The various regions in Mpumalanga not only look different but also have very different climates. The province’s weather and, consequently, its plant life, is defined by its topography. It is a province of two contrasting halves, the high-lying grassland savannah of the Highveld Escarpment and the lush, subtropical Lowveld plains.
The Lowveld, with its emerald green scenery and well-stocked game parks, is the destination of choice for those in search of a truly “African” experience. This region is home to the well-known Kruger National Park and the Grassland and Wetlands area; a bird-watcher’s paradise.
During the summer months, wild flowers cover most of the Highveld area in colourful splendour. The carpets of purple, pink and white cosmos provide a glorious background to the many traditional Ndebele houses that dot the landscape, decorated in colourful geometric patterns.
The Escarpment entices visitors with its quaint trout-fishing villages and majestic mountain passes that allow visitors to enjoy awe-inspiring vistas. Step back in time as you enter the village of Pilgrim’s Rest, a living museum that originated during the gold rush, over a hundred years ago.
A feature that deserves special mention is the majestic Drakensberg mountain range, the “Dragon Mountains”. The mist that hovers over the tall rocky peaks looks like the smoke breathed by dragons and the mountain range boasts peaks towering up to 3 000 m. Travel over mountain passes such as Long Tom Pass and Abel Erasmus Pass and enjoy the breathtaking views of the mountains and surrounding scenery.
However, its natural scenery is only one of the reasons why visiting Mpumalanga is an experience. Many of the locals in Mpumalanga earn a living by making lovely craftworks. They sell their wares on street corners in the different towns, next to the roads on the outskirts of towns and particularly at spots frequented by tourists. The crafts include wooden sculptures, colourful beadwork, leatherwork (handbags, belts, shoes, etc.), different types of jewellery (semiprecious stones, ivory, gold, silver, brass, pewter, leather, grass), ethnic paintings and textiles. Prices are excellent and you are sure to find something special to take home as a memento of your trip.
The province is rich in history and some of its attractions date back to 1871, when alluvial gold was discovered here and people from all over the world rushed to the area to make their fortunes. Of course the influx of people helped the economy of the region to grow but, when the gold-bearing reefs were exhausted, many moved on to the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) where vast gold deposits had been discovered. Agriculture and timber then became the largest economic activity of the region and proved to be a good source of income.
Adventurers are also sure to find what they have been looking for in Mpumalanga. Virtually the entire province has potential for rock-climbing, abseiling and mountain-biking. Excellent mountain-biking sites are to be found in and around towns such as Badplaas, Barberton, Graskop, Sabie, Chrissiesmeer and Wakkerstroom. Bikes can be obtained from several of the hotels and guest houses. Mpumalanga offers exceptional routes that often follow scenic mountain passes on the escarpment. The province also offers some of the best sites for paragliding in South Africa, especially in towns such as Barberton and Wakkerstroom.
Hiking is another favourite pastime and there are hiking trails in and around most of the towns in the province. The Chrissiesmeer district is an ideal spot for hiking because of the abundance of bird life in the region. Carolina offers trails that will introduce you to waterfalls, caves and bird-breeding grounds. The trails on the escarpment offer hikers the opportunity to absorb the unique beauty of places such as Dullstroom, Pilgrim’s Rest and Graskop. Trails in the Graskop area will introduce you to the strange beauty of the Blyde River Canyon.
To top it all Mpumalanga also offers superb fishing, especially trout-fishing opportunities. There is a wide variety of fishing sites where fish such as rainbow trout, brown trout, yellowfish, carp, barbel, bass, tiger fish, tilapia, mudfish and eel can be caught.
Mpumalanga appears to have been inhabited since the earliest times. Middle Stone Age implements dating back to approximately 100 000 BC have been found in the province. Flint arrowheads and simple implements from the late Stone Age confirm the uninterrupted presence of early man. There is evidence to support the belief that red ochre (haematite) was mined at Dumaneni near Malelane and Lion Cavern in Swaziland, around 46 000 BC.
Rock art, dating back to approximately 25 BC, proved that San people inhabited the area all those years ago. Nguni tribes from the north who forged friendships with other clans and through intermarriage, formed new clans, followed the San inhabitants. For years warrior clans whose only concern was for the safety of their cattle and their people, occupied Mpumalanga.
However, the devastating “Difaqane” (“The Crushing”), a period of strife in the early 19th century that caused the total destruction or displacement of many African tribes, had a profound impacton the development of the social structure of Mpumalanga as we know it today. Subsequent conflicts between Boer, British, Ndebele and Pedi lasted for many years and attacks and counter-attacks cost many lives. In time, the Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902) would also leave its mark on the province.
At present, the largest concentration of Ndebele people live in the north-western region of the province, in the Dennilton area. Their ancestors established a kingdom in the area during the mid-seventeenth century. In 1972, under the Nationalist government, the Dennilton area was proclaimed an independent homeland, called KwaNdebele. The homeland has since been reincorporated into South Africa and now forms the Cultural Heartland Region of Mpumalanga.
The forefathers of the present-day Swazi people immigrated to the southern part of Africa from the slopes of Mount Kenya. After first settling in the present-day Maputo area, the tribe moved to the area later called Swaziland. After suffering defeat at the hands of another Swazi tribe, a group fled to the area north of Swaziland and settled there in small pockets. Many of the descendants of these people still live in this part of Mpumalanga.
The Shangane people occupy parts of Mpumalanga south of Bushbuckridge, stretching north into Limpopo and eastwards into Mozambique. This group came to settle here when inter-clan fighting weakened the Shangane Empire. The clans were scattered over a wide area of Mpumalanga, the Limpopo and Mozambique. The Pedi, who occupy the land along the northern border of Mpumalanga, have played an important role in the history and the development of the people of Mpumalanga. The influence of their leaders has contributed significantly to the development of the province.
European explorers and missionaries who came to the area were later followed by the “Voortrekkers” (Cape Dutch settlers), who left the Cape in search of a better life. Many adventurers and travellers came from all over the world to add to their numbers. Some came to farm, others to pan gold, some to hunt big game and still others to trade. There were also those who came from Europe to lay the railway line from Maputo to Pretoria. The names of the descendants of these pioneers are often remembered in the names of towns, rivers and mountains throughout the province.
Mpumalanga’s climate is greatly affected by its topography. The province lies in a summer-rainfall area and can become hot to very hot in the Lowveld, Nelspruit and Kruger National Park regions, especially during summer. However, the Lowveld Region has lovely mild to warm winters that can become slightly chilly late at night.
Malaria occurs in some parts of the Lowveld Region and visitors should take the necessary precautions before visiting this area. The Higveld area, at 1 600 m above sea level, is hot in summer but can become very cold during the winter months.