Mapungubwe National Park is renowned for its scenic landscape, with sandstone formations, woodlands, riverine forests, and baobab trees.
It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, with all sorts of wildlife, and archeological wonders.
The area has a long and complicated history that offers a feeling of connectedness to many who visit it.
Today, the defining image of the park is at the viewpoint where the Limpopo and Shashe rivers merge, where you can see Botswana and Zimbabwe from South Africa across the border.
The glowing sandstone hills hold breathtaking beauty and old historical secrets.
The level top of one of the hills called Mapungubwe was the center of a remarkable African gold trading civilization, dating back more than 1000 years.
A Brief History On Mapungubwe National Park.
Back in 1930, the then prime minister of South Africa, General Jan Smuts, was so captivated by its beauty that he proclaimed it a national park.
This decision was reversed by other administrations decades later. Smut’s dream of a mega park stretching across borders finally came true.
Mapungubwe is now one of South Africa’s planned Trans Frontier Park.
The cultural landscape showcases the rise and fall of the first indigenous Kingdom in Southern Africa, between 900 AD and 1300 AD.
The Kingdom of Mapungubwe’s position at the crossing of the North-South and East-West routes in Southern Africa enabled it far-reaching control of the trade through the East African ports to Indo-China and throughout Southern Africa.
It also harvested gold and ivory from its own territories; items in great demand and with scarce supply, which brought it great wealth.
Archeological studies have shown that 1000 years ago, ancient Mapungubwe was trading in gold and ivory with China, India, and Arabia.
Digs have unearthed artifacts that point to the power and wealth of the kingdom, such as the famous gold foil rhinoceros, and the royal scepter.
The people who inhabit the Mapungubwe area today, are proud of their royal ancestry.
But this was swept under the rug during the tumultuous apartheid regime.
Today, the ancient kingdoms remain and its legacy draws in droves of visitors.
The Animals of Magunpugwe National Park.
Because of its relatively new status, the park is relatively unexplored when it comes to the bird species within it.
Also due to its proximity to Zimbabwe and Botswana; many species cross in and out of these countries borders making it hard to track accurate numbers.
Along the Limpopo river are birds such as:
- Meve’s Starling,
- Tropical Boubou,
- the reclusive Pel’s Fishing Owl.
- a high density of Verreaux’s eagles and other types of raptors.
In the summer, there is an enticingly high number of cuckoo species, numbering up to 11. The most common bird is probably the cinnamon-breasted Bunting, but other species associated with rocky and bushy environments are common too.
There is a lot of big game in the park, but their numbers fluctuate greatly between the three countries.
Currently, there are a number of mammals you can spot within the park, these include:
- Blue wildebeest,
- red hartebeest,
- wild dogs
- and aardvarks.
- there are lions in Magunpugwe, but they are rare
There are also a lot of smaller game species, including:
- and the velvet monkey.
But there are more animals than the species listed above. There are also a varied number of reptiles, but pythons and black mambas are the most common.
Insect and other arthropod life is diverse.
From November to March, the beautiful Mopane moth can be seen flying around. There are also nine species of scorpions that have been identified so far.
The Vegetation Of Mapungubwe National Park
The numerous habitat types have resulted in high species diversity. There are at least 24 species of acacia and other types of vegetation.
The vegetation of the area is fairly short, with dense trees like the Mopane shrub, while the shrub is sparse and tuft-like.
The riparian ridge along the Limpopo is of prime importance from a conservation viewpoint.
The most striking trees are the fever trees, Ana trees, Leadwoods, Fig trees, and Acacia.
The Limpopo floodplain has allowed some trees to grow to impressive sizes. There are also some very large baobabs in the park, with one specimen having a circumference of 31m.
Where Is Mapungubwe National Park Located?
Mapungubwe is the most Northern Park in South Africa, about 520 km from Johannesburg.
The park is situated at the confluence of two great rivers; the mighty Limpopo and Shashe Rivers.
The borders of both Zimbabwe and Botswana coincidentally meet at this particular location.
The Transfrontier Park will incorporate conservation areas in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Botswana.
The core area of the park covers an area of approximately 30,000 ha and is supported by a buffer zone, of around 100,000 ha.
When planning to go it is important to note that Mapungubwe is a self-drive destination.
When going by air, the nearest airport is Polokwane airport which is about 200 km away.
When using the road, it is roughly a six-hour drive.
There are two options when driving from Johannesburg and Pretoria.
- Option one, take the N1 North to Polokwane.
In Polokwane take the R521 to Dendron, and continue for 40 km to Vivo then onto the town of Alldays.
From there drive for another 65 km to the Mapungubwe entrance and reception.
- Option two, take the N1 Polokwane, and then travel 107 km to Makhado then on to Musina still on the N1.
From Musina, join the R572 and travel 70 km to the Mapungubwe entrance and reception.
Click on the picture below to see a map of the park on Google maps:
9 Things To Do At Mapungubwe National Park
The treetop walkway
You can visit the treetop walkway overlooking the Limpopo river in the eastern section near Leokwe camp.
The raised boardwalk which is less than two stories high takes you into the tree canopy. Along the walkway are identification plaques to assist in pointing out some of the common trees. Other than the trees, the walkway provides a wonderful view of the river.
Confluence viewing deck
This viewing deck is located at the confluence of the Sashe and the Limpopo rivers.
There are four decks including the sunset and sunrise decks, which provide a wide view of the river valley, the meandering flow of the water, and the baobabs peeking over the vegetation.
Maloutswa Pan hide
Take a visit to the Maloutswa pan hide in the Western section of the park, to see game during the dry season.
The pan is a favorite spot for wallowing warthogs, which use it for mud baths, and is also an excellent bird spotting area during the wet season.
Birding at the riverbed
Along the Limpopo river is a hide that bird watchers can use to spot the different species of birds along the river.
Some of the birds to look out for are the common, white-fronted bee-eater breeds, African fish eagles will make their presence known and Pel’s fishing owl will be hard to spot.
To note is that, birding from the riverbed hide will vary depending on water levels in the river.
The stone tribe
On the fifth lookout deck south of the car park, you’ll be able to spot the stone tribes at the confluence. The stone tribes are a collection of fossilized termite mounds that are a site to behold.
A self-drive around the park
To see the wonders of the park, both flora, and fauna, you’ll need to take a drive around the park.
You’ll get a chance of spotting wildlife such as giraffes, rhinos, zebras, gemsbok, eland, klipspringer, and others.
If you’re staying at Leokwe, you can also be on the lookout to find tracks of the resident leopard that prowls the camp by night.
Guided sunset or night drive
Go on a guided sunset drive along roads not open to the public. These nightly tours are a chance to find out more about the animals and plants of the area from an experienced guide.
Guided heritage walk
Take a guided heritage walk up 147 steps to the top of Mapungubwe hill, where you will be able to see the graveyard of kings and learn more about the history and culture of the people who lived here.
Drive the 45km 4×4 Tshugulu Eco route
The Tshugulu Eco route takes you through some spectacular terrain and habitat, with a game hide along the way.
Book at the reception for a fee, and ask for a brochure detailing GPS coordinates of points of interest, including a picnic spot, a sandstone valley, a red sand dune, and various trees.
Accommodation At Mapungubwe National Park
This is Mapungubwe’s main camp, located in the eastern section of the park, 11km from the main gate, in the spectacular sandstone hills.
Close to the camp, guests can enjoy the treetop hide and confluence view site and picnic area.
Limpopo forest tented camp
This camp is situated in the Limpopo riverine forest which offers excellent birding. This camp is in the Western section of the park approximately 40 km from the main gate, and close to the Maloutswa pan hide.
This luxury lodge sleeps 12 in the guest lodge with six bedrooms, a bathroom, a swimming pool, and an exclusive eco trail.
The lodge is located in the Western section of the park approximately 23 km from the main gate along the R572 Pondrift road.
Vhembe Wilderness camp
Vhembe wilderness camp has been built on a small ridge within a valley, within walking distance of the Limpopo River and Mapungubwe hill. The camp is 13km from the main gate in the Eastern section of the park.
The camp is not recommended for families with children, it operates on solar power, it is not fenced, and the access road requires a full 4×4 vehicle.
Mazhou camping site
This site is located approximately 40km from the main gate, close to the Limpopo Forest tented camp in the Western section of the park.
The camping site can cater to ten caravans or tents, with each camping spot equipped with a power point.
These are the conservation fees for the park from 1 November 2021 to 31 October 2022.
|South African Citizens and residents (with ID)||R60 per adult, per day R30 per child, per day|
|SADC Nationals (With passport)||R120 per child, per day R60 per child, per day|
|Standard Conservation Fee (International visitors)||R240 per adult, per day R120 per adult, per day R20|
Weather and Climate At Mapungubwe National Park
The park is extremely hot in the middle of summer which is from the months of October to April, when daytime temperatures can soar to as high as 45oC.
Summer also doubles has a wet season, though the rainfall can be sporadic and might rarely last a full day.
The dry season or winter, which is from the months of May to September, sees clear warm days followed by cold nights.
The best time to visit the park would be in the first few months of the dry season, which stretches from May to September.
At this time, the heat and precipitation of the wet season; October to April have gone, but the chilly nights of the later drier months are yet to come.
Things to Note On this park.
- Mapungubwe national park is divided into an Eastern and Western section, separated by private lands which do not form part of the park.
- There is no filling station or ATM available in the park. The closest filling stations are in Musina 70 km and Alldays 65km from the main gate.
- There is no cellphone reception in all the camps at the main gate.
- Guest must allow an hour prior to the gate closing time to check in to allow for traveling time to the camps.
- No caravans are allowed in the Eastern section of the park due to the road conditions.
My Final Conclusion.
I hope that I could inform you enough on this fantastic national park, and if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask them below in the comment section.
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I wish you happy travels!