Set right up against the northern border of South Africa, uniting Botswana and Zimbabwe, lies Mapungubwe National Park – an extensive savannah landscape situated at the meeting place of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. This is the land of sandstone formations, mopane woodlands, brooding baobabs, ancient floodplains and unique riverine forests that form a dramatic backcloth for the wealth of animal life – elephant, giraffe, buffalo, white rhino, gemsbok and other antelope, extensive bir life, and the more elusive mammal like hyenas, leopards and lions.
Mapungubwe is South Africa’s first kingdom, a highly complex society that marked the heart of a pre-Shona kingdom between 1050 AD and 1270 AD, only to be abandoned in the 14th century. The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape – the virtually untouched remains of the palace sites, the settlement area dependent upon them, and two capital sites that remain – was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and forms part of the Mapungubwe National Park.
The Cultural Landscape provides visitors with a unique portrait of the social and political structures of a society that traded with China and India, was regarded as the most complex society in southern Africa and was the first society since the Bushmen to settle in South Africa. The kingdom was regarded as the forerunner of the Zimbabwe civilization and at its height, Mapungubwe, which means place of the stone of wisdom, was the largest kingdom in the African sub-continent. Some 5000 people appeared to live around Mapungubwe Hill where their ‘sacred’ leader lived in seclusion from his people.
After the collapse of Mapungubwe’s society, it was forgotten until the wealth of artefacts on top of Mapungubwe Hill – a sandstone oval-shaped hill with sheer vertical cliffs and a plateau of about 300 metres known as the ‘place of jackals’, accessible only by means of two very steep and narrow paths – were discovered.
Mapungubwe National Park: One of the country’s newest parks, Mapungubwe opened to the public in September 2004. Not only does it provide the public with an awesome window on the rich and varied animal life in this part of South Africa, but it is a chance to explore Mapungubwe Mountain and the culture that, despite being discovered in 1932, was kept largely hidden from the public until recently. This discovery included three findings of significance: a beautiful golden rhinoceros made from gold foil nailed around a wooden interior, and a gold sceptre and bowl, all uncovered from the excavation of twenty three graves on the hilltop site and which are on display at the Mapungubwe Museum at the University of Pretoria.
But the highlight of anyone’s visit to this incredible part of the world is the beauty of the area – huge boulders, rocky koppies, sheer cliff faces, wild fig trees that cling to rock faces and huge indigenous trees that stand tall amidst grassland. Mapungubwe is simply stunning. Together with the Tuli Block in Botswana and the Tuli Safari area in Zimbabwe, the Mapungubwe National Park, which covers some 28 000 hectares in its own right, forms part of the ambitious Limpopo / Shashe Transfrontier Park – a joining of nations in the provision of an unlimited area in which animals can freely wander.