Fancy bumping into celebrity businessman Sir Richard Branson? You might, should you decide to swing past his swanky outpost, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve (www.ulusaba.virgin.com). This is Big Five game country, and the orchard-rich lowveld around Nelspruit is the setting for a plethora of private game reserves and lodges that abound in bird and animal life. Situated in Sabi Sands, which borders the Kruger National Park, and boasting five stars and an indulgent spa, this establishment caters for the mega-glossy set. The royal rates make for regal treatment, where you can expect to be cosseted and pampered like a sovereign. Choose from two equally pricey lodgings, the Safari Lodge or the Rock Lodge. The former option features tree-house style rooms with spectacular views of the nearby watering hole and all its four-footed traffic. For stratospheric views, the Rock Lodge is situated at the very top of a rocky precipice, and offers unsurpassed stargazing, with an observatory tucked away deep in the bush.
For the safari savvy, there’s Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (www.timbavati.co.za), where the famed white lions were discovered in the mid-70s. You can increase your chances of spying these pale beasts by getting airborne with Suncatchers Hot Air Ballooning, who offer the peerless experience of drifting over the various game parks of the lowveld. There are several accommodation options sprinkled throughout Timbavati, ranging from East African-style safari tents, to reed rondavels, to spartan camping and colonial suites so decadent, they rival the pampered set from Kenya's White Mischief.
Bounteous bushveld, luscious meanders and beckoning backwaters feature in this panoplied province. And then there's the tasty, wily trout to tease you out of bed on misty mornings...
The Panorama Route offers spectacular sights and mountainous gullies along the eastern slopes of the escarpment, not to mention several cascading waterfalls that will lure you in for a dip. Leave the herd behind and get a bird’s eye view by splurging on a helicopter flip with Mpumalanga Helicopter (www.mhelicopter.co.za). The exhilarating flight swoops along the Sabi River Valley and hovers above the Lisbon, Berlin and Mac Mac waterfalls, which allows for spectacular photo opps. Your flight arc continues along the escarpment to the rarefied God's Window, serving up some awe-inspiring panoramic views of the bushveld below, and then takes wing along the fascinating and dramatic rock formations of the third deepest and most verdant chasm in the world, the Blyde River Canyon – one of Africa's scenic wonders. The helicopter flip will blur by in just 45 minutes. Upon landing you can gorge on a picnic spread, replete with the requisite glass of chilled bubbly.
A mere 25 kilometres from Nelspruit is the misty gold-rush town of Kaapsehoop, famous for its wild horses, descendents of the horses left by British forces during the Boer War. They are frequently seen roaming through the sleepy village, and if you take a hike to the edge of the escarpment, you might see them galloping across the plains. Stay at Lambourn's Victorian Self-catering Cottage (www.kaapsehoop.net), set in an English countrified garden, replete with blooms, blue swallows and butterflies. One of the bedrooms features a sky-light which allows for stargazing on those clear starry nights – a whimsical touch. You can also spend an afternoon in the old pear orchard. The pears may be scant, thanks to the baboons, but it’s still the prettiest place for a picnic or braai, and there’s a babbling stream to splash in while your chops sizzle. The Kaapsche Hoop hiking trail meanders through breathtaking scenery, plantations and historical sites. The trail is split into various options ranging from two to five nights and several buildings from the gold rush days in the early 1880s are visible along the trail. And then there’s Adam’s Calendar, which some say is the handiwork of an advanced people and at 75 000 years old, it’s an understandable enough piece of folklore. Local guide Enos Zulu (072-331-1197) will talk you through it all.
Mpumalanga’s streams, that once held the glint of gold nuggets, are now a Mecca for fly-fishermen, particularly near the misty town of Dullstroom. But Dullstroom’s tasty trout have proven to be a poisoned chalice as the little town has been besieged by tourists, which does sully the hamlet’s serenity. So we say rather head to Lydenburg, which forms part of the Highlands Meander, and the region’s ‘trout triangle’. Established by Voortrekkers in 1849, Lydenburg lies at the foot of Long Tom Pass – named after the big gun used by the Afrikaners during the Boer War, and one of the most scenically dramatic passes in the country. The rivers and dams are well stocked with trout from the De Kuilen Trout Hatchery which can accommodate some 10 million trout eggs! Stock up on flies at Starlings Fly Tackle Shop, and then settle down at Crane’s Nest Mountain Lodge (013 256 9055), a 400-hectare farm that offers both river and lake fishing with ample opportunity to net both brown and wild trout. Lodgings vary, with quaint sounding options like Eagle Owl Chalet and Guinea Fowl Cottage, both tastefully decorated, and fully equipped for comfortable self-catering. There is also the option to plant your rods in their tented Bush Chalets, which are self-contained canvas units, akin to a luxury tent – each with a private bathroom en-suite. The farm also boasts a smattering of well preserved stone ruins, which archaeologists have identified as dwellings dating back to the Early Stone Age.