Visit ancient ruins at the Kruger National Park

Posted on 29 November 2018

Game may not be as prolific in northern Kruger as the more popular south, but it’s rich in heritage and much quieter. Filled with protein-rich mopane veld and home to some of Kruger’s biggest elephants, the Pafuri section also preserves the ancient treasures of Thulamela. Kruger actually has more than 250 recorded archaeological sites, ranging from early Stone and Iron Age settlements to more recent historical buildings.

Get the best of Kruger and Mapungubwe national parks with this route plotted. Image by Melanie van Zyl

Thulamela is a fascinating, stone-walled site faithfully reconstructed by local masons and reminiscent of the Zimbabwe Ruins further north. Dating back roughly 500 years, Thulamela – once the realm of King Ingwe and Queen Losha – forms part of the Zimbabwe Culture, believed to have started at Mapungubwe (west of Pafuri), then migrated to Great Zimbabwe before relocating here. More history is waiting to be uncovered at this site – only a few graves were dug up and studied, and local communities are being consulted in order to properly honour the remains. A visit to Thulamela also includes a lofty view of the Levuvhu River – you won’t find another viewpoint quite like it in the park.

The monarch of Thulamela was known as the ‘Leopard King’ and researchers believe he ruled over some 3 000 subjects. There are still leopards up here, but they keep themselves scarce.


R240 per person, minimum two people. Conservation fee R82 per person.

Do it 

The ruins can only be accessed with an armed guide on a two-hour trail from Punda Maria Rest Camp. It’s a bit of a climb over loose rocks, up a hill to a forest of baobabs. No children under 12. Book a week in advance. 0137356873

Where to stay


Historic Russell Guest Cottage (once the Punda Maria police quarters) is a luxury, antique-filled self-catering stay outside the main rest camp. From R2 306 (sleeps four). 0137356873,

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