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The garden town of Phalaborwa is located in the Limpopo Province, well-planned and proudly decked out with grassed public areas and flowering trees lining the streets. Phalaborwa was proclaimed in 1957 and is considered a gateway town into the Kruger National Park. The area is rich in minerals too, with generous deposits of apatite and iron ore. The town has Africa’s largest open cast mine, the copper recovered at staggering rates, and the mine is currently over 200m deep and 2km wide.
The Phalaborwa gate is South Africa’s northern-most entry into the Kruger National Park and animal life in this part of the park is prolific around the Letaba River where animals generally congregate.
The word Phalaborwa means ‘better than the south’, named by a travelling Zimbabwean Karanga tribe who were forced to turn back and head northwards when tribe members were struck down by fever. They settled here in around 400CE after discovering a rich vein of iron ore.
The weather in Phalaborwa is hot throughout most of the year, however, in winter the evenings and early mornings can become chilly.
Top 6 reasons to visit Phalaborwa
1. Experience a game drive from Phalaborwa gate to the Letaba rest camp. The camp has a restaurant and well-stocked convenience store. The best time to be on the road is early morning and towards dusk, to escape the midday heat of the day when animals lay low. Note: Fill up in Phalaborwa town, there are no petrol stations at this entrance into the park.
2. Visit Amarula Lapa to see how the Amarula Cream liqueur is constructed from the fruit. The fruit is de-stoned, the pulp fermented and stored in French oak barrels for 2 years before bottling. The end result is a smooth, sweet drink to be taken either as an aperitif or after dinner.
3. Enjoy a round of 18 holes at the prestigious Hans Merensky Golf Estate, voted best walking course in the country. Animals are regularly seen on this beautifully landscaped course.
4. Travel to the Bombyx Mori Silk Estate, a commercial silkworm farm. The venue offers hourly tours of the facility and explains how the organic silk is collected and spun. Quality handmade duvets can be purchased. Restaurant on the premises.
5. Slightly further afield is the Khamai Reptile Centre, a conservation and research centre for abused and rescued reptiles. Aside from the care provided to the animals, the aim of the facility is primarily to get visitors to understand and appreciate these creatures that are largely feared.
6. The best way to appreciate the area is in a hot air balloon. Ask your host to arrange a trip over the Kruger National Park for an alternate view of the terrain.
The Hendrik Van Eck Airport serves Phalaborwa and flights arrive from the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. An alternate airport is the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit (Mbombela), 220km away. Car hire is available from the airports or ordered online. A drive from Nelspruit to Phalaborwa is travelled on a scenic route via many of the Mpumalanga Province’s tourist attractions. There are limited taxi services in the Phalaborwa area, rather hire a vehicle.
Did you know?
Mopane worms are a delicacy in these parts. The worms – specifically a caterpillar of the emperor moth – are available at informal street markets and a staple in the diet of many locals. The worms are dried and are an excellent source of protein. Happy crunching!
The word Phalaborwa is pronounced with a silent ‘h’ and ‘w’.
For those who are a little adventurous and enjoy the company of other travellers, you can decide to stay at a Backpackers. Often having to share a room with others as well as costs, it is incredibly inexpensive. Often the best choice for those who may be just passing through or will be occupied for the majority of their day. It comes with the most basic amenities and is often formed as part of a bar or similar establishment. Not recommended for those who want privacy, this is best suited for those who wouldn’t mind meeting various other interesting travellers.