It’s a given that the wildlife in the Kruger National Park will take your breath away – but a walk up into the reconstructed Iron Age ruins of a mountain kingdom in the park’s far north gives the Big Five a run for their money.
The site of the ruins is called Thulamela (pronounced too-lah-MAY-lah), and is most easily accessed from the Punda Maria camp. Book at the camp’s office to take the day walk, which starts in the late morning and finishes after lunch.
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The walk is a short, 30-min hike (with two armed rangers) up a relatively gentle slope to the top of modestly-high foothill in the Matshitshindzudzi range. Hill- and mountaintops were the residences of the chiefs and minor kings who controlled this region of southern Africa during the flourishing of the kingdom of Great Zimbabwe, precursor to today’s Shona people in Zimbabwe, of whom South Africa’s Vendas are a close cognate.
Thulamela was established about 500 years ago, and its ruins are situated in and among several magnificent baobab trees. The views from the hilltop are spectacular, particularly those which open on to a forest of baobabs on the floodplain of the hill’s far side, where elephant can often be seen roaming.
The walk includes a long-ish talk on the archaeological site’s layout – where the chief/king lived, where his queens lived, the passages his subjects would take in approaching his palace, the site’s burial areas, and so on. It’s utterly fascinating stuff, and transports a person to wonderfully fresh and new African vistas.
Thulamela is an SA Logue “Best of Kruger” visiting spot.