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When it comes to our country’s rich history, heritage, landmarks and culture, there is no shortage of things to celebrate.
As spring kicks off, we are greeted by the first warm days of spring, and South Africans around the country can dust off their braai tongs and commemorate Heritage Month and Heritage Day, also known as National Braai Day, on 24 September.
This year, Heritage Month brings into focus the theme of “Celebrating our cultural diversity in a democratic South Africa”.
One aspect of our country’s culture and heritage that undoubtedly deserves recognition this month is Mzansi’s world-famous Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga.
The park is an enchanting destination where international travellers and locals can find serenity and exhilarating experiences.
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend your weekend and beat the holiday blues, here are four reasons why you should visit the park, according to Anton Gillis, CEO at Kruger Gate Hotel.
It’s an official Wonder Of The World
During the Middle Ages, Hellenic travellers documented seven astonishing structures in artwork, literature and guides.
Fast forward to the 2000 when a Swiss foundation, New 7 Wonders Foundation, decided it was time for the world to recognise a new list – particularly because only one of the original wonders, the Pyramids of Giza, was still standing.
However, nearly two decades later, UK-based AllClear agency pondered if this list still stands.
After analysing the Wikipedia page views data for over 4,300 global landmarks over the last five years, the company named our breathtaking Kruger National Park as South Africa’s overall Wonder of the World, cementing the park as the most alluring location in SA.
Our unique flora and fauna during the spring
According to Gillis, the park boasts beauty year round, but if you are visiting the Kruger during Heritage Month, you’ll be delighted to know that this is an opportune time to see the park’s mesmerising wildlife clustered around watering holes.
“This is because spring marks the dry season, and as there are less water holes around the park, animals take advantage of any fresh water sources they can find,” said Gillis.
The park is also home to an abundance of stunning flora, with 1,982 species of plants scattered throughout the Kruger, and some of the intriguing wild flowers you can expect to see in spring are the magnificent African Flame Lilies, Sabi Stars, and Leopard Orchids.
“Alongside the river, in hot and dry patches, you’ll find the Leopard Orchid. The orchid blooms with fragrant yellow flowers marked with brown spots like a leopard and can be seen only from August to September,” said Gillis.
While the Kruger National Park is renowned for its remarkable Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo), Gillis notes that you may also be interested in some of the symbiotic animal relationships found within the park.
“Oxpeckers are known to have a few astounding symbiotic relationships within the Kruger. These small parasitic birds form remarkable bonds with elephants, impalas, and rhinos.
“The lively red-billed oxpeckers, named askari wa kifaru (the rhino’s guard) in Swahili, perch themselves on their mammal friends to feast on a buffet of ticks and parasites.
A culturally rich heritage
On the southern tip of the Kruger National Park, visitors can meet the Shangaan people who have called the Kruger home since the 19th century.
This indigenous group came to be when King Shaka of the Zulus sent Soshangane (Manukosi) to defeat the Tsonga people in the area of southern Mozambique during the Mfecane upheaval.
Instead, Soshangane stumbled upon a beautiful community of tranquil people, made himself at home, and did not fulfil Shaka’s task.
The Shangaan speak a combination of Nguni and Tsonga and have a big culture of storytelling, music and dance. They have developed their own musical instruments, too, such as the “fayi”, which is akin to a flute, as well as the “xitende”, a braced-bow instrument made using a leather thong.
Today, Shangaan people live between the park, the Drakensberg Mountains and throughout Mpumalanga.
In February 1999, the Shangana Cultural Village was opened with the goal of job creation as well as to boost tourism.
Visitors can learn more about their culture, purchase their art and listen to their captivating stories passed down through generations.
South African National Park Week
And finally, if you’re making your way to the Kruger during this time of year, you can enjoy free access to the park. National Parks Week takes place from 16 – 24 September, and you can enjoy free entry to the park by showing your South African identity documents when making bookings.
“This is an annual SANParks initiative so that citizens get to see our country’s wonderful parks and connect with their heritage,” said Gillis.