Mapungubwe itself is perched on a steep, rocky hill and is only accessible through a single narrow cleft. It was once a natural fortress and the center of the Mapungubwe culture, of which archaeologists have found abundant evidence, including artifacts of gold. The Southern Terrace was lived in from around 1030 to 1290 AD (about 260 years). The hilltop was lived in for some 70 years from 1220 to 1290 AD. The site has been a national landmark since 1984.
The area was inhabited by an Iron Age community, becoming wealthy because of trade with distant empires like Egypt, India and China. The Mapungubwe National Park is where archaeologists dug up the very well-known golden rhino, as well as other evidence of what must have been a wealthy African kingdom. Sandstone formations, mopane woodlands and riverine forests with baobab trees entice many varieties of animal life. Lucky visitors might spot predators like lion or hyena. Birders will be able to count some 400 species, including the Kori bustard, tropical boubous, Pel's fishing owl and many others.
At Mapungubwe National Park, visitors can indulge in guided trips to cultural as well as archaeological sites; visit the Tree Top Walk and a range of bird hides. Self-guided trails, bird watching trips and night game drives are also available. You will be given the chance to visit the graveyard at the top of Mapungubwe Hill, see a natural amphitheater and walk the territory once trod upon by the ancestral Mapungubwe people where wildlife now reigns.
The treetop walkway overlooking the Limpopo River near Leokwe camp offers guests magnificent outlooks over the river and the landscape. The walk is also a great way to become acquainted with the various trees found in the park, as they are identified by placards. The walkway ends at Maloutswa bird hide, which was washed away in 2014.
The viewing decks at the confluence of the rivers - which encompasses four decks for various purposes, such as the sunset viewing deck - is a great place to gain insight into the significance and terrain of the park. From here you can see where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe share their borders at the meeting place of the Sashe and Limpopo rivers. It is also a great viewing point for animals frequenting the rivers.
Taking a walk up to Mapungubwe Hill to discover an ancient African Kingdom is one of the most profound historical experiences you can imagine. It is eerily enchanting to walk amongst the remains of a powerful tribe that is estimated to have lived there between 1200 and 1290. They left suddenly, leaving behind gold and precious artifacts. The question is, why?
Mapungubwe is situated in the far northern reaches of South Africa, on the border of Botswana. Guests traveling to the park will be welcomed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, where they will be assisted in transferring to Polokwane. From there guests will either be chartered to Mapungubwe’s private airstrip or transferred in an air-conditioned vehicle.
Guests will be transported via a private, air-conditioned 4x4 vehicle to the park from either Polokwane or a previous destination on your itinerary. The park is located approximately 200km from Polokwane and offers great scenic views of the South African landscape. Driving options are also available from Botswana’s side.
Mapungubwe is great to visit during a large part of the year. The summer months between November and February can be extremely hot, however. The summer season is also the rainfall season, but rain is scarce (10 rainy days per year on average) and provides little comfort for the extreme heat, with summer temperatures sometimes rising to 45°C.
The dry season is the best time for game viewing, which fortunately falls within the cooler winter months between May and September. During the dry season, animals can easily be tracked to the various water sources in the park. Birders wishing to visit the park should do so in spring or early summer to avoid the intense heat.
Mapungubwe National Park was only proclaimed on Heritage Day, 24 September 2004, but was already established as Vhembe Dongola National Park on 9 April 1998. Eighty years earlier, conservation started in the area when General Smuts put aside a block of nine farms for the preservation of natural vegetation and wildlife. It became known as the Dongola Botanical Reserve. This conservation area was then disbanded in 1949 after the National Party won the elections in 1948 and expropriated farms were returned to farmers. Only in 1879 was conservation put forward again when Vhembe Nature Reserve was established.
Mapungubwe National Park is of great importance for the paleontological and anthropological treasures buried in the landscape. Two of the earliest plant-eating dinosaurs - Plateosauravus, that grew 10 meters long and lived 210 million years ago, and Massospondylus, that grew 6 meters long and lived 195 million years ago, have been excavated here. The most famous discovery are the remnants of the Leopard Kopje people, renowned for being Africa’s first indigenous kingdom that lived here between 1220 and 1300 AD. Graves of their royalty were found in the 1930’s with golden artifacts. Mapungubwe has many more sites of human activity dating back as far as 300 000 years ago.
Mapungubwe National Park has all of the Big Five, excluding the buffalo. Elephants are the only common Big Five specie. Leopards and rhinos are spotted on occasion, and lions only very rarely. The chances of spotting a giraffe are quite good, and you'll also occasionally encounter hippos. Many predators occur here, including wild dog, cheetah, hyena and caracal. The chances of spotting these predators are fairly low, however. There are nevertheless a multitude of species to keep anyone entertained, such as curious baboons and vervet monkeys. A number of antelope species occur, from klipspringer to eland, and the shy aardvark is rather common in Mapungubwe.
The park contains 17 species of bats, including the Wahlberg's epauletted fruit bat and the Egyptian fruit bat. Other lesser mammals range from warthogs and honey badgers to civets to porcupines. Reptiles are plentiful, and you might spot anything from Nile crocodile to rock monitor lizard. Be wary of highly venomous snakes such as black mamba and puff adders, and keep an eye out for the large southern African rock python. Bird watchers will delight, as 387 birds have been recorded in Mapungubwe National Park and over 400 species in the surrounding area. Verreaux's eagle occurs in high density, cuckoos are abundant and, if you are lucky enough, even Pel's fishing owl may be seen.
Mapungubwe is situated in the Limpopo Province on the southern floodplains of the Limpopo River, which is also the natural border between South Africa and Botswana. From the park, you can actually see the meeting place of the Limpopo and Shahe rivers, which is the border between Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. It has long been proposed that the areas be transformed into a single conservation unit called the Limpopo-Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area, which will incorporate the Tuli block in Zimbabwe and the Mashatu Reserve in Botswana. With memorandums that have been signed by the member countries, the natural integration is slowly taking place.
The area has a wide range of habitat types that, in turn, cultivate a multitude of diverse plant species such as acacia, fig, fever and Commiphora trees. The water-rich soils of the floodplains mean that many of the trees have grown to enormous sizes, including some very large baobabs, with one of the trees boasting a circumference of 31m. The area also bear great cultural significance and is a proclaimed World Heritage Site. The remains of the ancient civilization found on top of the Mapungubwe Mountain have become one of the focal points of the park's conservation efforts. The famous Golden Rhino was found here and can be viewed in the park.
One of the activities on top of the list of things to do in Mapungubwe is a visit to the museum. Here you can view the celebrated Golden Rhino and learn about the rich cultural heritage that makes this park unlike any other in the world. It also imparts knowledge on the landscape and its wildlife. The real jewel of the park, however, is experiencing the magnificent scenery and historic inheritance yourself. The heritage tour offers visitors the perfect opportunity to step back in time whilst encountering the animals that now rule the region.
Some of the areas that are spectacular to see include the confluence of the Limpopo and Shahe rivers and the route of the Lost Kingdoms. Game drives through the park are also available and night drives are particularly popular, as guests go in search of the nocturnal wildlife. Guided bush walks are another activity that offer guests a more comprehensive experience of the bush. Moreover, the park plays host to amazing bush braais next to a dam which is an exquisite venue from which to watch the sun set. The Tree Top Walk is a great way to view the landscape from a different perspective and concludes perfectly at a hide that overlooks the majestic Limpopo River.
Mapungubwe National Park may host an abundance of wildlife, but the park's fascinating historical sites and unique geology are what really sets it apart. Savor the privilege of an unorthodox glimpse into the past.
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