The Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga is the third largest in the world. Photo by Petro Kotzé. Click on photo to enlarge.
South Africa: Top Ten Day Trips From Nelspruit
Discover the region’s championship moves from bobotie and Bosch pottery to buffalo safaris.
If Cape Town had a Jimmy Choo-heeled foot to stand on as best South African tourist destination, Nelspruit would wear a Caterpillar boot. As football fever hit South Africa, this town in Mpumalanga’s rugged Lowveld has been put on the map.
The Mbombela Stadium was built here especially for the occasion. However, savvy visitors budget a day outside the city. To score the most out of your visit, try some of these ten daytrips…
1. The Kruger National Park
Home of the legendary Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros and cheetah), this wild garden has long been a must-see on many a tourist and South African travel itinerary – for good reason. Prowl the dusty roads to catch a glimpse of giraffe, zebra or the famed lion.
Be there early to stake your spot next to a watering hole. You could see shy antelope sip droplets of water, or massive hippos appearing from nowhere to break the brown surface.
-Find the Malelane gate 53 kilometers out on the N4.
Visitors to the Kruger National Park will find that in this garden, someone else claims the title 'king of the road.' Photo by Mary Alexander, MediaClubSouthAfrica.com. Click on photo to enlarge.
Wild horses should not be able to drag you away from this little village. In fact, a much loved pack of them roam about town and the surrounding pine forests.
Within walking distance you’ll find a cool waterfall perfect for dips. The Kaapschehoop Nature Trail, a leisurely hour’s walk, runs from the main (and one of the only) roads.
Alternatively, soak up the relaxed atmosphere and enjoy a cold beer at the local pub, El Salvador, or a coffee with a view from the deck at Die Koek 'n Pan Restaurant.
-Follow the Kaapsehoop Road for 32 kilometers from Nelspruit.
Wild horses roam free in Kaapsehoop, and they’re usually not averse to a sniffle around the coffee shop or dusty main road. Photo by Petro Kotzé
3. White River
Artists flock here to set up shop and find inspiration in the quiet surroundings of the Lowveld. Studios of the famous Bosch family of potters and well-known local writer Chris Barnard are scattered around the area.
The Casterbride Centre, just outside White River, offers a delectable selection of restaurants, chocolatiers, an art-house cinema and live music venues. Kick-start any party at the Mango Lounge.
- Follow the R40 for 22 kilometers.
- White River Tourist Information: +27 (0) 13 750 1073.
4. The Sudwala Caves
Walk through or, for the adventurous, crawl 2 000 meters into the oldest dolomite caves in the world – the extent of which is still unknown. Evidence of the ebb and flow of the globe’s fluctuating temperatures can be seen in the layers of rock. In some rooms, formations look down on you like ancient giants from centuries gone by.
The Sudwala Caves, some of the oldest in the world, wait to be explored on your next visit to the area. Photo by Petro Kotzé
-After 30 kilometers, look for signs off the N4, direction Johannesburg.
Entrepreneurs and adventurers alike flocked to this town for one thing: Gold. Today, commercial mines abound in the area, but visiting explorers can still have a go at finding riches. Don a hard hat and torch to tour the Agnes mines, or have a go at gold panning with local expert, Danny Brink.
Feel enriched by the heritage walk (signposts around town) that includes an amble through the old cemetery to the background of the Makhonjwa Mountains.
6. The Lowveld National Botanical Garden
You don't have to venture out of town to get the feeling that you've left the city. Just off the White River road at the Value Mart intersection lays a little Eden, but this one, accessible to all.
Two rivers run through it, the Crocodile and the Nels Rivers, and their magnificent merger can be enjoyed from the Nels-viewpoint. Wander through an African rainforest, bask in the shade of baobab trees or peer at one of the largest selections of South African fig trees.
Time stands still in the gold mining village of Pilgrim’s Rest near Graskop; the town is a reminder of an era gone by. Photo by Petro Kotzé
- The entrance fee for adults is R17.
Pancakes stuffed with bobotie [spiced mincemeat] and peering over the edge of the Lisbon falls are the tip of the proverbial Drakensberg Mountain when it comes to activities in the Graskop area.
Street vendors selling wooden sculptures and pecan nuts and shops with African-themed curios decorate the streets of the town.
In near proximity lie sights such as the aptly named God's Window viewpoint, and historical mining town Pilgrim’s Rest. Further afield (maybe a sleep-over) lays the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world.
-Travel via the Lydenburg road, off the R40, for 60 kilometers.
The Blue Moon music venue rests in the rocky outcrops of the Lowveld, just outside town. Photo by Petro Kotzé
8. Blue Moon
This natural amphitheatre is built into the rocky outcrops, and has showcased some of the biggest names in the South African music industry. The likes of The Parlotones and Seether have played at the 2000-seater capacity venue.
The late-night parties at the intimate bar, often with the performing artists, are a once-in-a-blue-moon experience.
-Follow the Uitkyk road out of town for 10 kilometers. Continue along the dirt road until you see the signs.
The banana-plantation flanked road to Hazyview leads to sky trails, cultural villages, a rose farm, hot-air ballooning or even a relaxed afternoon snack at Perry’s Bridge Trading Post.
The new Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, has put the capital of Mpumalanga on the map. Photo by Graeme Williams, MediaClubSouthAfrica.com
The town derives its name from the early morning romantic haze, but a peek at the world’s most venomous snakes can also complete an itinerary. The proximity to the Kruger National Park makes game rides another popular activity.
-Hazyview is located about 60 kilometers from Nelspruit via the R538 from White River.
- Rendezvous Information Centre: +27 (0) 13 737 7414 or,
Perry's Bridge Tourist Centre: +27 (0) 737 7680.
10. Waterval Boven
Perched on the fringe of an escarpment of the Drakensberg Mountains, the relaxed look of this town belies the hive of activities on offer.
Keep a look-out for the five-arch bridge, that a steam train used to run across, and an old tunnel, which you'll drive through on your way from Nelspruit. Historical buildings include father of the Afrikaner, President Paul Kruger’s official residence. Hang around – this is excellent rock-climbing quarters.
- Follow the N4 highway, direction Johannesburg for almost 73 kilometers.
Petro Kotzé is a freelance journalist based, for most of the time, in South Africa.
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