Mpumalanga is adjacent to Gauteng to the west, parts of the Free State and KwaZulu/Natal to the south, Northern Province to the North and Swaziland as well as Mozambique to the east, with the Lebombo Mountain range forming a natural boundary with the latter.
Being close to the large Gauteng market has many advantages. Witbank is just over 100 km from Pretoria and Johannesburg. Secunda is 95 km from Johannesburg. The distances between Nelspruit, the capital of Mpumalanga, and other key development centres are as follows:
Less than 100 km from the border post with Mozambique there is the Maputo harbour. Now being upgraded, the harbour is expected to fuel a brisk import/export trade with the Province as well as the rest of South Africa. In 1994 the Kruger National Park was divided in two with the Olifants River forming the boundary between the southern section (Mpumalanga) and the northern section (Northern Province). The well-known Klaserie Nature Reserve, the Umbabat Nature Reserve, the Timbavati Game Reserve and the Manyeleti Game Reserve have been incorporated in the Northern Province. Because the south-western boundaries of Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Free State converge in the Vaal dam, these three provinces share mutual rights to the water in the dam.
The three regions of Mpumalanga consist of three geographical areas:
- The Highveld – Northern High veld and Southern Highveld – which covers most of the area.
- The Eastern Escarpment – Drakensberg;
- The Lowveld
The Highveld: Northern, and Southern Highveld.
The Highveld is approximately 1 500 to 2 200m above sea level and is characterised by plains, plateaus and escarpments. Belfast and Dullstroom are towns situated in the highest areas of the Northern Highveld. Wakkerstroom is situated in the highest area of the Southern Highveld. The vegetation is treeless Savannah and the rainfall ranges from as little as 400mm to 900mm per annum. This part of the country is the best mineralised.
The Eastern Escarpment – Drakensberg
It is actually part of the Escarpment, rather than a mountain range and a motorist travelling through a pass would therefore be entering the higher plateau area. Within 40 km from the plateau to the Eastern Lowveld, there is a dramatic drop from 2 OOOm to 400m above sea level.
The escarpment, which came into existence approximately 200 million years ago, has since been subjected to volcanic eruptions and activities resulting in a rather complex topography. Several tributaries of the Crocodile and Olifants rivers have their origin in the Drakensberg area. As a result of soil erosion through the ages, the escarpment has moved further westward. This can be seen clearly in the vicinity of God’s Window where a virtually perpendicular drop affords a breathtaking view of the neighbouring Lowveld.
The Drakensberg range begins north of Tzaneen in the Northern Province and extends as far as Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape province, covering a distance of nearly 1000km. West of Dordrecht a change of names takes place (Sneeuberge, Stormberge, Nuweveldberge and Roggeveldberge).
The topography of the Lowveld differs vastly from that of the western plateau and it is due mainly to erosion that this area came about. A narrow band of coastline forms part of the Lowveld but gradually becomes wider towards the north. Sections of the Olifants, Masitonto and Sabie rivers are situated lower than 200m above sea level, whereas the Kruger National Park is mainly 200 to 400m above sea level. Nelspruit is 716m; White River 962m; Barberton 877m; Skukuza 454m and Sabie 1 027m above sea level.
Erosion, caused by rivers, has been responsible for forcing tne Escarpment in a westerly or southerly direction. This is how the narrow valley in the Steelpoort, Burgersfort area was formed, and is currently a hiker’, paradise. Similarly the area between Waterval-Boven to Nelspruit was enlarged and is one of the most scenic sections of the N4 route.
The Barberton and Nelspruit areas are fairly mountainous. The Crocodile River is the most important river in the Lowveld, with the Sabie River a close runner up.