Limpopo's Ancient Kingdoms
Did you know?
The master builders of the kingdom at Thulamela were so good, their huge rock bricks so well cut, that there was no need for mortar to support the long-standing structures.
A thousand years ago, there was a hilltop kingdom by the side of a roaring river where a queen ruled over her people. Hunters would embark on elephant expeditions into the surrounding valleys and return after many days, bearing tusks and perhaps the bodies of the unfortunates trampled by the behemoths.
Inside the city, built on a hill, goldsmiths would patiently fashion out necklaces and trinkets. Some of this treasure would be traded upriver with people from other far-off lands like Egypt and China for cloth, beads and pottery.
A few 100km down river, a few 100 years later, another riverside citadel was built, consisting of curved rock homes built inside a wall complex. The master builders of this little kingdom were so good, their huge rock bricks so well cut, that there was no need for mortar to hold the structures up.
This thriving riverside collection of kingdoms was presided over by a magnificent ‘upside-down' tree that still gives edible fruit, rope from its bark and expansive shelter from the hot midday sun.
This tree − and the elephants that fed off it − became the totems for all the humans who lived around it.
Of course, we're on a Limpopo historical tour to the kingdoms of Mapungubwe in the west and Thulamela in the east. And the tree? The baobab. This incredibly fascinating Limpopo historical route can take you back further in time − perhaps a couple of million years − to the days of early humankind. As you travel the Limpopo local route from Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site through Musina, to the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park to the Thulamela site, it's easy to cast your mind back and reconstruct life here about five centuries ago, when many civilisations met and traded on these waters.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Mapungubwe National Park
Tel: +27 (0)15 534 0102
Limpopo Tourism and Parks
Tel: +27 (0)15 290 7300
How to get here
Drive the Great North Road from Johannesburg or Pretoria.
Best time to visit
Any time, but the height of summer can be extremely hot.
Around the area
You're not far from sacred Lake Fundudzi, the sacred forest of Thathe Vondo, Queen Modjadji's cycad forest, and the Ribolla Venda Art route.
Tours to do
Take the tour to the top of Mapungubwe Hill, which will frame your understanding of this area.
Your own/rented vehicle will give you more options.
Length of stay
Four or five days if you'd really like to get under the skin of this spectacular region.
Where to stay
There are many options in Mapungubwe National Park, game lodges nearby, and further east, northern parts of Kruger National Park.
Mapungubwe National Park is part of a proposed Transfrontier Conservation Area.