Waterberg | 575km
MODIMOLLE [FORMERLY KNOWN AS NYLSTROOM]
When a party of Voortrekker religious zealots heading for the Holy Land first saw Kranskop, east of Nylstroom, in the 1860s they naively mistook the hill for a pyramid and the Mogalakwena River for the upper reaches of the River Nile. As a result, the town was named Nylstroom (Nile stream) when it was founded in 1866. Places of interest include the old Reformed Church (1889) - the oldest church north of Pretoria - and the site of a South African War concentration camp and the camp cemetery. Among the other attractions are an old locomotive that saw service on the line between Pretoria and Nylstroom near the end of the 1800s, the Nylstroom Museum, Waterberg Museum and JG Strijdom House, where one of South Africa's former prime ministers lived for many years. The town is a centre for the cattle ranches and citrus fruit farms of the region.
BELA-BELA [FORMERLY KNOWN AS WARMBATHS]
...was laid out on four farms in 1882 and originally named Hartingsburg, but was renamed Warmbad (warm bath) in 1920, after the hot spring surfacing on one of the farms, named Het Bad (the bath). The town's main attraction for visitors on South African holidays is the hot spring resort, with its hydro spa, outdoor pool complex, water slides, wave pool and river ride. Cable water-skiing is one of many leisure and recreational activities on offer. Adjoining the resort is a small nature reserve, which can be seen by taking a guided game drive. A wide choice of accommodation is available. During the South African War, the British built a blockhouse near the railway station to protect the line against attack by Boer commandos.
Thabazimbi, an indigenous name meaning 'mountain of iron', owes its existence to the discovery of rich iron ore deposits in the area in 1919. Exploitation of the deposits began in the 1930s and the mining town, built on the farm Kwaggashoek by Iscor, has a natural, park-like atmosphere. It was proclaimed in 1953 and has developed into an important centre for the area's cattle and game ranches.
Rising some 600 m above the Springbok Flats to the east, the Waterberg stretches in an arc from a few kilometres northeast of Thabazimbi west for 150 km to near Potgietersrus. Its Afrikaans name, meaning 'water mountain', is an apt one, for this pristine tract of land has numerous rivers, streams, waterfalls and springs. The area provided the setting for the classic The Road to Waterberg by well-known author Eugene Marais, who also wrote The Soul of the White Ant. Although this is prime cattle country, many of the landowners have switched to game-farming and the Waterberg Conservancy, established in 1982, covers over 150 000 ha. Plans are under way to register the Waterberg as a biosphere reserve under UNESCO's biosphere reserve programme. Nature reserves 2 and 5 and game farms exist side by side. The St John the Baptist Anglican Church 6 near Vier-en-twinting Riviere was built in 1914.
MARAKELE NATIONAL PARK
...covers 44 000 ha of mountain wilderness at the western edge of the Waterberg range. The Kransberg cliffs on the park's southern boundary are home to the largest Cape vulture colony (over 700 breeding pairs) in the world, while nearly 300 other bird species have been recorded to date. Among these are peregrine and lanner falcons, redcrested korhaan, Burchell's glossy starling, Kalahari robin and whitecrowned shrike. Proclaimed in 1994, the park's Tswana name fittingly means 'place of sanctuary'. In addition to the Big Five, rare species such as tsessebe, roan and sable have been reintroduced. Among the other species roaming the park's woodlands and grassveld are giraffe, kudu, eland, waterbuck, red hartebeest, nyala and impala. Most of the game-viewing roads are suitable for sedan cars, but certain routes can only be negotiated by 4x4 vehicles. Facilities include a rustic bush camp for groups on the Apies River and a tented camp on the Matlabas River (which is accessible by 4x4 vehicle only).
...takes its name from the Lephalala River (a Tswana name meaning 'barrier'), which flows through the 24 000-ha conservation area. Lapalala is a sanctuary to rare and endangered species such as black rhino, roan and sable, as well as white rhino, hippo, giraffe, kudu, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, impala and Burchell's zebra. The Lapalala Wilderness School, established in 1985 by well-known conservationist Clive Walker, is based at Lapalala. Since its foundation, the school has conducted environmental education programmes for thousands of children and teachers. Facilities for visitors include a fully catered luxury tented camp on the banks of the Kgogong River and ten self-catering camps. Guided walking trails are conducted over weekends and from Monday to Thursday.
Not to be missed as a stopover for those on South African holidays, is a visit to the Waterberg Cultural and Natural History Museum, situated close to the main access road to Lapalala Wilderness. Housed in the old Melkrivier School building, the museum's displays focus on the natural and cultural history of the Waterberg area. The museum incorporates the Rhino Museum, the only one in the country devoted entirely to this species.
MOKOPANE [FORMERLY KNOWN AS POTGIETERSRUS]
...was established by the Voortrekkers in 1852 and initially named Vredenburg (town of peace). In 1858, however, it was renamed Pietpotgietersrust, in honour of Piet Potgieter who was killed in the siege of Makapans Cave in 1854. Still later, the name was shortened to Potgietersrus. Malaria and animosity between the Voortrekkers and the Ndebele caused the trekkers to abandon the settlement around 1870. It was reoccupied in the 1890s, and today is an important agricultural and mining town. The Arend Dieperink Museum has an interesting exhibit on the archaeology of Makapans Cave, as well as a collection of Sotho and Voortrekker items. The game-breeding centre of the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria, on the town's northern outskirts, breeds rare exotic and indigenous animals and birds, and black rhino and indigenous game species can be seen in the 850-ha reserve. There are picnic sites for day visitors and a walk-in aviary, and guided tours are offered.
Makapans Cave, a series of dolomite caves in the Makapans Valley, is of significant archaeological and historical interest and makes for an intriguing South African holidays attraction. At the Historic Cave, the Ndebele chief Mokopane and his followers took refuge from a Boer commando in late October 1854, following the murder of 28 Voortrekkers a month earlier. The Ndebele blocked the two entrances with stone walls; since the Boers were unable to take the caves by force, they besieged Makapans Cave for 25 days. Some Ndebele, among them Mokopane, managed to escape, but when the Boers finally stormed the cave they found the bodies of at least 1 500 people who had either starved to death or died of thirst.
The nearby Cave of Hearths has a long history of occupation, stretching from the Earlier Stone Age to the mid-1800s, but the most important archaeological site is the Limeworks Cave. Here, the remains of more than a dozen hominids (of the genus Australopithecus africanus) 1 have been unearthed from the dumps outside the cave and the sediments cemented by lime deposits inside the cave. In addition to the hominid fossils, which date back some three million years, a large number of fossilised animals have also been discovered.
A roadside memorial is a reminder of the murder of 28 Voortrekker men, women and children at three separate localities in September 1854. Following the murders, the Boers undertook a punitive expedition against Chief Mokopane which resulted in the siege of Makapans Cave.
MOOKGOPHONG [FORMERLY KNOWN AS NABOOMSPRUIT]
Naboomspruit, an Afrikaans name meaning 'stream of the euphorbia trees', owes its name to the abundance of the common tree euphorbia (Euphorbia ingens) growing along the river bank. Established in 1907, the town is an important agricultural and mining centre.
...covers 16 000 ha of grassy floodplains - the largest wetland of its kind in the country - formed by the Nyl River. With a bird checklist of 426 species, and attracting up to 80 000 birds at times, Nylsvley is one of the top birding destinations in South Africa and an important breeding habitat of several threatened and rare species. Among these are slaty egret, bittern and rufousbellied heron, while the wetland also supports the largest breeding colonies of squacco heron and great white and black egrets in South Africa. To date, some 17 duck species have been recorded, while moorhens, herons, rails, crakes and coots are all attracted to the wetlands. The 4 300-ha Nylsvley Nature Reserve provides protection to about 800 ha of the floodplain and offers excellent birding opportunities. Picnic facilities are provided and visitors can either explore the reserve on foot or drive along the 30-km network of tracks west of the Nyl River. Animals to see include giraffe, tsessebe, roan, kudu, reedbuck, blue wildebeest and Burchell's zebra.