Wildlife and wilderness


Mapungubwe National Park

23 December 2004 Following months of preparations and construction, South African National Parks (SANParks) officially opened South Africa's newest park to the public on Heritage Day, 24 September 2004. Previously known as Vhembe Dongola National Park, Mapungubwe National Park is situated in Musina, north-east of Polokwane, the capital of Limpopo. It is found at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers. The new park comprises the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape and the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site in an area covering well over 28 000 hectares. The park forms part of an ambitious project to develop a major transfrontier conservation area, the Limpopo/Shashe Transfrontier Park, which will cross the borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, linking the Mapungubwe National Park with Botswana's Tuli Block and Zimbabwe's Tuli Safari area.
Blown away by Mapungubwe Lucille Davie pays a visit to the "place of the stone of wisdom", home to South Africa's first kingdom - and finds herself unprepared for its historical potency and natural beauty.
Speaking at Tourism Indaba 2004 in Durban in May, SANParks chief executive David Mabunda said the decision to develop Mapungubwe National Park was based on the rich biodiversity, scenic beauty and immense cultural and historical significance of the area. The archaeological treasures discovered at Mapungubwe "rank among the most important pieces of ancient art yet found in sub-Saharan Africa", Mabunda said. "They also document the rise of the Zimbabwe culture." Until its demise at the end of the 13th century AD, Mapungubwe - "place of the stone of wisdom" - was the most important inland settlement in the sub-continent, extending over an area of about 30 000 square kilometres on either side of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers. Declared a National Heritage Site in 2001, Mapungubwe was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2003, bringing to five the number of South African sites that have been awarded World Heritage status.
  • SA's World Heritage sites: see box down right.
The findings of gold artefacts, beads, burial grounds and other remains indicate that Mapungubwe was one of the major centres of this culture, and bear testimony to the way of life of African people more than 1 000 years ago. The whole area around Mapungubwe National Park boasts a substantial amount of San Rock Art sites dating from 15 000 years back. "Together with its surrounding areas, Mapungubwe National Park has a potential to be a sanctuary for viable populations of some of the most threatened large mammals on earth, such as the black and white rhinoceros, wild dog, and the continent's flagship species, the African elephant", Mabunda said. SANParks believes the development of the park, due to its positioning on the international border of Botswana, South African and Zimbabwe, will also serve as a southern African growth point for tourism and conservation. Tourist offerings the park Major infrastructure development in the area in the last couple of months, with substantial funding from the department of environmental affairs and tourism, saw the establishment of a new road network allowing sedan vehicle access to all the sites mentioned below, the Leokwe Rest Camp, the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp, and the Vhembe Trails Camp. The entrance to Mapungubwe National Park is situated on the Musina-Pondrift Road. The park's tourist facilities include: Leokwe Rest Camp. The park's main rest camp is situated in a valley flanked by sandstone ridges. The camp's theme is based on the rich history of the area, with the design derived from the typical Venda village. Facilities on offer include:
  • A reception complex with swimming pool, kitchen and small convenience store.
  • Fourteen two-bed cottages with open-plan kitchens.
  • Two four-bed family cottages with open-plan kitchens.
  • Two two-bed cottages with shower and toilet for physically disabled persons.
Limpopo Forest Tented Camp. Situated within the riverine forest of the Limpopo River, this tented camp offers spacious rooms and outdoor areas catering for 16 people, with eight two-bed self-catering units. It also boasts seven semi-luxury forest tents each with a two-bed bedroom, kitchen, shower and toilet. Physically disabled people are catered for with one semi-luxury forest tent with two bed-bedroom, kitchen, shower and toilet. Tshugulu Lodge. This luxury lodge sleeps 14, with six bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a swimming pool and an exclusive eco-trail. Vhembe Trails Camp. Based on the successful wilderness trails offered in the Kruger National Park, the Vhembe Trails Camp is situated on the perimeter of the Mapungubwe Valley. Trailists will be able to explore the rich archaeology of the area on foot with a guide, and will visit the famous Mapungubwe mountain where the golden rhinoceros was found. Visitors will be based at the camp for the duration of the three-day trail. The camp can accommodate eight people - two people per unit, each with its own ablutions. Viewpoint, tree-top walks, bird hide. In addition to the above, the park boasts a viewpoint offering breathtaking views of the Limpopo-Shashe Rivers confluence, tree-top walks allowing access to the Limpopo River, and a bird hide at Manoutswa pan. Museum & interpretation centre. The archaeological site at Mapungubwe Mountain will soon have a museum detailing the rich culture of the people who once lived in a major African trading post pre-dating Great Zimbabwe. The museum will display artefacts showing how African people lived more than 1 000 years ago, and will form part of a cultural interpretation centre whose staff will narrate the history of Mapungubwe to visitors. SouthAfrica.info reporter
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 Centre of the kingdom, and exclusive domain of the royal family: Mapungubwe mountain, where the gold foil rhino, sceptre and bowl were excavated (Photo: University of Pretoria) Mapungubwe's famous gold foil rhinoceros Mapungubwe's famous gold foil rhinoceros (Photo: University of Pretoria)  Protective rock wall at the top of the stairway. Two elephants can just be made out in the distant grasslands below (Photo: Lucille Davie)

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