The Olifants River in the Mpumalanga province is among South Africa's most interesting watercourses thanks to the large herds of elephant it attracts. See it at its best in the Kruger National Park, where you can sit high on a shady thatch veranda and watch the herds meander along below.

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The Olifants River rises near the small town of Bethal in Mpumalanga, then flows north through the Witbank and Loskop dams, cuts through the Drakensberg Mountains at the Abel Erasmus pass, and then flows through the Kruger Park National Park.

It continues its leisurely journey into Mozambique, where it joins the Limpopo and Rio Changane rivers, becoming the Rio dos Elefantes. It then flows into the Indian Ocean at Xai-Xai, north of Maputo.

Although regarded as one of South Africa's most polluted rivers because of the mining, power generation and agriculture concerns in the area – environmental studies and remedies are currently in progress – the Olifants River remains one of the country's favourite watercourses.

The very best place to experience the river is at the Olifants camp in the central Kruger National Park. This camp has the best setting of all the park's rest camps, set high on a bluff overlooking the river. Do try to stay in one of the thatch rondawels overlooking the river, for which you'll need to book well in advance.

If you sit on the camp's shaded thatch terrace at any time of day, armed with binoculars and a cool drink, you are guaranteed to see elephants coming to drink and bathe. Look out also for the beautiful indigenous trees that line the banks – jackalberry, sycamore figs and the sausage tree, so-named because of the big, brown sausage-like fruits that hang down from the branches.

The Olifants River is the largest of the Kruger National Park's several watercourses, but you can also enjoy it elsewhere in the province, especially when you drive up from Johannesburg through the Lowveld towards the city of Mbombela (Nelspruit).

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

South African National Parks Central Reservations
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Mobile: +27 (0)82 233 9111

How to get here

Drive north from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa and into the Kruger National Park at the Phalaborwa gate. From there travel to the Olifants rest camp.

Best time to visit

Though the Olifants River seldom dries up completely, summer is best as the river will be in full flow after the summer rains.

Get around

Hiring your own vehicle is best as it allows you to explore this lovely river at your own pace.

What to pack

Always remember to bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat, no matter what the season.

Where to stay

At the Olifants river camp in the Kruger National Park. Book well in advance if you want to stay at one of the thatch cottages overlooking the river.

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