Ancient kingdoms, diverse eco-systems, an invasion of space, and a modern-day freedom struggle, all these are celebrated at South Africa’s World Heritage Sites. Closest to home, the most recent to be named is the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga, declared early in July. Our beloved Humala River Lodge in Songimvelo Game Reserve is nestled in the heart of these majestic mountains. Now may be the perfect time to check this World Heritage Site off your list.
World Heritage Sites are the most remarkable places on earth. They are determined by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee. The committee seeks to “encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding universal value to humanity.”
South Africa is home to 10 official sites – 5 cultural, 4 natural and one mixed (cultural and natural). Starting with the first South African site to be declared and t, ending with the most recent, these are:
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park comprises eight interdependent ecosystems and an overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna. The park, formerly known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, is a prime destination for those looking for a combination of marine splendor and pristine beaches.
At times a leper colony, mental hospital and defense training base, the Robben Island World Heritage Site is more famed as the prison to which anti-apartheid activists, among them former president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, were banished. A “university of the struggle”, its graduates went on to lead South Africa into democracy.
Cradle of Humankind
About 50km north-west of Johannesburg is the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, an area of undulating grassland, rocky outcrops and river courses typical of the Highveld before it was overtaken by urban sprawl. It’s a place that draws visitors from around the world for the fossil record that lies in the network of limestone caves beneath the surface.
uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park
The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is renowned for its stunning river valleys and rocky gorges, where many threatened indigenous plant and animal species are found. The mountains are also home to about 600 rock art sites created by the nomadic San people.
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
About the time of the Dark Ages of Europe, the royal court at Mapungubwe in Limpopo welcomed traders and men of influence from Arabia and the Far East. Only in recent decades have archeologists pieced together the fascinating details of this ancient city by sifting through stones, bones, and artifacts.
Cape Floral Region
Occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, mostly in winter rainfall coastal and mountainous areas, South Africa’s fynbos vegetation is a miracle of survival in adversity and makes up the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest region of its kind in the world.
Imagine an asteroid the size of Table Mountain heading for earth at a speed of 20km per second. Packing more punch than multiple nuclear bombs, it penetrates 17km deep into the Earth, and leaves an impact crater so large it’s been declared a World Heritage Site. Thankfully the meteorite collision that formed the Vredefort Dome happened a long time ago, more than two-million years back, before life as we know it.
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, which encompasses the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, is an area of extraordinary biodiversity, ranging from small succulents to giant aloes, from African wild cats to antelope and many rare bird species endemic to the region. It is also one of the areas in southern Africa that is still home to a group of nomadic herders.
ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape
The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at South Africa’s border with Botswana and Namibia. The landscape covers an area of 959,100ha. The ǂKhomani and related San people are unique in that they descend directly from an ancient population that existed in southern Africa some 150,000 years ago. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountain range lies within the sub-tropical lowland region in northeast South Africa and contains some the world’s best preserved, oldest and diverse sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rock, dating back 3.5 billion years. The range is also known for its gold deposits and a number of komatiites, an unusual type of ultramafic volcanic rock named after the Komati River that flows through the belt. Each of the 10 thatched-roof A-frame cottages at Humala River Lodge provides stunning views of both the mountains and the river.