9 great Limpopo attractions
‘We don’t have manna and honey, but we’re happy.’
That’s how a resident of Phalaborwa, a small town near the Kruger National Park, sums up life in Limpopo province.
While she may be correct in so describing the average Limpopo resident’s financial status (and general well-being) – it being one of South Africa’s poorer provinces – she doesn’t begin to describe the riches to be found here.
From unique accommodation offerings and activities, to stunning natural beauty and world-class art, Limpopo is crammed full of things to do and places to see.
Here are a few options to explore:
1. Hans Merensky Hotel & Spa
An accommodation and conferencing venue, Hans Merensky’s big claim to fame is one for the golfers: its 18-hole course, one of the best in the province, which has more than sand traps for hazards.
Hippo, crocodiles, giraffe, impala, warthog, vervet monkeys and other animals inhabit the golf course, making for a day on the links like no other.
2. Amarula Lapa
Besides the wines of the Cape Winelands, South Africa’s most famous liquor export is Amarula, a liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree ( Sclerocarya birrea), which is common in the region and can live as long as 2 000 years.
Just outside Phalaborwa is the Amarula Lapa, a visitor centre where you can learn about the history of this delicious liqueur, how it is made and how local communities benefit from it, and how Amarula supports efforts to conserve the elephant – which features on its branding.
3. nThambo Tree Camp
East of Hoedspruit, in the same cluster of reserves as the world-famous Timbavati, is a place where solitude rules: nThambo Tree Camp, situated inside the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve.
Accommodating only 10 guests at a time, nThambo’s five unusual stilt houses are comfortable and shrouded in the peace that one can only find in the bushveld. A communal dining and relaxation area, with a small plunge pool, means that you can interact with other people if you really want to.
4. Pezulu Tree House Game Lodge
Unique accommodation is the order of the day at the Pezulu Tree House Game Lodge, south of Hoedspruit: 10 lodges built high up in the branches of trees.
The luxurious tree houses have been built in such a way that the trees continue to grow through them. They blend into the surrounding environment, and wild animals – not the major predators (although Big Five viewing is offered) – roam freely below. It’s not unusual to hear the grunts of warthog or rutting impala as you lie in bed.
5. Baobab trees
Giant baobab trees ( Adansonia digitata) are common in Limpopo. They’re iconic African flora, and the stuff of legends around the continent.
Among the largest of all deciduous trees, baobabs can grow to well over 40m in height and live for thousands of years. Their very wide trunks eventually become hollow, and baobabs have been used as pubs, prisons, shops, homes and storage spaces.
6. The Rain Queen
In the mountains north of the town of Tzaneen is the kraal (homestead) of southern Africa’s only matrilineal royal dynasty: that of Modjadji, the Rain Queen. This 400-year-old royal house has for the past 200 years been ruled by queens.
Visitors to the royal kraal in Modjadjikloof will learn how the Balobedu people came to live in this part of the world, and the fascinating and secretive rituals around rainmaking and the Rain Queen’s coronation.
Only a few kilometres from the Rain Queen’s royal kraal is the Modjadji Cycad Reserve, which is dedicated to preserving this unusual type of tree – and, in fact, the only pure cycad forest in southern Africa. One species, the Modjadji cycad (Encephalartos transvenosus), is only found here.
These ancient plants – cycads have been around for over 300-million years – can grow to be thousands of years old. But they propagate slowly, and in Africa cycad populations are believed to be on the decline.
8. Birding at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge
In the Magoebaskloof area is South Africa’s second-largest remaining pristine forest. This Afromontane, or mist, forest is slowly being expanded and rehabilitated – a century of logging has decimated indigenous hardwoods and introduced invasive species.
Situated within the forest is Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, which offers guests the opportunity to discover this natural environment in such a way that they won’t ever encounter each other.
Kurisa Moya is a birder’s paradise, too: with over 230 species, 35 of which are specifically found in the forest, and the great expertise and knowledge of David Letsoalo, South Africa’s top local bird guide, enthusiastic twitchers have every reason to add this special place to their bucket lists.
9. Art and nature at Leshiba Wilderness
High in the Soutpansberg mountains above Makhado is Leshiba Wilderness, a place where human heritage and culture, dazzling art and natural beauty make a heady combination.
The Venda Village on the property – the central, luxurious accommodation offering at Leshiba – is built on what had been a real Venda village. In fact, humans have inhabited this part of the world for millennia, and there are examples of ancient San rock art documented there.
The Venda Village itself is decorated with sculptures and other works by some of Venda’s most celebrated artists, such as Noria Mabasa, Thomas Kubayi and the late Paul Thavhana.