Entering Kruger through Malelane Gate is like taking a trip back in time. Behind you lies the pumping heart of South Africa's subtropical export industry based on the growing and processing of citrus, sugar, avocados, bananas, mangoes, litchis, nuts and vegetables.
Before you is the pristine environment as it existed before the economic development of the lowveld.
Above: African Wild Dog. Photo: Nigel Dennis
The granite koppies adorned with large-leaved rock figs and bushwillows, and the valleys graced by jackal-berries, magic guarries and tambotis, lie in stark contrast to the agribusiness that has taken root on the other side of the Crocodile River. Malelane Gate is on the Crocodile River, about 50km upstream from Crocodile Bridge.
Be warned, it is one of Kruger's busiest gates and there are often long queues of cars waiting to get into the Park at weekends and during school holidays.
The Malelane area has long been an area of human habitation. Just south of the entrance gate is the ancient ochre mining site of Dumaneni. Kruger historians JJ Kloppers and Hans Bornman believe that over 100 000 tons of red ochre were mined at Dumaneni between 46 000 and 28 000 years ago.
The San appeared to have been the first miners, using ochre for artistic and medicinal purposes. Iron-Age smelters found at Dumaneni indicate that the mine was operative during the Iron Age, which began in southern Africa approximately 2 000 years ago. Red ochre has long been associated with power.
Malelane Gate Explorer Options
- Matjulu Loop (S110); 23km back to main road; (1,5 hours) tar and dust road into the heart of the southern biome, mixed woodlands and mountains with reputation for good sightings;
- Crocodile River Road (S114, S25) to Crocodile Bridge; 141km, 5,5 hours; dust road; thorn thickets and riverine bush; good for cheetah;
- Main Road to Skukuza (H3); 64km; 2,5 hours; beautiful drive through rolling hills of mixed woodlands, interesting sightings around Afsaal;
- Afsaal to Pretoriuskop (H2-2); 34km; 1,5 hours; historic drive along the old transport riders' route; past Ship Mountain into the south-western foothills; often good for rhino, eland and hyaena.
In the Siswati language it is known as 'ludumane' which means "power four times the sound of thunder". In Swazi culture only chiefs and sangomas were allowed to wear ochre, which was mixed with animal fat and smeared on their bodies.
Malelane has been a river crossing for hundreds of years and takes its name from the Malelane Regiment of King Mswati II of Swaziland which was stationed here in the 1850s when the area was under Swazi control. Mswati's regiments conducted regular forays into present-day Kruger during the mid-19th century and, at points, his influence extended as far as southern Zimbabwe and central Mozambique. Many of the names in southern Kruger are Swazi in origin, while Shangaan names dominate further to the north.
Best Drive in the South-West
Malelane to Skukuza via Afsaal
Superb drive through rolling plains and granite koppies; stop off for refreshments at Afsaal where there is usually a concentration of game, drive slowly through the woodlands past Jock's, take in Shirimantanga koppies or Mathekenyane hill (Granokop) for good views over the surrounding woodlands.
Allow three-and-a-half hours, including stops.
Malelane is a small camp on the banks of the Crocodile River just over three kilometres from Malelane Gate. No day visitors are allowed. The nearest shop is at Berg-en-Dal, six kilometres away.