An “authentic African experience” is something not all travellers are looking for but something they should be. A vast continent boasting legendary hospitality, incredible historic sites and the birthplace of humankind, Africa is appealing in so many ways but finding a place to start can be daunting.
Giyani is a typical African town where local traditional lifestyle meets the west and a common sight is women dressed in traditional Shangaan dress. Despite its lack of working traffic lights (in true African style) the town has modern facilities and a centre for a number of crafting projects, including jewellery, pottery and sculpture where traditional Shangaan beaded necklaces, bags and bangles can be bought for a bargain.
Giyani borders a large provincial nature reserve, Man’ombe Nature Reserve, a massive granite outcrop where the natural vegetation is protected and visitors can view giraffe, zebra and buck while relaxing in the self-catering facilities and enjoy the lush green surround when the summer rains arrive.
For birders the reserve is a haven of indigenous woodland birds where they can be observed from the wooden decks of two self-accommodating chalets. Not an obvious tourist feature, the main road crosses the Nsami Dam, the life force of the town where the cries of fish eagles can be heard.
The lowveld has been inhabited by African people since 400AD and because of its mineral wealth it had major trading centres which in turn linked up to well-established foot path trading routes which spread out to link up with the gold culture, centred around the Great Zimbabwe. The trade routes also linked up with places such as Mapungubwe National Park (the Lost City of Gold), where the famous gold rhino dating back more than 800 years was found in what was the centre of the largest kingdom in the subcontinent, where a highly sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.
The area was blanketed with Iron Age villages such as Thulamela, Masurini (5km inside the Kruger) and Thomo, which has now been turned into a Heritage Park and living museum where project manager, Rich Mabunda’s wealth of knowledge about the area and its history is invaluable. Located 8km outside of Giyani, visitors can sleep in a replica of an Iron Age traditional Tsonga village, eat the local fare and sit round an open fire and enjoy the night sky. Rich’s guided tours round the site tell the stories of the people who lived in the area, the iron smelting and life in the village.
Giyani is located approximately 80km from the Phalaborwa gate to the Kruger National Park or approximately 90km from the Punda Maria gate in the north, making it an ideal destination for travellers looking to experience the “real Africa” before heading on their bushveld safari.
For more information about Giyani check out the Rixile Culture to Kruger Route