The Great Outdoors
The Kruger Lowveld region offers the mountain-biker a scenic paradise, numerous popular mountain-biking trails and an array of events.
The Orange Route, for example, is a 26km ride which starts on the west side of Graskop and makes its way through the forest and valleys down to the hidden Forest Falls. valley-view.co.za.
You can literally do a different ride every day of the week at Castle Rock MTB Trails, which has become a prime recreational and racing mecca for mountain-biking enthusiasts all over the country. Sabie is the perfect hub for an off-road cycling holiday, from competitive riders consolidating their training to families with little fledgling cyclists. 013 764 1149 or 083 789 7780.
Crystal Springs offers a number of routes through the forestry on the property. All routes are on jeep tracks, used for game-viewing drives - www.crystalsprings.co.za.
Mankele, situated in the heart of Mpumalanga at the foot of the escarpment, is fast becoming one of South Africa’s favourite places to mountain bike. With beautiful surroundings of tropical forests, open grass lands, rivers, dams, ravines, mountains and breath-taking views you have to give it a try - www.mankele.co.za.
Also not to be missed are the numerous mountain biking events that will take place throughout the region, including the Barberton XCM; National MTB Series #2 in Sabie; Sabie Xperience; Big 5 MTB Race in Komatipoort; and the Innibos MTB at Penryn - www,sunshineevents.co.za
Hiking and walking
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker who’s left footprints along the most challenging hiking trails in South Africa or a rookie with new boots, the walking and hiking routes in the Kruger Lowveld cater for everyone.
Sabie’s hiking trails are some of the most scenic in the country, passing through the region’s pine and gum tree plantations and the greenery of the indigenous forest in the valley below.
The Loerie Trail is a fairly challenging 10km walk, which starts at the Castle Rock Caravan Park; Forest Falls is a 4km circular route which starts at the Green Heritage picnic site; Misty Mountain Trails consist of a series of hiking paths that wind through indigenous forests, open grassland and pine plantations near the Sabie Long Tom route; and Graskop Day Trail is a 13km circular trail that begins at the Graskop Hut and is considered a fairly easy hike if you are moderately fit.
Most camps in the Kruger National Park offer morning or afternoon guided walks for residents overnighting in the camp. It also has seven wilderness trails, with a maximum of eight guests who are taken to small rustic camps in wilderness areas for three nights; and three backpacking trails, which last four days and three nights and are point-to-point guided walks for a maximum of eight guests. Book well in advance.
Close on 600 bird species have been recorded in the Kruger Lowveld region, making it one of South Africa’s premier birding destinations.
At higher altitude, in the Afro-montane forests and grasslands of the Mpumalanga escarpment, a keen birder may be lucky enough to see species such as Bush Blackcap, Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-Chat, Malachite Sunbird or Gurney’s Sugarbird. The chances of seeing White-necked Raven or Jackal Buzzard are also good.
The forested river valleys beneath the escarpment are home to the birders’ “holy grail”, the Narina Trogon, and other special species, such the threatened African Crowned Eagle and African Finfoot.
The Lowveld National Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit/Mbombela is home to an impressive number of bird species. During a walk along the extensive network of paths and boardwalks and through various habitats, a birder may be rewarded with the bright red flashes from the wings of a Purple-crested Turaco, colourful sunbirds and the African Paradise Flycatcher.
Over 500 bird species have been recorded in the Kruger National Park alone, including several endangered and vulnerable species, such as the Southern Ground Hornbill, Saddle-billed Stork, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Bateleur. The park’s camps are rich with birdlife, most of which are generally unconcerned by human activity. There are also several excellent bird hides from which a keen bird photographer can get great images.
Another “birding hotspot” is Saddleback Pass and Peddlars Bush, near Barberton, where one may be lucky enough to find Olive Woodpecker or Grey Cuckooshrike. Kaapschehoop and surrounds is also a birding paradise where species, such as Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock-Thrush, Mocking Cliff-Chat or Drakensberg Prinia, may be found.
The Kruger Lowveld is home to numerous popular fishing spots, so make sure you pack your rod and tackle as we’re bound to reel you in… hook, line and sinker.
There’s a wide variety of fishing on offer in the Kruger Lowveld, from tiger fish and yellow fish to bass, carp, kurper and even trout.
With numerous dams and rivers, some of which are considered to be the best fishing spots in South Africa, there’s no better place to hook ‘the big one’, whether you try your luck from a boat, canoe or a bank. Visit Witklip Dam (GPS co-ordinates: -25.238592, 30.903946) or Vygeboom Dam (-25.895387, 30.617811).
The Komati River is home to numerous species of fresh water fish. The most famous of these is the tiger fish, due to its supreme game fish status as Africa's best fresh water fighting fish. If you are serious about catching tiger fish, fish with a local guide so that you have the best chance of being successful. Guided half- or full-day boat fishing or bank fishing options are available in Komatipoort.
The upper Sabie River is one of the cleanest river systems in the country. A large number of indigenous fish, including small-scale and largescale yellow fish, can be found in the river. There are also several pools close to the river camp that are ideal for fishing. Visitors to Sabie River Adventures can book a bass fishing experience on board the aptly named boat, The Bass Seeker.
The Kruger Lowveld offers a host of options for those thrill seekers in search of an adrenaline fix. From river rafting or canyoning to zip-lining or a walking safari in the Kruger National Park, there’s something for everyone.
Most adventure activities take place in the Sabie River Valley, either in Hazyview, Sabie or somewhere in between. There’s river rafting down the Sabie River. Upstream, for those eager to get wet, there are tubing and canyoning activities that are guaranteed to please. In Hazyview you can go up in a microlight, whilst in Sabie you can go down into a cave.
In the timber plantations and forests, as well as along the river banks, you can go for a spin on a quad bike trail. If you would like to get your feet off the ground there's a zip-line, a canopy trail and a bridge swing.
In Graskop you can leap off a cliffside and swing across the gorge; and in Hoedspruit you can either raft or kayak down the Blyde River, or fly over a private game reserve in a hot-air balloon.
At Kaapschehoop you can ride on horseback among the wild horses that the area is famous for; in Barberton you can paraglide from Lone Tree Hill; while down at Komatipoort, you can try your hand at tiger fishing.
If walking on the wild side is your thing, there are numerous options on offer in the Kruger National Park, from sedate guided trails from one of the gates or camps to three-day wilderness trails in remote corners of the park; and four-day guided backpack trails where you carry everything with you as you experience the bush from a completely different perspective.
For golfers, the Kruger Lowveld region has a variety of courses all offering different altitudes, scenery and layouts.
Is it this variety that compels golfers to load up their clubs and get here, or is it simply the opportunity to play golf “in the wild”? There are several courses in the region where game roams feely on the fairways and onto the greens, notably at the Skukuza Golf Club in the Kruger National Park.
All courses in the region are open to the general golfing public, except Leopard Creek Country Club, which is available only to visitors playing with a member or guests staying at selected affiliated lodges.
Open Vehicle Safaris
An open vehicle safari, even for the regular Kruger National Park goer, is a worthwhile experience. In general, the guides are highly experienced and passionate about their “office”, some have guided in the park for many years and know the history of the lion prides, leopards and wild dog packs in certain areas. They would know, for instance, that a certain leopard frequents a specific waterhole and have often viewed it hunting there; they are aware of how long the big male lion has dominated a certain pride and how many offspring he has fathered; and they may even know which tree a pair of African Scops Owl return to, to breed each year. Guides love the Kruger National Park and want to share everything they know about it with their guests.
There are three different types of open vehicle safari options available within the Greater Kruger National Park region:
- A national parks safari: run by South African National Parks mainly out of the park’s camps. Usually, a three-hour safari experience departing from the camp in the early morning or late afternoon and returning after dark once all the self-drive visitors are already back.
- A private Kruger National Park safari: to be booked in advance and run by private companies, using experienced and knowledgeable guides. Guests can choose either a half- or full-day safari option departing from one of the gates or their hotel (if staying close to the park).
- Private game lodge safari: these take place at private game lodges. They are generally part of a fully-inclusive safari package and usually comprise of a morning game drive departing at dawn and an afternoon/evening game drive with a sundowner stop.
Try an open vehicle safari, you may be pleasantly surprised.
The Kruger Lowveld is the perfect camping destination and has great sites nestled amongst beautiful landscapes. Options vary from stands in a rustic setting, to luxury stands with own ablutions.
The Elangeni Resort, located near Waterval Boven and easily accessible on the N4 to Nelspruit, is the perfect stopover to the Kruger Lowveld (elangeni-resort.co.za); Badplaas is a firm favourite for those wanting to get away from it all (foreverbadplaas.co.za); Blyde River Canyon resort offers breath-taking views and is the perfect base for scenic hiking trails and taking in nature at its best (foreverblydecanyon.co.za); Panorama Rest Camp is as close as you can get to nature (panoramaviewchalets.co.za); and Hippo Waterfront, on the banks of the Crocodile River, provides unique hippo sightings (hippowaterfront.com).
The Kruger National Park offers experiences like no other. Camping and caravan sites in the southern Kruger are easily accessible from the Kruger Lowveld. Facilities include communal ablutions and communal kitchens. Choose from Berg en Dal Rest Camp, the quaint Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp, the much-loved Lower Sabie Rest Camp or the conveniently located Malelane Rest Camp. Other camps in the south include the wonderfully alluring Maroela Rest Camp, Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, the centrally located Skukuza Rest Camp and the ever popular Satara Rest Camp. Book at Kruger Lowveld Tourism, krugerlowveld.com or 013 755 1988.
Other fantastic camping spots include Mackers Riverbend (mackersriverbend.co.za),
Kiaat Bungalows and Caravan Parks (kiaatbungalows.co.za), Tranquil Nest (tranquilnest.co.za), Merry Pebbles (merrypebbles.co.za), Alkmaar Farmstay (alkmaarfarmstay.co.za), Lakeview Lodge and Caravan Park (bushveldlodge.co.za) and Swadini (foreverswadini.co.za).
There’s nothing nicer than a picnic on a warm Kruger Lowveld day, especially when you are visiting the Kruger National Park. Travel along the S100 or N’wanetsi River Road, one of the best-known drives in the park, and stop at the N’wanetsi Picnic Site, or halfway along the tarred road between Satara and Skukuza, you’ll find the Tshokwane picnic site, and you might even spot lions along the way. The picnic spot at Afsaal has also just been revamped.
Lowveld Botanical Gardens, situated 15 km outside White River, is an incredible 159 hectare area dominated by rocky, rugged river scenery. It is the perfect haven for visitors to enjoy a picnic.
The picnic spot at Mac Mac Pools is beautiful. It is located 13km from Sabie, on the R532 to Graskop. It is well grassed, shaded and, mostly, well maintained. Picnic tables and benches, toilets and braai facilities are available. Swimming and splashing can be enjoyed in the refreshing, crystal clear mountain stream pools.
The picnic spot at Lone Creek Falls is another favourite. Drive through Sabie towards Graskop. Take the Lone Creek Falls road by turning left at the last street (Lydenburg Road) in Sabie and follow the road for 8km. This picnic spot is well grassed and shaded, with braai facilities. Curio stalls are located on the terrain.
There are no official picnic spots on the Long Tom Pass (R37 between Sabie and Lydenburg/Mashishing), but at least two of the lookout points have picnic tables and benches.
Whether they are first-timers or old hands, road bikers or off-roaders, speed freaks or tourists, most enthusiasts agree that the Kruger Lowveld is a motor cyclist’s haven. With mountain passes, curvy routes and fantastic scenery along the way, there are few places that can rival the Kruger Lowveld as South Africa’s most popular motor biking destination. There are certain routes that any motor biking enthusiast must ride and mark off their bucket list.
For the road biker:
- Sabie to Hazyview (tar): 44km of concentrated riding on the R536.
- Long Tom Pass (tar): Lydenburg/Mashishing to Sabie on the R37. 56km of sheer riding pleasure and cambered excitement along one of South Africa’s most famous mountain passes.
- Old Gold Diggers Route (tar): 310km circular route starting and ending in Sabie, taking the rider through White River then via the spectacular Mara/Boulders Road and onto Barberton. Returning via Nelspruit/Mbombela, Kaapschehoop, Sudwala Caves and onto Sabie.
- Canyon Round Trip (tar): 265km again starting and ending in Sabie, taking the rider via the historical town of Pilgrim’s Rest and over the scenic Robbers Pass before joining the R36 and travelling to Ohrigstad. 25km north of Ohrigstad, turn right onto the R532 and follow the Panorama Route via the various view sites and waterfalls, through Graskop and back to Sabie.
For the off-roader:
- Casper’s Nek Pass (dirt): an unbelievable 60km off-road ride linking the R36 and the Vaalhoek Road. Head to Pilgrim’s Rest or take the R532 back to Graskop.
- Old Harbour Road (dirt): 48km from Long Tom Pass down into the Sabie River Valley, towards Sabie.