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This page discusses the tourism industry in the region: follow the links to find specific pages on attractions and accommodation.

The Kruger National Park is a major drawcard for foreign visitors and tourists within the Southern African region. Surveys show that as many as 90% of all foreign visitors wish to visit this part of the country.

The local tourism industry outside the Kruger benefits significantly from the effect of the Park in providing an “anchor” to attract guests to the region, who then overflow to explore further.

Some of the most highly-renowned safari lodges in the world are found within the Private Reserves of Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Thornybush, Kapama and Makalali. Together they provide powerful marketing imagery for the region.

Two major road routes straddle the area, linking the private reserves together whilst funnelling visitors into the Kruger at Phalaborwa and Orpen Gates.

These access routes are fed by one of five mountain passes through the Strydom Tunnel, linking the Highveld cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria to the Lowveld via Lydenburg.

The Panorama Route above the Blyde River Canyon links the natural splendour of the Three Rondavels with Bourke’s Luck Potholes and God’s Window. Spectacular vistas over the world's third deepest canyon make this a destination in itself.

The local towns of Pilgrims Rest, Graskop and Sabie have economies pivoting around tourism, and there is a wealth of nature-based activities to enjoy from them.

Two local airports provide regular services to the Gauteng central business districts and beyond to Sun City and Cape Town. Phalaborwa Airport has recently benefited from a major redevelopment, whilst Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport received permission to operate international flights at the start of the decade (they have yet to materialise in scale and currently constitute the odd charter). Expect 20-40 seat twin prop planes here, operated by Airlink and SA Express respectively.

Baggage Delivery, Eastgate Airport Style

The Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport outside Nelspruit (to the south and serving the busier end of the Kruger) has the greatest seat capacity, and accommodates a number of budget airlines flying larger 737 aircraft.

Lodges 176
SANParks Beds 6,480
Private Lodge Beds 7,000
Annual Bed Nights 4,798,880
People Employed 4,289

Tourism Infrastructure within 80km of Phalaborwa

The Drakensberg Escarpment and the Lowveld together form one of the most important recreational regions in South Africa. The Drakensberg is one of the seven major mountain systems in Africa.

The escarpment has attractive scenery, impressive natural features such as waterfalls, forested kloofs and caves, and nature reserves including the Wolkberg Wilderness Area.

Adjacent to the Blyde Canyon is the Mariepskop complex, a mountain enclave and centre of endemism of unsurpassed beauty. The botanical wonders of these high altitude afromontane forests can be witnessed while walking some unforgettable trails laid out under the forest canopy. Mariepskop contains well over 2,000 plant species, greater diversity than the whole of Kruger Park and far exceeding the species count in Table Mountain's Fynbos Kingdom.

Nature-based tourism

A number of studies overseas have shown that international tourists are moving away from traditional packaged tours and increasingly demanding interesting participatory experiences, most of which include at least an some engagement with the culture of local communities.

A further new niche is emerging in wildlife and ecology training and hands-on participation in research in the area. A substantial portion of visitors are not particularly insistent on luxurious accommodation, but want really good, well-presented and interesting information on the country, people and resources, and meaningful interaction with local inhabitants. The phrase “responsible tourism” has been coined to describe these desires.

The sub-region has tremendous potential for responsible tourism, particularly given the mixture of first and third world cultures which characterise it. Its tourist attractions include a range of internationally recognised nature reserves lying adjacent to the Kruger and representing a ‘community’ of protected areas.

Eco-tourism recognises the participation and contribution of all sectors of the community; it has the advantage of being relatively low in terms of capital intensity, of utilising existing infrastructure, of capitalising on natural resources in a sustainable fashion. Operations can also be rapidly deployed, and successfully attracting tourist "footfall" to a new destination can stimulate further development of facilities in the locality.

Benefits to the local community

In the case of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve, because of the magnitude and complexities of the area, the term "local people" incudes a diverse spectrum of groups: poor rural communities in Acornhoek; the mining community in Phalaborwa ; the commercial farming sector in Hoedspruit, the refugee community in Welverdiend, the absentee landowners in the APNR, the business community in Tzaneen, the Tsonga speaking people of Bushbuckridge, and the Pedi people of Matabidi.

Potential benefits that these groups may unlock through increased tourism include:

  • Improved and/ or increased employment opportunities
  • The development of new infrastructure, and improvement on existing infrastructure
  • Greater opportunities for development frameworks, and improved planning of initiatives for the future
  • Better provision of basic essentials (e.g., cleaner domestic water supplies)
  • Improved overall standards of health and health facilities: clinics and hospitals
  • An increase in income per capita, which will lead to the overall improvement of the quality of life
  • Better access to education, and improved education facilities
  • Greater opportunities for research projects in the future
  • Improved and expanded conservation efforts
  • Greater co-ordination amongst different initiatives.