Graskop lacks the picturesque charm of some of the other little towns in Mpumalanga, but is a very convenient jumping-off place for exploring the R534 which begins just 3km north of the town – better known as the spectacular Panorama Route.
The Blyde River Canyon, Bourke's Luck Potholes, God's Window and the Sabie Waterfalls are all within easy driving distance.Even a hardened cynic would find it difficult not to be awed by the physical and spiritual beauty of the outlook from God's Window, while the dramatic landscape of the Blyde River Canyon and its nature reserve, which stretches from Graskop right up to the Abel Erasmus Pass, is also magnificent.
Graskop owes its origins to the heady days of the 1880s gold rush, when hopefuls from all over the world flocked to the area. Today the area is surrounded by pine and eucalyptus plantations that stretch from horizon to horizon – the world’s largest man-made forest at more than 4 million square km. Instead of the old ox wagons plying former trading routes, today you'll see huge timber trucks rumbling along the roads.
It's worth travelling east from the town to the scenic Koewyns Pass. Named after a local Pedi chief, it has panoramic views of the Graskop Gorge.
If you're driving a 4x4, take the Summit Route, rated as one of the top 4x4 routes in the country. It's user-friendly and takes you through some of the region's most dramatic scenery.
If you feel the need to stretch your legs, then choose the 8km, 3-hour Jock of the Bushveld Trail, a circular route that starts in Graskop, traverses the edge of the escarpment through a 'forest' of strangely shaped rocks, before heading back to town.
Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga
The largest game reserve in Africa, the Kruger National Park stretches for 352 kilometres from north to south along the Mozambique border.
It offers South Africa’s richest and most comprehensive wildlife experience in 2 million hectares of unspoiled African bush. There are 16 different eco-systems and, along with the much sought after Big 5 there are 147 species of mammals and 507 species of birds. Going on a safari in ‘The Kruger’ is a major highlight of any trip to sunny South Africa.
As in Limpopo, Mpumalanga is bushveld country, and it offers a wide selection of award-winning luxury game lodge experiences – particularly in the Sabi Sand Reserve. Here you can enjoy deluxe accommodation, with world-class service and cuisine, guided safaris and bush walks.
Many of these exclusive lodges have their own spa facilities so you can enjoy a massage or treatment surrounded by the African bush. Most of these luxury establishments have small conference areas, ideal for secluded meetings in the bush. Elephant back safaris are also available at some of these lodges.
The Panorama Route
The magnificent Panorama Route in Mpumalanga is best known for its dramatic landscapes. Major highlights en-route include Blyde ‘Motlatse’ River Canyon (the third largest canyon of its kind in the world), Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels, Long Tom Pass and the exquisite outlook spot known as God’s Window. Life in this part of the world is to be savoured slowly and make sure you bring your camera along.
The Sudwala Caves
The Sudwala Caves are the oldest known caves in the world, and date back some 2 000 million years. Here you will find an array of awesome rock displays including dramatically-lit stalactites and stalagmites and fossils of the 1st oxygen-producing plants on earth.The Sudwala Caves were used as a hiding place for the Boer’s ‘Long Tom’ guns during the Anglo-Boer War, and many people believe that this is where the legendary Kruger Millions are still hidden.
If you like a bit of history and heritage as part of your travels, visit the mining village of Pilgrim’s Rest situated some 30 km from Nelspruit.
This is the place where gold was first discovered in South Africa. With its authentic old buildings and shops, Pilgrim’s Rest offers a fascinating insight into the gold rush days. Stop off at the bar at the Royal Hotel and listen to the stories of old, or book yourself on a bona fide gold panning expedition.
For those wishing to experience the tribal culture of Mpumalanga, the village of Botshabelo (Place of Refuge) has an excellent open-air museum, providing an authentic look at the colourful Ndebele culture.
The village houses Ndebele huts, decorated with beautiful traditional geometric paintings that are so well-known in this part of the world. Another notable cultural experience is the Shangaan Cultural Village, which again – will give one insight into the life of the Shangaan people.
Chrissiesmeer, in Mpumalanga's lake district, was once an important staging post for transport wagons making their way to and from the interior to Maputo in Mozambique.But the coming of the railroad reduced its strategic position and the area turned to farming and forestry. Today, however, Chrissiesmeer has once again become an important destination – not for gold miners and transport drivers, but for visitors looking for natural beauty, history and hospitality.
The charming little town is surrounded by 270 lakes and pans and is named after its biggest lake, Lake Chrissie. The story goes that an entrepreneurial Scotsman, Alexander McCorkindale, came to the area in the 1850s, fell in love with it because it reminded him of his native country and bought up many farms in the area.He was also an ardent admirer of then-President Pretorius' raven-haired, beautiful daughter, Christina (Chrissie), and named the largest lake after her. And so the name of the town was born.
There's a lot to experience in Chrissiesmeer. The lakes and grasslands, havens of tranquillity, are home to abundant birdlife – look out for Blue cranes, Red-winged francolins, Chestnut-banded plovers, the elusive Red-chested flufftail, flamingos and, in summer, migratory waders.It's not only feathered friends but froggy ones too that draw the crowds. Every December there's a Frogging Festival. Florence Guest House hosts the annual festival that lures frog fans from far and wide to an action-packed night filled with facts, wetland expeditions and 'ribbiting' fun. Interestingly enough, the Siswati name for Chrissiesmeer is Matotoland, which means 'frog land'.The little town is full of fascinating historical buildings and the 1901 Battle of Chrissiesmeer, a defining battle in the Anglo-Boer War, was won here by General Louis Botha against a vastly superior British force of 12 000 men.
You may well have seen pictures of the brightly painted homesteads and colourful crafts of Mpumalanga’s Ndebele villages in magazines all over the world. When you visit a Ndebele village you'll see for yourself the vibrantly coloured geometric designs of their dwellings and dramatic traditional clothing.
The little town of Siyabuswa in Mpumalanga’s cultural heartland is home to the Kghodwana Cultural Village where you can follow the progress of the Ndebele from 1 000 years ago to today. The people in this region are linguistically related to KwaZulu-Natal’s Zulu tribe and the Ndebele of Zimbabwe.
Take a tour of the village, shop for stunning crafts such as bracelets, necklaces, mats woven of dry grass and beadwork-adorned gala blankets, visit one of the Royal Kraals and admire the heavy brass rings worn by married women around ankles and necks to display their wealth.
It's the Ndebele women who traditionally paint the vivid geometric designs of the homesteads, based on triangular and rectangular shapes. Skills are passed from mother to daughter and the shapes used are often inspired by their intricately fashioned beadwork.
Another Ndebele village well worth a visit is situated at the beautifully restored Botshabelo Mission Station where early South African Christians sought refuge and found education training from the mid-1800s. This Ndebele village is an open-air living museum of vibrant colour.
Admire the artwork of the huts, the glowing murals on internationally acclaimed Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu’s family homestead, the beaded aprons of the little girls, the glowing colours of blankets and beadwork, and chat to the married women about their spectacular clothing.Thirsty after all this sight-seeing? Then pop over to the Loodspruit Wine Estate – South Africa’s northernmost vineyards – just across the road from the village.