Have you heard of the Songimvelo Game Reserve? We wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t. The world famous Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands are the Mpumalanga names that spring quickly to mind, but travellers who want to venture off the well beaten path to Kruger should seriously consider a trip to Songimvelo – a mountainous, unspoilt and (most importantly) secluded reserve tucked away behind Barberton on the border with Swaziland.
Songimvelo’s Dunbar 4×4 Trail is as spectacular as you’ll find in Mpumalanga. Photo: Dale Hes
It’s a bit surprising that the reserve hasn’t attracted much attention. At 49 000 hectares, it’s the largest provincial reserve in South Africa. The scenery is unique, encompassing rolling hills, rivers, dense forests, hidden valleys and plains – accounting for a good diversity of wildlife including giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, white rhino and even brown hyena and leopard. There are more than 1400 plant species, amongst them several recently discovered ones and the last wild populations of the Woolly Cycad. This in mind, we hopped into a sturdy game drive vehicle to explore the reserve on the Dunbar 4×4 Trail. The road into the reserve led us through the rural villages, where we stopped to savour roasted mielies and chat to the locals. Inside the reserve itself, the first part of the 8km trail winds through an diverse, incredibly green tapestry of bushy hills and deeply incised gorges carved by the Lomati and Mtsoli rivers. The dense bush, forest and riverine vegetation were all teeming with birdlife, and a variety of plains game grazed on the wild open spaces. A particular highlight were the multiple river crossings – fun features for any 4×4 enthusiast.
The trail ends at the most spectacular dead end you’ll ever find. On the banks of the Lomati River, you’re treated to a stunning vista of the mountain slopes, lush fields of grass and trickling water. We were allowed to alight from the vehicle and enjoy a drink, whilst simultaneously sipping up all the beauty around us.
The accommodation in the reserve comes in the form of rustic but comfortable self-catering cabins at Kromdraai Camp, in a beautiful setting at the foot of the mountains leading down to the river bank. You can also camp if you wish, and there’s barely ever a chance of this secret gem being crowded.
Overall, Songimvelo is a reserve that can punch with the best of them. If you’re longing for a quiet, unique safari experience away from touristy Kruger, then this is the place for you.