MAPUNGUBWE – a Sanpark with a Difference


It was hot! 38 degrees beamed the display on the dash! There we were, en-route to Mapungubwe National Park, a lesser known Sanparks reserve tucked into the northern most part of South Africa. On arrival, walking into the air conditioned reception area was similar to a walk-in freezer and for once I was more than happy to stand in line and wait to be served….. in fact, a lie down on the cool slasto floor would have gone down well.

Mapungubwe has a strange set up. The park is split into eastern & western sections due to a de Beers mine & private land creating a divide. Traversing between the two sections is a bit of a schlep, unless you have a 4×4, in which case a much shorter overland route can be done.

After check-in formalities, we back-tracked along the tar road. Ten kilometers before the Pontdrif border post, we hit a right turn and wheedled our way through private farmland before reaching the boomed entrance into the western section of the park. Here is where you find Mazhou campsite and also the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp.
The scenery was breath-taking…. Huge trees dotted the landscape with plains game everywhere. It really was beautiful. If anyone has had the pleasure of visiting Mana Pools, this is very similar….


Entering the campsite at around 2.30pm, it was very quiet, with most people either out on game drives or napping in their camp chairs. With only 10 campsites, spread apart, it’s certainly not your normal Sanparks set up where you literally can’t walk between tents. Done that once, never again!!

Finding a spot under an enormous nyala tree, we rigged up the ground tent while at the same time, chasing monkeys out of the car who were rummaging through the snack bag. Don’t leave doors and windows open for a second….. it becomes a destructive free for all…! And the same applies to tents, zip everything up when out on drives, they will find any gap and get in. A couple who were camped nearby returned from a game drive to find the mesh ripped and everything upended inside. Monkeys, I’ve decided, are completely ADHD!

The welcoming committee then announced its arrival with much trumpeting and low rumbling…… a herd of about 20 elephants, just outside the campsite. With a very flimsy, low electric fence surrounding the campsite and no gate, they could have wandered in at any given point but chose to remain just outside in the shade of the vast trees. Grazing peacefully and not minding us at all, it was lovely to watch. Youngsters tussled, mothers protected their young while the rest munched lazily in the late afternoon rays.



We spent the next 2 days in our section, taking slow drives along the Shashe river. Here remnants of the old military fence dating back to the Boer war can be seen protruding amongst the dense vegetation. The immaculate viewing hide was worth a visit every day and driving the open plains produced yet more wildlife & birding viewing pleasures, grazers everywhere, warthog on bended front knees, bee-eaters in every direction, and babies….


It looked as though there had been a massive birthing spree in the space of about a week, everything from wildebeest to zebra to impala all had youngsters at foot.
Then back in camp from mid-afternoon to nap and/or read… as you do when your body’s attuned to bush life.




Day three we found the 4×4 track on Tracks4Africa and headed across country to the eastern section of the park, where one will find the treetop walk and viewing decks overlooking the confluence of the Shashe & Limpopo rivers. Vistas to die for, sweeping 180 degree views of the meeting of South Africa, Botswana & Zimbabwe borders.



The tree top walk consists of a wooden walkway raised approximately seven meters off the ground, leading through the fever and ana trees to a deck affording a good open view of a section of the Limpopo river. Below us, we watched a troop of about fifty baboons all gathered on the sand bank, looking across the water to the other side.

Wondering what was keeping their attention, three of them suddenly launched themselves into the water and scrambled frantically to the other side. Seeing a couple of crocs lurking nearby, we realised this was a death run for them and so the term “walking on water” came to fruition….. In groups of 3 or 4, they ran or bounced on their back legs to the other side. Those with babies swinging their young onto their backs without breaking their stride, dragging them through the water rather unceremoniously….. clearly survival of the fittest!


Climbing back in the car, we then headed off to the confluence view. Three separate decks perched high up along a hillside overlooking the Limpopo valley. Baobabs dotted the floodplain below, pools of water gave away their location as the sun glinted off their surface and the vast but dry Limpopo riverbed meandered off into the distance, lost somewhere in Botswana. On the other side of the ridge, fossilised termite mounds protruded from the ancient hillside, like copper stalagmites.


Heading back towards the exit gate, we crossed a low bridge just as a herd of elephants arrived at the pool of water next to the road. With several babies in tow, we pulled over, switched off the engine and sat for about twenty minutes watching them drinking, bathing and playing until they moved off. Two small youngsters lay down together and rolled in the mud, flopping onto each other. Just too cute…. I can sit and watch these amazing animals all day.


The following day we packed up and sadly headed back to Jo’burg, a peaceful five hour drive. I’ll most definitely be back at Mazhou. It’s a really special place, and with so few campsites, it makes for a serene, peaceful location with incredible scenery, landscapes and wildlife. The cats were AWOL for us unfortunately, but for me, the bush holds just as much fascination with the smaller creatures, it’s not always about the Big Five.



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