The Mapungubwe National Park which is located at the border of South Africa and two other countries that is Botswana and Zimbabwe and is best known for being a home to some of the best cultural sites in the country and it is also a UNESCO heritage site. The Mapungubwe Park has set up a few projects that helped the locals living around it through employment and this has improved on their standards of living. Mapungubwe is a UNESCO heritage site and it was given this status after the finding of human remains that date back to over 1000 years by archeologists. It is believed that the people who lived here before were the most complex groups of people to live in the southern part of the African continent with their class-based system as a way of life. When you visit the area, there are clear indications that the elders in the group always gave a wide gap from the rest of the group members that is the elders lived up on a hill whereas the rest lived in the valleys thereby showing the class based system.
The Mapungubwe hill
The Mapungubwe hill is where all the civilization begun from and it is where the Mapungubwe people and their culture collapsed after many years of flourishing. There were very many people who were living around the hill with the elders living at the top of the hill to show their class. The Mapungubwe hill is located in Limpopo and this was known to be a home to a large herd of elephants which made it an ivory state. The elephants were hunted down and the ivory traded which made the people who lived in the area even more successful.
There was a good climate that was experienced around the hill and the locals found themselves engaging in agriculture to boost their economy. By 1200 AD, the society had become a formidable empire that almost ruled over the whole of Southern Africa. No one knows what really happened what really caused the collapse of the empire because the signs that are seen today show no forced entry thereby ruling out the attack theory from their enemies. Some archeologists however believe that when the weather changed around the hill, the locals could no longer carry out any farming and that is why they migrate to the different parts of the country thereby leading to its collapse.
After many years after the collapse of the empire, the people who came to stay around the hill regarded it as auspicious and decided not to bother with it and it was declared a taboo for people to live there. But with the coming of colonialists to the country, the whites were not easily scared off by the taboo issues and ended up climbing up the hill where they found a lot of graves and other gold carved items and this is where the excavation begun from in search of other artefacts and this has been on going to date.
Getting around the Mapungubwe National Park
Driving is the best way to get around the National Park and there are several routes that you can use while when you get there. The Tshungulu eco route which will take about 6 hours for you to complete is one of the many routes that you can also take while in Mapungubwe. It is filled with rocks and sand and not so much visited by tourists who are in a hurry. You need to get someone who knows how to drive along this route as that will be one of the few ways that you will get to enjoy the beautiful scenery that comes in form of wildlife and the un-discovered part of the park.
Driving through the Mapungubwe is a lot of work but in an exciting way. When you get to the main entrance of the Mapungubwe National Park, there are two routes that will take you around the Park and one of them leads to the canopy tree walk. This route starts when you turn left along the Leokwe camp and you can also get to enjoy picnics when you sue this route. When you turn on the left turn after you enter into the Park and when you take this route, you will have the chance to see the poacher’s corner, the Khongoni viewing loop besides trying out the canopy tree walk.
The Park in total has about 45 kilometers of roads mapped out for tourists to use and while some of them will lead you into some of the best game spotting places, others lead to housing that belongs to the staff that works within the Park. The reason as to why you will need a 4×4 is because these roads are either filled with gravel or sand.
There are several activities that tourists can engage in while in Mapungubwe some of which have been listed below so that you can take your pick and these can be carried out all year round.
Birding in Mapungubwe National Park
Mapungubwe is a birder’s paradise with a recorded number of about 400 bird species. There are several birding spots from where the tourists can easily view the birds and the most used birding spot in the Park is the Limpopo treetop boardwalk where you have a direct view of bird species that breed from the canopy.
Although birding can be done all throughout the year, the best time to go for birding in the Mapungubwe is during the wet season which is experienced from November to April. During the wet season, the migratory birds fly into the National Park joining the endemic ones and this increases the number of bird species that you are bound to see while in Mapungubwe. Some of the bird species that you should look out for include:
- The stripped pipit
- The southern ground hornbill
- Thick billed cuckoo
- Verreaux’s eagle
- Southern carmine bee-eater
- The olive tree warbler
- Meyer’s parrot
- Senegal coucal
- Pel’s fishing owl
- African barred owlet
- Allen’s gallinule
- Black backed puffback
- Black winged pranticole
- Cinnamon breasted bunting
- Barred wren warbler
- Black stork
- Caspian plover
- Common cuckoo
- Eastern golden Oriole
- Harlequin quail
- Meve’s starling
- Kori bustard
- Lesser spotted eagle and many more other bird species.
Game viewing in the Mapungubwe
Mapungubwe is not really a top destination for game drives but this does not mean that there are no wild animals for you to see while on your game drive and it will give you a clear feel of the wilderness. Mapungubwe can be visited all year round although the best time would be in the dry season which is experienced in the months of May to October. Some of the animal species that you should look out for include:
- White rhinos
- The greater Kudu
- Red hartebeest
Mountain biking in the Mapungubwe
Mountain biking in Mapungubwe will take you around the National Park past the baobab, into the sandy road trails where you will get to see some of the famous wildlife in the Park that is the meerkat. The bike routes are clearly marked but you will still need a tour guide to take you around the Park. Before you head out for the ride, make sure that you have a lot of water on you, protective gear that is a helmet, kneecaps and elbow caps and check to see whether your bike is in good condition.
Canopy treetop walk
A Canopy treetop in the Mapungubwe is one of the best ways of exploring the National Park especially for tourists who love adrenaline high activities and are not afraid of heights. Located on the left hand side of the Park, the Canopy walk will take you past the some wildlife and once you are on the platform, you will have a clear view of the neighboring countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe, the Limpopo River and the rock outcrops found within the park. A few guidelines will be given to you by the tour guide and you do not need prior experience in order to be able to engage in the treetop walk. Carry a camera with you so that you get to capture some good memories.
The Mapungubwe museum
The Mapungubwe museum is a home to the famous rhino, the bowl and a scepter that were discovered during the excavation process and they have become the pride of the national Park. They are on display in a small room from where tourists can easily see them and the caretakers of the museum tell the wonderful story that surrounds the three objects. The gold rhino has different cultural meaning to the different groups of people within South Africa and it is of great importance to them as well. There is a story of about a traditional healer locally known as a Sangoma came to the museum and claimed that each time he would look at the rhino, his ancestors would tell him to take it away so that he would not be cursed. When he was told it was only the president who could grant him his request, he walked out and probably tried to see the president but no one really knows whether he was successful.
All the three objects that were made of gold are over 700 years old and are believed to have been made by the earlier settlers in the area. And besides the three main objects, there are also textbooks on display in the museum that are used to tell the story of Mapungubwe more clearly. The caretakers at the moment are trying to find the perfect place permanent for the gold rhino to rest although no conclusive place has been decided on.
What you need to know before you visit the Mapungubwe National Park
Mapungubwe National Park is located in an area that is considered to have a lot of wildlife that are dangerous and some of that is why there are some restrictions that were put up by the management and a few notes to visitors of the National Park and these have been listed below.
- You are not to use any drones while in the Park.
- You need to go with a full fuel tank because there are not fuel stations nearby.
- All the drives, bush walks and any other activity carried out in the National Park is guided because of the dangerous animals that roam around the Park.
- The Park is famous for its cultural heritage and not a hot spot for those that love animal viewing.
- Camping is allowed in the designated areas but you will need an extra torch for better lighting.
- Take a 4×4 vehicle if you do not want to get stuck within the National Park especially during the wet season.
- Cash and credit cards are the only mode of payments allowed in the National Park.
What you need for a trip to the Mapungubwe Park
- Strong hiking boots
- Anti-malaria tablets since the National Park is found in a malaria zone.
- Both warm and light clothes since it will be hard to predict the weather in the Desert.
- A tour guide who is well versed with the National Park.
- A lot of water so that you keep hydrated.
Accommodation in Mapungubwe National Park
There are several places used for accommodation while in Mapungubwe most of which are self-catering and the most commonly used include the following:
- The Vhembe wilderness camp
This is located in the eastern part of the Park and has four cabins that tourists can use when they visit. The cabins have a bathroom and a toilet inside with two single beds and there is also no electricity at the camp. Solar is mostly used and they also a poll from where you can cool off and a kitchen where you can get good meals during your stay.
- The Leokwe camp
This is considered to be the main camp in the Mapungubwe and it is located near the treetop Canopy. It has a great view of the red sand dunes, the rooms are grass thatched and were constructed in form of huts and there is also a swimming pool hidden in the rocks from where you can cool off.
- The Tshungulu lodge
This is located in the western part of the National Park and unlike the rest, it is a luxury accommodation facility that has 6 rooms that can accommodate 12 people. Surrounded by red rocks and a few scattered trees, there is a platform from where you can watch the different wildlife around the park and the rooms are self-contained with air conditioning.