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Pongola is a small town situated in the lush and fertile region of northern KwaZulu-Natal, bordering the country of Swaziland. Travellers visiting Pongola pass through evergreen forests, rolling hills covered in sugar cane crops, vast manmade lakes and see the Lebombo Mountains ever present in the distance.
Pongola, or uPhongolo in Zulu, the word meaning Trough for the deep crevices cut by the river of the same name, is divided by the national highway running between the port city of Durban in the south and Mpumalanga Province to the north-west. The area was for centuries occupied by Bantu tribes until farmers moved into the area in the early 20th century. Irrigation systems were built, depressions filled to create enormous dams and sugar cane and fruit trees planted. Today, the area is the domain of the Zulu where their heritage, along with several game farms, have added to Pongola’s appeal.
Nature lovers, birders, anglers and those seeking excellent game viewing opportunities visit Pongola on a regular basis.
Top 6 reasons to visit Pongola
1. The Junk Shopping Centre in town is a unique all-in-one retail centre (30 shops in total) selling anything from fish bait to music and offering services such as photo processing and sending of faxes. One can even buy fresh bread and milk, be sure to stop in and marvel at their product range and endless stock.
2. Proclaimed way back in 1874, the Pongola Game Reserve hosts 4 of the Big 5 (leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) in thick bush overlooking the Pongola River. The reserve is also a popular birding site with over 300 species officially recorded here.
3. Hire a boat and fishing gear at Lake Jozini to try and land a tiger fish. This fearsome game fish is a fighter and has been known to soar into the air to escape a fisherman’s hook. While on the lake, look out for crocodiles and hippos along the banks.
4. The Pongola Publicity department conducts tours to a local school for guests to gain an insight into the challenges facing rural education and the AIDS issue still prevalent in these areas. The tours are free but donations are welcomed.
5. Several new hiking trails have been established in the Lebombo (Lubombo) Mountains. Known as the eco-walking trails, they cross streams and waterfalls and traverses pristine forest and cycad fields. Ask your host for details.
6. Pongola Country Club has a picturesque 9-hole golf course for visiting golfers to get their game on while visiting the area.
Pongola has its own airstrip for chartered flights. The nearest international airport is King Shaka International Airport, 345km from Pongola. Car rental agencies operate in most large cities. Collect a vehicle from the airport or you could order a rental online. There are no taxi services in the region, however, some tour operators offer shuttle services from the main centres to Pongola. A rental is the most practical choice.
Did you know?
The area 2km west of Pongola holds some of the oldest rocks in South Africa, dated at 3500 million years old.
Between the years 1902 and 1940, farmers in the Pongola area – believing that wild animals were the carriers of the deadly tsetse fly – went on a campaign to destroy all wildlife to rid their cattle of the killer fly. Sadly, all game was obliterated based on misinformation.
Pongola is a low risk malaria region, however, it’s best to take precautions before visiting.