In many ways Mpumalanga ("where the sun rises") is South Africa's wildest and most exciting province. Its local history is action packed: local wars, international battles, and a gold rush every bit as raucous and wild as those in California and the Klondike. Kruger National Park and the private game reserves abutting its western borders provide the country's best and most fulfilling game experience; in fact, it's highly probable that you will see all of the Big Five (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, rhinoceros) during an average two- to three-night stay at one of the private reserves.
If you look at a map of South Africa, Mpumalanga is in the top right just below Limpopo. It spreads east from Gauteng to the border of Mozambique. The 1,125-km (700-mile) Drakensberg, part of the Great Escarpment, separates the high, interior plateau from a low-lying subtropical belt that stretches to Mozambique and the Indian Ocean. These lowlands, called the lowveld, are classic Africa, with as much heat, dust, untamed bush, and big game as you can take in. This is where you find Kruger National Park, covering a 320-km (200-mile) swath of wilderness and undoubtedly one of the world's finest game parks. Apart from its ease of access (there are nine entry gates along its western border), there are plenty of excellent accommodations ranging from bushveld and tented camps to luxury lodges. Mbombela (Nelspruit), south of Kruger, is the nearest big town.
The Drakensberg area rises to the west of Kruger and provides a marked contrast to the lowveld; it's a mountainous area of trout streams and waterfalls, endless views, and giant plantations of pine and eucalyptus. The escarpment region has some of South Africa’s most spectacular scenery, including the Blyde River (Motlatse) canyon—one of the world’s largest canyons and one of its greenest because of its luxuriant subtropical foliage—waterfalls, amazing vistas, great hiking, and river rafting. People come to the escarpment to unwind, soak up its beauty, and get away from the summer heat of the lowveld. Touring the area by car is easy and rewarding—the 156-km (97-mile) Panorama Route winds along the lip of the escarpment—and you can reach many of the best lookouts without stepping far from your car. You’d miss fabulous sightseeing opportunities if you failed to stop on the way to or from Kruger to take in some of Mpumalanga’s fantastic sightseeing opportunities.