The Nyl River flows through the reserve, and the vlei areas on both sides thereof form one of the largest grass floodplains in South Africa. To protect part of this vlei area, together with a great variety of plant communities, and to utilize its unlimited possibilities for intensive research into the functioning of the Savannah ecosystem in the interest of both nature conservation and agriculture, the province purchased this farm of 3 100 hectares.
The reserve is the natural habitat for reedbuck, impala, kudu, steenbok and duiker. During floods, bird life in the vlei is a great attraction and it is considered one of the most important breeding places for water birds. Up to 150 species has been identified in one day. It is also the sole breeding place of some South African water bird species. There are 400 species of birds.
Hans Merensky Nature Reserve
The Reserve is a 5 200ha expanse of bushveld that is a sanctuary for a range of wildlife.
The nature reserve was proclaimed in 1954 and is named after Dr. Hans Merensky, a one• time local farmer, discoverer and considered internationally to be one of the finest analytical geologists of all time. Dr. Merensky has to his credit some of the greatest mineral discoveries of the entire South African geological scene. The richest deposits of alluvial gem diamonds ever found, at Alexander Bay; incalculable riches in platinum at Lydenburg, Rustenburg and Mokopane (Potgietersrus); the world’s biggest chrome deposits near Polokwane (Pietersburg); immense vermiculite, phosphate and copper ore bodies at Phalaborwa.
Situated within the reserve is “Die Eiland”, a well-organized, popular resort on the banks of the Great Letaba River. Near “Die Eiland” is a Tsonga kraal open-air museum, a reconstruction of a typical settlement consisting of headman’s quarters, sleeping huts, cooking shelter, grain store, and sacrificial site. The residents, dressed traditionally, give demonstrations of pottery, woodcraft, basketry, hut building and the ancient arts of music and dance.
Wolkberg Wilderness Area
The Wolkberg Wilderness Area near Tzaneen, a scenic 22000ha domain, was proclaimed South Africa’s seventh official wilderness area. It lies in a cup where the northern Drakensberg meets the Strydpoort mountains, creating a wilderness of drama, variety and glorious vegetation that includes both bushveld and grass veld. Patches of tropical rain forest occur in the valleys, with trees such as beech, kiaat, bushwillow, wild teak, tree fuchsias, yellowwood, lemonwood and marula. In the mist belts on the mountains are unique floral ecosystems. The varied habitats of the Wolkberg Wilderness support a wide variety of wildlife. This is the catchment area for the Letaba River. It is also a watershed for the Olifants and the Letaba.
Maagabeng pinnacle can be seen from here. The Sotho hid here when the Swazi attacked them. They were besieged on the mountain until they all died. In the 1940’s the bones could still be seen lying around in the area.
Gen. Smuts attacked Malaboch here, firing on him with a canon but he was never defeated.
Musina Nature Reserve
The tall, tapering trunk of the Baobab tree, topped by a canopy of twisted, root-like branches, is one of nature’s most freakish sights. The appearance of the Baobab is so decidedly odd that the early inhabitants believed that it grew upside down. The young trees are so unlike mature specimens that Africans say Baobabs are dumped whole from heaven. The Arabian legend has it that the devil plucked up the Baobab, thrust its branches into the earth and left its roots in the air. One tribal legend has it that at the beginning of life the gods provided all animals with seeds and plants to cultivate. Last of all came the hyena and it received the Baobab. In keeping with its supposedly stupid nature the hyena planted the tree upside down.
Tswana and Sotho “Rain-doctors” will use the ripe black berries of the Nastergal plant (deadly nightshade) in their ceremonies. If eaten ripe the berries taste of licorice.
These lordly wonders of the veld can be spotted at various locations alongside the national road between Polokwane (Pietersburg) and the Zimbabwe border – but nowhere is there a better collection than at the Musina Nature Reserve 6km south of Musina. It is unique parkland established primarily for the Baobab’s preservation and protection. Today a strict conservation policy is enforced which has given every surviving specimen a number. The reserve is home to a forest of around 12 000 baobabs, including one giant that is 25m high with a trunk circumference of 16m. It is believed that transport riders of the past used this tree as a shop. It is named “Le–boom”. In fact Baobabs have been used, because of their hollow trunks, as houses, prisons, shops, storage barns and bus shelters. One tree outside Leydsdorp was a pub during the gold rush. One in Katima Mulilo has a flush toilet. About 9km outside Pafuri on the road to Punda Maria is a hill with a lone Baobab on it (Baobab Hill). Under the tree is a plaque commemorating the workers on the gold mines who were recruited here from Mozambique. Paul Neergard of the WNLA organisation recruited in the period 1919 to 1927 black workers in Mozambique for the Rand Gold Mines. They were then transported on foot, ox wagon and donkey carts from Pafuri to Soekmekaar – the railway junction. A second plaque on the opposite side of the road points to another Baobab. In 1891 Gideon van Weiligh, who surveyed the Transvaal-Mozambique border passed here with two colleagues, Vos and Machado. Machado carved his name on the trunk of the tree and the plaque says, “Please do not follow his example”.
The Baobab (Adansonia digitata) Bombacaceae family, dominates its surroundings with its bulky form and unique character. They are found in low rainfall areas and are believed to live up to 4 000 years old. Almost every part of the tree is useful to man. The leaves can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable. The pollen of the large whitish flower yields an excellent “blue” but has no scent, giving off a bad smell if bruised. The seeds, found in a pear shaped pod about 30cm long, are pleasant to suck, or can be ground and roasted to make a palatable coffee, or crushed to make an acid porridge. The acid pith of the fruit is used to make this porridge, which is believed to make you brave and strong. The fruit pod contains tartaric acid (used in sherbet) therefore the Baobab is often called the cream of tartar tree. The spongy wood can be used to make ropes or paper.
There is a belief that spirits haunt their blossoms. This is why some people will not pick a blossom as it is part lion (the smell is said to be similar) and the belief is that the animal will then come and devour you. If the inside of the tree is burnt it will carry on growing. An old Baobab can create its own ecosystem. Elephants browse the leaves and strip the bark. Baboons feast on the fruit; birds’ nest and tiny insects scurry in crevices.
It is a remarkable source of water in drought regions; indigenous people would drill a hole in the trunk and tap a bung onto it. About 1000 gallons of water could then be utilised in a drought. The bark is also used for fever, malaria, coughs, chest ailments, asthma, chest poultices and many other ailments. Some tribes believe that to drink the water in which the seeds have been soaked will protect them against crocodiles. Besides its botanical bounty, the Reserve also has a variety of wildlife.
Another unique feature of this reserve are the world’s oldest rock formations, found in the Sand River. Known as the Sand River gneiss, the rock is estimated by geologists to be about 3 800 million years old.
B/ouberg Nature Reserve
This reserve boasts some of the biggest yellowwood trees in the country. The altitude of the park varies between 800m and 21 OOm above sea level, which gives it a great variety of Eco systems. Many new plants have been discovered here, amongst others a cedar which is related to the cedar in the Cedarberg Mountains. It has the largest breeding colony of vultures in the country. There are 5 species of Vultures in the reserve.
The Percy Fyfe Nature Reserve
Famous for having saved the sable antelope from extinction, 30km northeast of Mokopane (Potgietersrus) and is home to many species of antelope, including a large herd of blesbuck. The reserve is also used as a breeding station for tsessebe, roan and sable antelope. Started by a very poor man who sold vegetables. He had no children.
Vaaltyn Makapan Reserve
Less than 16km from Mokopane (Potgietersrus) on the road to the Zaaiplaats tin mine. Here there is a clump of Ana Trees (Faidherbia a!bida), there are eight mature trees varying between 18 and 24m in height, the trunk of the largest specimen measures 6m in circumference at breast height. Ana trees occur widely in warm, humid localities along the rivers from Damaraland to the Waterberg and further north. Although they are not a botanical rarity, they seldom occur in the Mokopane (Potgietersrus) district. Apart from their botanical interest, these trees have certain historical associations. In his book Native Timber Trees of the Springbok Flats, Galpin records the tradition that David Livingstone camped under them during one of his journeys, the Voortrekkers held meetings there and that the Bantu of the area regard the trees as sacred.
Ben Alberts Nature Reserve
Ben Alberts was a former Mine Manager. Lying at the foot of the Ysterberg near Thabazimbi (Mountain of iron). Established as a recreational facility for the employees of lscor when Thabazimbi was laid out as a town in 1953. It covers 2 OOOha and is watered by the Crocodile River.
Ben Lavin Nature Reserve
Low tariffs, seclusion of rustic bush camps and close to several water holes makes this a special experience. Situated 12km east of Louis Trichardt. Good hiking trails. Cars may be used but it is better to explore on foot. Situated in the foothills of the Soutpansberg it covers 2500ha. The reserve is situated in an exozone, which is a convergence of two or more veld types, and thus the reason for the high tree density. Vegetation – the reserve comprises a mixed to sourish bushveld type.
Ben and Molly Lavin bought the Vyeboomspruit in 1929. Although cattle farmers, the Lavins were very conservation conscious for their time and conserved game species such as warthog, kudu and imp_ala as well as a host of smaller mammals.
After the death of Ben Lavin in 1970, Mrs. Lavin donated the land to the Wildlife Society in 1975 on condition that it was maintained and managed as a nature reserve, open to the public.
In April 2002 ownership of Ben Lavin Nature Reserve was handed over to the Manavhela community. The restoration of land to the Manavhela community follows a landmark settlement agreement between the Manavhela Land Claims Committee and the Wild Life & Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA).
This area used to be known as Ha-Manavhela. At the end of the First World War the Manavhela community, who occupied the land even before 1900, saw the arrival of the war veteran Ben Lavin. Shortly after his arrival the then Native Commissioner of Louis Trichardt informed the Manavhela community that Ben Lavin was the new owner of the land on which they were staying. They were subsequently turned into labour tenants and subjected to forced labour for a period of three to nine months a year in exchange for staying on the farm. Community members who did not comply with the conditions for staying on the farm were issued with “trekpasses” and ordered to leave the farm. In total some 600 households representing about 2 000 community members were removed from the land.
Although the land has been handed back to the Manavhela community, the Ben Lavin Trust and WESSA will manage the Ben Lavin Nature Reserve as a going concern, in partnership with the Manavhela community.
Near Melkrivier, situated on the rust-coloured kranzes of the Waterberg Mountains. It is one of the largest singly owned reserves in the country. It is uncrowded and free of malaria, with a mild climate. The Palala and Blockland rivers water it. Guests are not permitted to drive; you have to walk through the reserve. It has several archeological sites, which include Bushman paintings, Stone Age, and Iron Age sites.
Langjan Game Reserve
Situated in the Western Bushveld. This is a piece of Kalahari Sandveld. There are Gemsbok in the park, descendents of the original herds, which have been there since before the white man came to the area. They have not been reintroduced as in other game reserves. The routes taken by the game to the saltpan can still be seen.
There are cycling routes in the park but it is dangerous to cycle, as the Mambas cannot hear the bicycles and they do not move out of the way as they would if you walk.
The Eastern Border
The Eastern Border of the Limpopo Province lies adjacent to the Kruger National Park and it is in this section of the Park that some of the largest herds of elephant and buffalo are found. The quality of the wildlife experiences within Kruger Park flows across into the many private game and nature reserves that lie to the west of the park. Dividing fences between Kruger Park and private land are being removed and the greater movement of game and improved utilization and management of the natural habitats are leading to enhanced wildlife and tourism experiences.
Pafuri and Crook‘s Corner
Pafuri is situated on the Luvuvhu flood plains near the confluence with the Limpopo. It has a unique fauna and flora with some scarce species in the area such as the suni; samango monkeys and crested guinea fowl; fig and fever tree forests. It is also known for its sandveld plant growth and popular with birders. The road passes the Jamous Crook’s Corner, an isolated hiding place in the middle of the Limpopo River where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Moc;;ambique meet. The area swarmed with ivory thieves, gunrunners, and renegades in the past because it was easy to slip over the border when being chased.
The Ivory Route
The Ivory Route’s origins lie in the exploits of the legendary Bvekanya Barnard (meaning “man staggering’). To avoid authorities desperate to arrest him for illegal elephant hunting the roguish Barnard constantly had to move his hunting camp around the beacon that marked the borders of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek, Rhodesia and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). Tired of moving his camp to satisfy the law, the ingenious hunter took to moving the beacon instead. He hid out in what is now known as Crook’s Corner. Once the transport route between Pafuri and far off Soekmekaar – closest railway station from which hunters could move ivory to Johannesburg – the Ivory Route became notorious as the ‘Slave Route’. As ivory was transported from Soekmekaar, so too were many Mozambicans. After registering at Pafuri, they boarded the train to lives of hardship as ‘imported labour’ in Johannesburg mines. Few returned.
The Ivory Route starts near Orpen in the Manyeleti Game Reserve “the place of the stars”, and includes Letaba Ranch (north of Phalaborwa), Makuya Park (near Pafuri), the Madimbo Corridor, Dongola-Vhembe Park (outside Musina), Blouberg (south of Alldays), the Mokolo Dam (in the Waterberg), Makapan’s Caves (close to Mokopane (Potgietersrus)), and ending at Atherstone Nature Reserve near Thabazimbi.