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African Elephant, Loxodonta africana - up close & personal in Mapungubwe National Park, Soutpansberg  ©Derek Keats, License


Vhembe, previously known as the Soutpansberg region of the Limpopo Province stretches from the northern boundary of the Kruger National Park along the great Limpopo River. It then follows the Mogalakwena River southwards, cuts across to the east along the Tropic of Capricorn till it hits the Middle Letaba River and then north-east to the top of Kruger. The most prominent feature of the region is the Soutpansberg (Salt Pan Mountain) mountain range which cuts across from East to West just to the North of Louis Trichardt, now named Makhado. The mountain range is in turn named after a large salt pan at the base of its northwestern slopes. This pan has been used as a waterhole by game since time immemorial, and salt has been mined there from the Stone Age until the present.

Agriculture in the region is varied. Most of the region consists of vast plains of bushveld, where there is a lot of cattle and game farming. Farmed crops in the region are mainly subtropical, consisting of cotton, paprika, bananas, avocados, pineapples and litchis. There are a number of tea and coffee plantations in the northeastern Venda area. The main centers are Messina, the only crossing point into Zimbabwe, Makhado and Thohoyandou, all three of which are served by airports.

In the far northwest of the Vhembe region, where the Shashe River joins the Limpopo, is situated the little known ancient city of Mapungubwe. This ancient city lies on top of a 300 metre long hill with vertical 50 metre high sandstone cliffs. Locals regard the hill as a taboo place and turn their backs on it at the mere mention of its name. They believe that those who climb the hill place their very lives in jeopardy. On New Year's Eve back in 1932 a handful of explorers climbed to the top of the hill and found iron tools, pots and copper beads. There was all the evidence of a once-powerful nation. The group discovered a grave-site with many gold ornaments. A skeleton was found adorned with gold wire. Altogether more than 7000 ounces of gold were recovered from the hill. Carbon dating puts the site as being from the 11th Century. The site is now a World Heritage Site.

There is a wide variety of ecotourism in the Soutpansberg. It is estimated that some 80% of cattle farming has been converted into game farming. There are numerous game lodges and accommodation can range from tents to luxury lodges, some of which can be very expensive. About 40 kms from Messina at Tshipise there is an Aventura resort, which offers comfortable accommodation in a hotel or 130 rondavels. Facilities are very good and include tennis and bowls. There are several hot mineral pools open to the public. The resort has a restaurant and bar and is situated in its own Nature Reserve where visitors can view giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, nyala, tsessebe and sable. Tshipise is an excellent break point for people travelling through to Zimbabwe.

The most obvious flora of this region is the Baobab, and the largest of these in South Africa grows on a farm near to Messina. It is 26 metres tall and has a girth of more than 19 metres. This tree has been found to have a wide variety of uses. The leaves can be boiled and used as a vegetable, the seeds can either be sucked or ground and roasted to make a coffee-like drink, the pollen to make glue and the wood to make rope and paper.

The Vhembe District Municipality in Limpopo Province, South Africa, is rich in cultural heritage, natural beauty, and outdoor activities.

Here are five things to do or see in the Vhembe region:

1. Mapungubwe National Park: Discover the ancient civilization and rich biodiversity of Mapungubwe National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its archaeological treasures, including the remains of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, which dates back to the 13th century. Visitors can explore the cultural heritage sites, take game drives to see wildlife such as elephants and leopards, and enjoy scenic views of the Limpopo River.

2. Thulamela Archaeological Site: Explore the Thulamela Archaeological Site within the Kruger National Park, which showcases the ruins of a late Iron Age settlement. This historical site offers insight into the lives of the people who inhabited the area centuries ago, with well-preserved stone walls, artifacts, and structures.

3. Phiphidi Waterfall: Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Phiphidi Waterfall, located in the Thathe Vondo Forest in the Soutpansberg Mountains. The waterfall cascades down a rocky cliff into a serene pool below, offering a refreshing spot for swimming and picnicking amidst lush vegetation and birdlife.

4. Venda Sacred Sites: Explore the sacred sites and cultural landmarks of the Venda people, known for their spiritual beliefs and traditional customs. Highlights include the Thathe Vondo Holy Forest, Lake Fundudzi, and the Dzata Ruins, each offering unique insights into Venda culture, spirituality, and history.

5. Tshivhase Tea Estate: Experience the scenic beauty and agricultural heritage of the Tshivhase Tea Estate, one of the few tea plantations in South Africa. Take a guided tour of the estate to learn about tea cultivation and processing, sample a variety of teas, and enjoy picturesque views of the surrounding landscape.

From ancient civilizations to natural wonders, the Vhembe region of Limpopo Province offers a diverse range of attractions and activities for visitors to explore and enjoy.

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Vhembe Accommodation and Information. Vhembe, Limpopo.
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