If you were a goldsmith, a hunter or a trader in southern Africa eight centuries ago, then your dream might well have been to live and work at Thulamela in what is today the northern Kruger National Park.

Did you know?

The ancient people of Thulamela were the ancestors of the modern-day Venda people.

Pafuri, in the wild and woolly north of the Kruger National Park, is where you go if you love baobabs, bird-watching, buffalo, elephants, solitude and the old adventurers' accounts of the legends of Thulamela. In the Shona language, the name Thulamela means to ‘give birth’.

There's a little hill near South Africa's border with Zimbabwe where, today, you will find the ‘upside-down' trees, perhaps pick up the traces of wild dog passing, or a Sharpe's grysbok out there in the distance, under the white seringa tree.

Eight centuries ago, however, the place teemed with ancient African trade. From the glass beads and pottery shards found on Thulamela Hill, researchers have learnt that Arabs, Madagascans and Indonesians visited here, bearing trade goods from as far afield as China, in the form of Ming vases for example. In return for these pretty baubles, the visitors departed with slaves, ivory and gold, lots of gold.

Ancient African civilisation was in full swing up on Thulamela Hill. Master goldsmiths were hard at work. Hunters came in for a brief respite before venturing back into the Limpopo Valley after vast herds of elephant. In fact, Thulamela overlooked an elephant highway that ran from the Indian Ocean in the east, westwards towards the Okavango.

Thulamela was probably ruled by a senior chief, who lived secluded on the top of the hill. His subjects, who clustered about the base of the hill, numbered no more than 2 000. In the early 1990s, official excavations revealed a female skeleton who was subsequently dubbed 'Queen Losha'. Venda women show their respect for men by placing their hands next to their left temples when they pass.

That's exactly how 'Queen Losha' (in real life, probably no more than a senior wife to the chief) was found buried.

Two months later the skeleton of an important man was uncovered. He soon took on the name of 'King Ingwe' (leopard), because on the day of the find, a leopard was waiting near the researchers' vehicle when they returned.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

SA National Parks
Tel: +27 (0)12 343 1991

How to get here

Thulamela lies in the northern section of the Kruger National Park. You either drive north through the park or enter via the Pafuri Gate.

Best time to visit

Any time of year, but each season has its unique appeal.

Around the area

Do day drives around the Kruger National Park, and perhaps visit Tzaneen and the Magoebaskloof forest area on your way to or from the northern Kruger Park, where you'll find Thulamela.

Tours to do

Tours take place daily (morning and afternoon). A maximum of 15 persons per tour. Bookings and payment at Sirheni bushveld camp, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria restcamps, and Pafuri gate.

What will it cost

Approximately R800 per chalet, sleeping two.

Length of stay

Three days, to get the feel of the northern Kruger National Park.

What to pack

Seasonal packing − just keep at least one warm item for the summer nights, which can turn cold.

Where to stay

At Punda Maria rest camp in the Kruger National Park.

What to eat

Self-cater and barbecue − that's the way to eat in the bushveld.