Central Kruger Park | 340km
Established in 1957, the town of Phalaborwa is founded upon rich copper and other mineral deposits, which attracted the attention of Iron Age people as early as the 8th century. The baPhalaborwa people dug trenches and shafts up to 6 m deep to exploit the rich copper deposits, smelted the ore and also worked iron. Important Early Iron Age sites in the area include Loolekop, Sealene and Kgopolwe.
The geological history of what is known as the Phalaborwa Complex goes back some 2 050 million years ago, when molten matter intruded into granite along three large and numerous smaller volcanic pipes. A variety of minerals were formed within these pipes, such as copper, phosphate, iron, baddeleyite and vermiculite. Over countless aeons, the overlying rock was eroded away to expose the more resistant hills that punctuate the plains around Phalaborwa. Modern mining dates back to 1938, when exploitation of vermiculite began, and today Phalaborwa is responsible for about half the annual world production of this mineral.
Mining of the copper-rich central volcanic pipe began in 1956 and has created one of the largest man-made holes in Africa. With a circumference of over 5 km and a diameter of nearly 1 900 m, the near-circular open pit is 762 m deep and six times the size of Kimberley's famous Big Hole. In addition to the rich copper deposits, the mine has also been a source of phosphate (used in the fertiliser industry) and magnetite, a byproduct of copper and phosphate.
As the mine has reached the maximum depth for open-cast mining, it has become necessary to switch to conventional underground mining. To appreciate the area's mining history, a visit to the Foskor Mine Museum is a must. Guided mine tours are also available. The Hans Merensky Golf Club is well known among golfers as the course is often visited by game from the adjoining Kruger National Park.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK (KNP)
Covering nearly 2 000 000 ha, the Kruger National Park is one of Africa's great game parks and ranks among the world's top conservation areas. From the Crocodile River in the south, the park stretches northwards for 350 km to the Limpopo River, and ranges in width from 25 km in the far north to 85 km in the south. This unspoilt wilderness of bushveld, woodland and thornveld is home to a rich diversity of wildlife which includes 147 mammal species. In addition to the Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard), the park is home to a wide variety of antelope, such as sable, roan, impala, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, waterbuck, tsessebe, kudu and nyala, as well as hippo, giraffe and Burchell's zebra.
It also provides protection to the only viable wild dog population in South Africa. With 490 bird species recorded to date (about 55 per cent of the total number found in southern Africa), the park is truly a paradise for bird enthusiasts on South African holidays. More than 50 raptor species have been recorded, while many of the species occurring in the north of the park have a limited distribution elsewhere in South Africa.
The park is also an archaeological treasure chest, with over 250 cultural heritage sites, ranging from rock art sites (about 130 have been recorded) and Late Iron Age settlements to early transport routes. Access to Kruger is via eight gates, and accommodation ranges from rest camps with all the necessary facilities (filling station, shop, restaurant) to smaller bushveld camps without facilities, and bush lodges for groups. A vast network of roads traverses the bush, providing access to rivers, water holes, dams and viewpoints, while picnic sites in the bush allow motorists to take a break from the driving.
In addition to self-drive game-viewing, the park offers a host of outdoor and adventure activities such as short, self-guided nature walks in some of the rest camps, night drives and guided walks of between three and four hours. There are also seven three-day guided wilderness trails in various remote areas of the park. Because the park lies within a malaria area, it is advisable to consult a doctor about prophylaxis, especially if visiting between December and April.
Central Kruger covers a large tract of land stretching between the Sabie River in the south and the Olifants River in the north. The western half of the central area is largely a vast swathe of woodland dominated by mixed bushwillow and mopane, while the vegetation in the east is more varied. The area is noted for its breeding herds of elephant, while white rhino, buffalo, eland, sable (common in the Phalaborwa area), blue wildebeest and Burchell's zebra also occur.
The earliest inhabitants of Masorini, which nestles among large boulders against a low hill, were Stone Age people. Much later, in the 19th century, it was also inhabited by Late Iron Age people who built their huts on the terraced hillside. Smelting furnaces, forges and other implements have provided evidence that the inhabitants worked iron, which they probably obtained from Phalaborwa. Artefacts such as grinding stones and potsherds are displayed in the information hut, and photographs and illustrations tell the story of the site and other aspects relating to the park's early inhabitants. Visitors on South African holidays can take a guided tour of the reconstructed village, which includes, among other things, the excavated remains of a smelting furnace. From the summit of the hill, there are expansive views over the surrounding landscape.
Letaba rest camp lies high above a horseshoe bend in the Letaba River, offering a grandstand view of the animals that come to quench their thirst. The Tsonga name, Letaba, means 'sand' and seemingly refers to the river's extensive sandy banks. The vegetation to the west of the rest camp is typically mixed woodland dominated by bushwillow and mopane, while the camp itself lies in a belt of mopane shrubveld, characterised by mopane and apple-leaf trees. Among the rich diversity of game to be seen are kudu, eland, tsessebe, sable, buffalo, blue wildebeest, Burchell's zebra, giraffe and the big cats (lion, leopard and cheetah).
In the rest camp is the Elephant Hall, which forms part of the Goldfields Environmental Education Centre. The focal point of the hall is a display of the tusks of six of the park's largest elephants, which became known in the late 1970s as the 'Magnificent Seven'. Among these are the heaviest pair of tusks ever recorded, weighing 75 kg and 55 kg, and the 317-cm and 303,5-cm tusks of Shawu - the longest tusks on record in southern Africa. There are also highly informative displays covering all aspects of the elephant's history and biology.
Situated on a cliff overlooking the Olifants (Elephant's) River, the Olifants rest camp was opened in 1960 to accommodate the increasing number of tourists visiting the park on South African holidays. In a departure from the usual whitewashed walls, the huts were painted dark green to blend in with the surroundings. The camp is famed for its unrivalled views of the Lebombo Mountains and the surrounding plains. Another attraction is the network of loop roads around the camp, which provide excellent game-viewing opportunities along the Olifants and Letaba rivers. The Olifants River is home to hippo and crocodile, while visitors are also likely to see elephant, buffalo, blue wildebeest, impala, kudu and Burchell's zebra. Surrounded by plains, the vegetation varies from mopane bush savanna in the north to knob thorn bush and shrub savanna to the south.
Unlike the other rest camps, Satara does not have a river, dam or mountains as an added attraction. Situated on plains dominated by marula, knob thorn and round-leafed teak savannah, it is Kruger's second-largest rest camp and its design features several large circles centred around lawns. The name Satara is said to a corruption of the Hindi word satrah, (seventeen). Apparently, the original farm was the seventeenth to be surveyed in this area, and the name was suggested by a Hindu labourer. Since this is one of the best grazing areas in the park, game is abundant. Large herds of Burchell's zebra and blue wildebeest occur in the area, which also supports large numbers of giraffe, kudu, elephant, impala and sable. Although there are few rivers or stretches of open water in this part of the park, there are numerous water holes along the pipeline supplying water from the Olifants River to the rest camp.
Orpen, the name of the gate and the small, intimate rest camp on the park's western boundary, was named in honour of two of Kruger's biggest benefactors, James and Eileen Orpen. Between 1935 and 1944, Mrs Orpen bought seven farms totalling 24 500 ha, on the park's western boundary, and donated the land to the park. The couple also gave money for the construction of water holes, and James Orpen helped to survey and clear the western boundary line. A small rondavel, about 10 km east of the gate, marks the original entrance to the park before the incorporation of the seven farms. As a living memorial to the Orpens' contribution to the development of the park, the hut now serves as a small museum, the Rabelais Museum - named after the original farm. Good game-viewing is to be had along the Timbavati River.