Limpopo Hikes Soutpansberg: Ancient Kingdoms

On-a-budget Thrills

The following excerpt is taken from Wild Weekends – Places to Go, Things to Do (Bookstorm) by adventure travel experts and Sunday Times travel supplement writers, Claire Keeton and Marianne Schwankhart, who is also a photographer. The book is ideal for families – not just for adrenaline junkies, and the authors have worked together to make sure you never have to spend another weekend at home wishing you were doing something more exciting! Find it for R70 from good bookstores nationwide.

SOUTPANSBERG: ANCIENT KINGDOMS
South Africa’s northern-most mountain range, the Soutpansberg, often gets overlooked in favour of the more imposing Drakensberg. But like the reclusive cousin at a family gathering, the Soutpansberg has its own charms if you take the time to explore them.

Extending 130 kilometres from west to east, the Soutpansberg has sheltered people for centuries, with the San and Venda inhabitants leaving behind relics of their civilisations in its hills and caves. Besides the rock art, you can visit well-known archaeological sites, such as the former mountain kingdom of Thulamela, west of Pafuri, or discover hidden traces of the past.

South Africa’s northern-most mountain range, the Soutpansberg, often gets overlooked in favour of the more imposing Drakensberg. But like the reclusive cousin at a family gathering, the Soutpansberg has its own charms if you take the time to explore them.

We went walking in the Luonde Mountain Reserve, on the upper slopes of Luonde Mountain (formerly called Piesang Kop), and deep in the forest came across ruined dwellings, which were, according to Wits University researchers, the outposts of the ancient Zimbabwean empire. The six crumbling stone walls and enclosures are protected, and walks to this site require a guide.

A trail to a viewpoint near the top of Luonde is shown by coloured markings on rocks and trees. The Luonde Mountain Reserve belongs to several farmers. The owners of the Molozi farmstead, where we stayed as guests, have organised more than 50 surveys on the trees, shrubs, animals, birds and snakes found in the reserve. The Vhembe Biosphere is registered by UNESCO.

Historical sites are only one of the attractions of this region. Tree and bird species abound, as we observed while hiking through the dappled Luonde Forest, which can become shrouded in mist. Soutpansberg Tourism says the sprawling range of hills has no less than 555 tree species – you can find 145 species at the Indigenous Tree Sanctuary in Makhado (Louis Trichardt) and about 540 types of birds. The number of birds is hardly surprising given the range of habitats here, from grasslands to different types of forest, acacia thornveld and riverine terrain. Among the birds we saw were the purple turaco, the scarlet-chested sunbird, the blackbreasted snake eagle, the grey-headed bushshrike, the African paradise flycatcher, the golden-tailed woodpecker and the black-headed oriole.

One of the recommended birding sites is the 9 300-hectare Blouberg Nature Reserve (close to Casteel), which has a steep, 400-metre wall that ranks as one of the premier rock-climbing destinations in South Africa. The climbing routes at Blouberg are excellent, and when you climb in this remote region, you are more likely to spot Cape vultures than people.

The Blouberg Wilderness guided hiking trail opened in 2012 in the Blouberg Nature Reserve. KuneMoya manages this reserve, which has one of the biggest Cape vulture colonies and best vulture viewing points in the country. A so-called vulture restaurant (a feeding site for these endangered birds) affords visitors close-up observation.

The baobabs, tamboti woodland, fig forest and the Brak River floodplain are among the distinctive features KuneMoya lists in the reserve... These trees command your attention with their massive girth, witch-like branches and upside-down appearance, and we decided to follow the Baobab Meander route in Limpopo, near Musina. These giants are increasingly threatened, despite legislation protecting them...

When to go
The Soutpansberg is wetter in summer than winter. Yet it tends to be a relatively dry region without extreme temperatures, making it suitable to visit all year round.

Contacts and rates

  • Access to the Luonde Mountain Reserve can be arranged through the Molozi forestry manager. Tel 082 901 2899
  • Blouberg Nature Reserve: rates per adult R30, per child R15, per vehicle R30. Tel 078 869 5240; web www.bloubergreserve.co.za; email info@kunemoya.co.za
  • To follow the scenic Baobab Meander, turn off the N1 towards Tshipise, north of Polokwane but before Musina (formerly Messina). You can visit the Baobab Tree Reserve at Musina.