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IIf you decide to take the scenic route from Mbombela (formerly called Nelspruit) to Hoedspruit via Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg), you’ll soon realise there is one big potential problem: if you stop and stare at every attraction and highlight along the way, you’ll need a couple of days to complete the 250km trip. 

The fun begins right after you leave Mpumalangas provincial capital, Mbombela – the Sudwala Caves are not even half an hour to the west of the centre of the city. They are regarded as among the oldest caves in the world – dating back approximately 240-million years. There are several tours to choose from, ranging from an hour-long excursion to half-day underground treks. 

Continuing from Sudwala, the R37 road will take you to Mashishing via the incredibly beautiful and historically significant Long Tom Pass. A monument commemorating the Boers 155mm Creusot Long Tom guns used in the South African War of 1899 to 1901 once called the Second Anglo-Boer War, but since renamed to recognise the fact that all the region’s ethnic groups were dragged into the conflict – is located along the pass, about 21km from the picturesque town of Sabie. 

Just outside Mashishing (originally called Lydenburg, or ‘town of suffering’ by the settlers who founded it), you’ll find the Gustav Klingbiel Nature Reserve, where you can see eland, zebra, kudu and many other mammal species.  

In Mashishing, the historical displays at the museum shed light on local subjects ranging from mining in the area to Sepedi culture. You can also visit the original Voortrekker School, the Voortrekker Church (both dating from 1851) and the Dutch Reformed Church (1890). The popular Horseshoe Falls are also nearby. 

From Mashishing, follow the R36 to Ohrigstad. This is the oldest town in the area, set amid lush farmlands, mountains and thick bush. Stop in at The Shoe, a landmark gallery, shop and restaurant run by owner and artist Ron van Zyl. Continuing along the route, just a short distance off the main road, you can visit the Echo Caves. 

Continuing on the R36, the road winds up and over the Abel Erasmus Pass before cutting through the dramatic Manoutsa section of the Limpopo Drakensberg mountain range, with its characteristic thick and tangled indigenous forest and rock formations covered in brightly coloured lichen. Look out for waterfalls in season. 

Following a coach route from the late 19th century, the road continues through the 133m-long JG Strijdom Tunnel, which dates from 1959. The sides of the road just before and after the tunnel are full of stalls where talented crafters sell local arts and crafts. 

Once through the tunnel, the Lowveld beckons as the escarpment drops away. The R527 then takes you through farmlands full of citrus, mangoes and avocados to the small town of Hoedspruit, the gateway to many world-famous private game reserves and the Kruger National Park. En route, you can stop at Mad Dogz Café, the Appelblaar Padstal (Apple Leaf Farm Stall), the Kinyonga Reptile Centre and the iNyoka Art Gallery.  

Did You Know?

TTravel tips & Planning  info 

Who to contact 

Kruger Lowveld Tourism 
Tel: +27 (0)13 755 1988 

How to get here  

Self-drive is the best way to experience this route at your own pace, and you can get to Mbombela on the N4 highway from Gauteng. Alternatively, fly to Mbombela airport and hire a car. 

Best time to visit  

Frequent mist and fog in the area can make the mountain passes intimidating while simultaneously spoiling the view. So, the drier months from April to October may be the best time of year to visit the area, when daytime temperatures peak in the low 20⁰C range – although winter nights (June to August) can be bitterly cold. At any time of year, mist is most likely in the early morning and at night, so try to plan your driving for the middle of the day. 

Things to do in the area  

You can easily detour off this route to explore the small historic towns of Sabie and Graskop. 

Tours to do 

There are guided tours of numerous attractions along the route, including the Sudwala Caves and the Kinyonga Reptile Centre. 

Length of stay 

You can complete this route comfortably in a day, with stops along the way. However, if you want to explore attractions like the Sudwala Caves in more detail, take a couple of days with an overnight stop on the way. 

What to eat  

There are several places to eat on this route. A great halfway stop is De Juffrauens in Mashishing. This restaurant/coffee shop is housed in an old red London bus. 

Best buys 

The artists and crafters around the JG Strijdom tunnel produce beautiful carvings, beadwork, basketry and pottery. 

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