Situated in the lush valley of the Crocodile Valley, Nelspruit (“Nels’ Stream”) is not only the capital city of Mpumalanga but is also the economic centre of the province. The city developed around the station built for the “Oosterlijn”, the railway line to Mozambique. Three brothers, Gert, Louis and Andries Nel, watered their flocks and herds at a stream near the town during the winter months and the city was established on the farm from which it got its name. Today, the city (proclaimed in 1905) is surrounded by tropical and subtropical fruit farms and the timber industry and tobacco, nut and cattle-farming also do well in the area. Although a fast-growing, modern metropolitan development, Nelspruit has retained its rural ambience and its busy streets are lined with mauve jacaranda and scarlet flamboyant trees and the gardens abound with subtropical plants and shrubs. You definitely do not need green fingers to grow plants here!
Nelspruit is the last city before you reach the Kruger National Park, so remember to stop over and buy those last-minute items that you might have forgotten.
Adventure And Sport
Golf: Nelspruit boasts an 18-hole, championship golf course.
Hiking: The beautiful surroundings are ideally suited for hiking and there are many walking and hiking trails to choose from. The Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail takes hikers to Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the waterfalls in the Blyde River Valley and the Geelhout trail takes hikers through beautiful indigenous forests. The 24-km, two-day “Eerste Liefde” and the 40-km, four-day “Op-Die-Berg” Trails both start and end at the Potholes. There are numerous hiking and wilderness trails in the nearby Kruger National Park, as well as on the many private nature and game parks in the Nelspruit area. The SAFCOL Uitsoek Trail Network, 80 km from Nelspruit, passes through the Uitsoek Plantation and the catchment area of the Houtbosloop and Beestekraalspruit Rivers both of which are tributaries of the Crocodile River.
Horse-riding: There are several operators in the area and many trails to choose from, such as the Hawkshead Horse Trails.
River-rafting, canoeing and kayaking: The many rivers in the area offer excellent opportunities for adventure water-sport
Rock-climbing: The many hills and mountains offer ideal opportunities for rock climbing. Contact the Nelspruit Mountain Club for expert advice on sites and conditions.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Kruger National Park San Rock Art: The Kruger National Park’s best kept secret is its rich archaeological heritage and the significant number of San rock art sites it protects. The sites are mostly situated in the southern areas of the Park. One such site can only be reached by joining the three-day hiking trail from the Berg-en-Dal Camp. Another site is at the Hippo Pool in the Crocodile River south of the Afsaal Picnic Site, two hours drive from Pretorius Kop Camp.
Hippos are usually seen sunning themselves on the sandbank and San paintings adorn the cliff overlooking the pool. Whereas the rock art of the southern regions of the country have one very characteristic element – the numerous depictions of the eland antelope – the rock art of the Kruger National Park depicts a wide range of animal species, no one of which can be singled out as numerically dominant.
Bongani Game Lodge San Rock Art: Immediately south of the Kruger National Park, in the granite mountains of eastern Mpumalanga, nestles the secluded Bongani Game Reserve. Apart from superb wildlife-viewing opportunities the reserve also offers luxury accommodation, excellent cuisine and some interesting archaeological remains as well as San rock art. The Vapour Trail rock art site is situated on a granite rock outcrop just outside the reserve. The reasoning behind this strange name becomes apparent when one comes face to face with the painted images of three human figures with long streamer-like protrusions, much like vapour trails.
Art And Crafts
Country Roads Art and Crafts Route: Voted one of the ten best art and craft routes in South Africa, this popular route stretches from Nelspruit to White River. Local artists and crafters open their studios to the public on the first weekend of every month. The winery on the route produces orange wine and macadamia nuts can be bought en route.
Riverside Government Complex: At the Riverside Government Complex, a number of local crafters have been working on a mural that depicts the history of Mpumalanga from 1 million BC to 1999AD. This ambitious project involves some 60 women who are embroidering and doing beadwork for the 40-m-long, 3-m-high work of art. Words cannot describe this piece of work and it really needs to be seen to be appreciated.
South African art: The Civic Centre houses permanent as well as temporary displays of South African Art.
Sudwala “Kraal” Complex: The “Kraal” (traditional village) is made up of a number of traditional African homesteads, focussing on the Nguni group, i.e. Zulus, Swazis and Ndebele. Visitors to the Kraal are instructed in the customs and traditional lifestyles of the different groups. The entrance to the Kraal is marked by the “isivivane”, a stone cairn on which people place a rock before leaving the village, to ensure a safe journey. Daily tours of the Kraal are conducted.
Fauna And Flora
Crocodile Farm: The Crocodile Farm allows these reptiles to be viewed from a safe distance and affords the opportunity to learn more about crocodiles and other prehistoric reptiles.
National Lowveld Botanical Gardens: The Botanical Gardens, on the banks of the Crocodile River, boast more than 500 species of plants indigenous to the Crocodile Valley, including Lowveld cycads, ferns and aloes. Visitors can also walk through an indigenous rain forest. The Nelspruit Cascades, a waterfall on the Crocodile River, are situated within the Botanical Garden. Hikers who want to explore the gardens can do so by choosing either the Crocodile River or Riverside Hiking Trails.
Ostrich Farm: The De Brug Ostrich Farm will teach you more about the various aspects of ostrich-farming. The more adventurous may go for a ride on an ostrich.
Subtropical Fruit: Hugh Hall, the bearer of a name closely linked to Nelspruit and the subtropical fruit industry, was the first farmer to plant subtropical fruit in the Lowveld. The Hugh Hall estate has become one of the largest single production units in the country and is still going strong. The Nelspruit area is now one of the most important citrus-growing areas in the country. The Government Research Institute for Citrus and Subtropical Fruit is situated in Nelspruit.
History And Architecture
Historic trail: The building and attractions on the historic trail reveal the cultural and architectural history of the town. A tour of the route lasts approximately one hour.
Owen Museum: The exhibits in the Owen Museum are truly one of a kind. The museum contains some life-size models of dinosaurs hiding in the natural vegetation of the area.
Sudwala Dinosaur Park: The open-air exhibition of life-size models of long-extinct reptiles and dinosaurs is adjacent to the Sudwala Caves. Exercise your imagination and let the life-size models of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex and other dinosaurs, as well as the earliest known ape-like creatures in Africa, come to life.
Sundial: The Town Hall sports a very unusual sundial in the form of a wagon wheel. It is a tribute to Louis Trichardt, a well-known Voortrekker leader, who passed through here in 1837 on his way to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique, where he died of fever.
Montrose Falls: The spectacular Montrose Falls, a combination of three falls, cascade some 12m through a beautiful ravine and into a series of rock pools. The falls are accessible from the Montrose Falls Caravan Site and down a flight of concrete steps. Montrose, a small trading station, is situated on Road R539 towards Sabie on National Road N4 between Waterval-Boven and Nelspruit, at the confluence of the Elands and Crocodile Rivers.
Sudwala Caves: The Sudwala Caves, a geological wonder featuring an intricate maze of tunnels and chambers extending for an unknown distance into the Mankelekele Mountain Range, boast stalagmites and stalactites formed over millions of years by dripping water. The formations have such evocative names as “Screaming Monster” and the “Weeping Madonna”. The central chamber, the PR Owen amphitheatre, is 67 m in diameter and rises some 37 m above floor level.
The natural rock formations provide seating and its acoustics make it an ideal concert venue. A still unknown source of air ensures that the temperature in the caves remains constant. Prehistoric people first discovered the caves and a group of Swazi people used the caves later as shelter and to hide from pursuers. The caves were named after one of them, Sudwala, who showed the caves to the first Europeans to arrive in the area. Trained guides ensure a pleasurable and informative visit.
Entertainment And Shopping
Flea- and craft markets: The town has a number of flea markets, such as at the Promenade Centre and Hall’s Gateway. Fruit can be bought at various roadside stalls and from informal vendors on the sidewalks of the town’s roads. The curio stalls next to the road also sell some very attractive merchandise at reasonable prices.