For 26 years, we have made the annual pilgrimage to the Kruger National Park, and Nelspruit is a convenient stopover. Not once have we even contemplated a trip to the Lowveld National Botanical Garden.
However, friends of ours have recently retired to Nelspruit, and on our last visit, encouraged us to visit the Lowveld National Botanical Garden which lies just outside of the town – a 159 hectare space which is home to over 600 naturally growing plant species and another 2000 that have been introduced to the garden.
Well – what a visit! The walk through the Garden was an unexpected surprise – it went from breathtaking to spectacular and back to breathtaking, and we wondered why on earth it had taken us so long to visit this wonderful haven.
The Garden is all about two rivers that run through it, rugged rocky river scenery with a pot-holed solid rock gorge, gushing waterfalls, granite bedrock – a combination of spectacular scenery and natural beauty. The most unexpected surprise was the tropical African rainforest which has been created with indigenous trees as a canopy. The SAPPI Aerial Boardwalk takes you up 4 m into the canopy of the forest. This enchanting rainforest is representative of the rapidly diminishing rainforests in central and west Africa and a world first for the Lowveld Gardens.
The Garden contains around 650 tree species indigenous to South Africa, and the largest collection of cycads on the African continent. The Garden plays a critical role in conservation of rare and endangered species and has established the world’s first cycad genebank.
The pathways through the Garden have been laid out with physically challenged visitors in mind. About 70% of the developed section of the Garden is accessible by those in wheelchairs.
The subtropical climate that is enjoyed in the Lowveld is perfect not only for the plants, but for animals and birds. Animals such as dwarf mongooses and vervet monkeys can be seen in the garden. And if you like the idea of a birder’s paradise, then expect to see around 200 species of birds in the garden.
A sundowner on the restaurant deck after a stroll in the Garden or a hike along the Riverside Trail is most welcome. But another unexpected surprise was the newly revamped thatched Tea Garden situated in the midst of rolling green lawns and under the shade of a massive Fever Tree. Casilda de Villiers has taken over the management of the Tea Garden which is perfect for that special celebration. We stopped for a little R&R – and were tempted to order a piece of carrot cake. Well, Casilda arrived with a humungous piece and eight forks, and we devoured the best carrot cake in Nelspruit! Casilda is also well known in the area for her range of unique range of sauces and condiments called “Thyme and Again”.
A visit to this outstandingly beautiful Garden in the heart of Mpumalanga that sits astride the Crocodile River is a must next time you visit the region.