti Game Ranch
Distance:  4.5km (3 miles)
Nearest Town: Marken
Approximate duration: 1 hour
Soutpansberg 4x4 Trail
Distance: 200 – 350km (124 – 217 miles)
Nearest Town:  Louis Trichardt
Approximate duration: 3 – 6 days

Getting There | Limpopo See and Do | Top of Page

10 More Things To Do
in the Limpopo Province

 1 Visit the widest Baobab Tree in the World, found on the Sunland farm in Modjadjiskloof. The tree is carbon dated to be approximately 6,000 years old. Baobabs start hollowing out at around 1,000 years creating a ‘cave’ inside the tree. Visitors can now enjoy a drink at the Baobab Tree Bar and Wine Cellar and sit inside this ancient and magnificent tree. Permission must be requested to visit the Sunland Baobab.
 2 The Amarula Lapa is a tasting center for the Amarula Cream Liqueur found 10km (6 miles) outside the town of Phalaborwa in the Waterberg region. The liquor is made from the fruit of the Marula Tree an indigenous tree that is also known as the marriage or elephant tree. The trees bear fruit in February and March and production tours are offered from January to April. Prior booking is essential.
 3 Visit the hot springs of Bela Bela to enjoy the therapeutic mineral waters discovered by the Tswana people in the 1800’s. The name means ‘the water that boils on its own’. It is estimated that 22,000 liters of water bubble out of the earth daily at a temperature of 53 degrees C (127 degrees F).
 4 For extreme and very adventurous foodies consider tasting a Mopane Worm, an edible caterpillar that forms a very important protein source to millions of South Africans. It is usually eaten after being dried out.
 5 The Limpopo Province was the first to offer elephant back safaris in South Africa. Enjoy a ride of nature’s own 4x4 at select lodges.
 6 Visit Nylsvlei in the summer when the rains and floodplains attract the highest concentration of water birds in the southern hemisphere.
 7 Visit Loopspruit Winery in the Sekhukhune region.
 8 Take a tour of Tjate, a cultural heritage site of the Bapedi people. This cultural tour will tell the story of the great valley of the Bapedi Kings from the 16th century King Diale to the 18th century King Sekhukhune.
 9 Visit the homestead of the Rain making queen, Queen Modjadji, near Tzaneen and visit the Cycad Reserve to see the world’s largest cycads in the Modjadji Reserve.
10 For tea lovers there are a few tea estates to tea tasting such as the Thate Vondo Tea Estates near Thohoyandou and the Pekoe Tea Estates near Modjadjikloof.


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