South Africa’s lowveld, wedged between the Mpumalanga section of the Drakensberg and Mozambique, is part of a vast subtropical region of savanna that stretches north through Zimbabwe and Zambia as far as Central Africa. Closely associated at the turn of the last century with fortune-seekers, hunters, gold-diggers and adventurers, these days the South African lowveld’s claim to fame is its proximity to the Kruger National Park and the adjacent private game reserves. Although several of the towns on the game park fringes are pleasant enough, most people come here to get into big-game country.
Largest of the lowveld towns, and the capital of Mpumalanga, is Nelspruit, accessible by air and bus (including buses from Maputo in Mozambique). East of Nelspruit, the N4 runs close to the southern border of the Kruger, providing easy access to its Malelane and Crocodile Bridge gates; the latter is just 12km north of Komatipoort, a humid frontier town on the border with Mozambique. From Nelspruit, you can also head 32km south to Barberton, an attractive settlement in the hills with strong mining connections, or continue another 41km to Swaziland.
The R40 north of the provincial capital passes through White River, Hazyview, Klaserie, Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa, a series of small towns that act as bases for exploring Kruger. Each town is well supplied with accommodation, and has a Kruger entrance gate nearby; tours are available from some. The closest to Nelspruit and an entry point into the Park, Hazyview is now leader of the pack. Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa actually fall within Limpopo Province, but for the sake of continuity have been included in this chapter.Read More
BARBERTON, 36km south of Nelspruit, began its urban existence after gold was discovered in 1883. An influx of shopkeepers, hoteliers, barmen, prostitutes, even ministers of religion, soon joined the diggers in the growing frontier town, which consisted of tents, tin, thatch and mud, with nearly every second building functioning as a boozing joint. During the fabulous boom of the 1880s the mines slipped out of the grasp of the small-time prospectors and came under the control of the large corporations that still own them today. There are seven working mines around Barberton, each with its own entertainment venue for miners only, which means you won’t find miners packing out public bars as in the wild days of old.
This is the best place in the country to take an underground gold-mining tour, in a working mine, or learn to do gold panning. This attraction aside, Barberton also has a colonial backwater charm, reasonably priced accommodation, a handful of historical sights, tropical vegetation and an attractive setting in a basin surrounded by mountains.
- Kruger’s western flank