Whether you drive the full route or opt for shorter sections with an escape route, the Tshugulu 4×4 route in Mapungubwe National Park will present different challenges depending on the season. By Santi van Niekerk

The Tshugulu 4×4 route is approximately 35km with a duration of six to seven hours. However, shorter two to three hour sections can be done with an escape route to the north-western side of the area that links to the Den Staat road (access to Limpopo Forest Tented Camp and Mazhou Camping Site). GPS coordinates for this exit; S22.24294 E29.22997 – there is a power line and a sign that reads “Strictly permit holders only”.

The full route is accessed from Tshugulu Lodge’s entry gate (S22.28748 E29.22071) on the R572 – 10km from the park’s main reception gate (S22.24360 E29.40057) and 2,5km from the T-junction of the R521 (Pontdrift road) and turnoff to the park.

A clearly marked sign on the right indicates the start of the route and for the duration of the trail, look out for “rhino route” markers. The horn points to the direction of where the trail goes, although, be warned, that sometimes the elephants find the signs irresistible and “redistribute” them. In theory this is not serious as the trail is quite easy to follow, because of the track’s visibility, but it can get tricky during summertime when there is thick vegetation that covers sections – luckily there are not many.

Elephants seen on the Tshugulu 4x4 Trail in Mapungubwe National Park. Picture by Johannes van Niekerk

Elephants seen on the Tshugulu 4×4 Trail in Mapungubwe National Park. Picture by Johannes van Niekerk

How difficult is it?

The route is self-guided and requires a high-clearance vehicle with 4×4 capabilities. Although the trail can be rated between levels 2 to 3 (5 being the most difficult), the level 3 sections are very short. The trail is intended for nature lovers who would like to explore this diverse section of the park and is not recommended as a hard-core 4×4 route to test driving ability. It does provide the opportunity for entry-level 4×4 drivers to test their skills.

Seasons will also determine different types of difficulty. Expect overgrowth in sections of the track in summer, especially close to water/marshes. After heavy rains, there might be muddy areas close to the marshes, but most of the track is on relatively well-drained soil. The sandveld section can be a challenge during the dry seasons as the road consists mainly of thick sand for most of the track.

Detailed directions

  • A few metres before reaching the picnic spot (from the main entrance) a road turns left to the first lookout. The turn-off is not very visible in summer months. There is no loop, you will retrace the same road.
  • On entering the rock shelves at the picnic spot, there is no visible track and just after passing an overhanging rock, it seems that the road runs into a rock wall. Drive carefully as the track turns sharply to the left. Look out for the route marker against a tree.
  • After Sandstone Valley, you will enter a marshy area with a windmill. Drive in the direction of the windmill, again over a stone shelf, and point your vehicle in an easterly direction. Two rocks, forming natural “gate posts”, are visible from the windmill – travel across and through these “gate posts” where you will find the next route marker. Be careful in this area as it is frequented by herds of elephant and only access when safe to do so, as you will not be able to make a quick escape should the elephants be in a bad mood.
  • Once on the straight service road that runs through the Mopani Plains, you will see a route marker on your left. Do not turn here as the road washed away during the floods. Carry on until you find the next route marker on your left and then turn to access the sandveld section.
  • At the end of the sandveld section, turn right and follow the Little Muck Lodge road, but do not turn right as indicated on the map, as the road to Leokwe Hill and the crossing over the Kolope River has washed away and is closed for the time being. Continue with Little Muck road until you get the turnoff to the game hide and turn right here to access the rest of the route.

Good to know

  • Guests using the eco-route must ensure that they are self-sufficient with regard to emergency equipment and also carry enough liquids, especially in summer, and food for the trip.
  • The trail crosses into very remote areas and there are dangerous animals.
  • Look out for: elephant, gemsbok, eland, leopard, klipspringers, kori bustard, Meyer’s parrot, Verreaux’s eagle, baobab trees