How to spend a day in Phalaborwa

Once a busy mining area, now the gateway to Kruger as the only town on its borders, Ba-Phalaborwa is a unique enclave in Limpopo surrounded by protected areas.

Soaring temperatures in summer, it's one of the warmest spots in South Africa during winter, making for ideal holidays when you want to escape the chill and maybe see a lion up close.

Besides the wildlife, Ba-Phalaborwa is also a premier marula destination - the golden fruit entwined into Southern African culture that has its very own festival once a year. Jazz, gospel and dance come together to celebrate the harvest season around February and March once a year, turning the quiet town into a party mecca. 

WATCH: Celebrating the Marula fruit in Limpopo + other upcoming Africa events not to miss

But if you're looking for a quick getaway (the Phalaborwa airport makes this an easy escape) you can make the most of your stay with this one-day itinerary. 

Do an early morning drive through Kruger

You can't really get away from a drive through Kruger, and the best way to see the most animals is to get up early in the morning, head to the park's Phalaborwa Gate and catch them just before the sun starts to heat up the bush. 

In summer that gate opens at 05:30 and in winter at 06:00, and you can either do a self-drive or book a guided drive with one of the plethora of tour operators available in Phalaborwa. These operators normally get to go into the park a little earlier, giving you more time to spot that elusive leopard. 

WATCH: Get wild with Mabula Game Lodge 

Kudu horns in front of phalaborwa gate

The Phalaborwa Gate for Kruger National Park. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

elephant in the bush

An elephant spotting in Kruger. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Taste some whiskey from the first woman distiller in SA

Most think of marula liqueurs when they think of distilleries in this Limpopo region, but Qualito Craft Distillery is one of the only whiskey distillers in the country - and it was all started by a woman! The whiskey is also really good for those who may not list the liquid gold high up when it comes to their preferred beverages.

At their tasting room you'll find out more about their process and do a tasting tour of all their offerings besides whiskey - from gin to vodka infusions like litchi, watermelon and coffee!

WATCH: #MadeFromAfrica: Meet the face of Amarula in the Limpopo bush

ingredients for whiskey

Some of the flavours in Qualito's whiskey. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

toast of whiskey to wiskey distiller

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Take a river cruise down the Olifants

A short drive just outside of the town you'll hit the Olifants River that flows through the Kruger all the way to Mozambique. At Kambaku Olifants River Safaris you can have some lunch at their expansive bar before taking a cruise down the river.

It borders right onto Kruger, and will give another opportunity to spot some game on the river's banks, like elephants and hippos, as well as a great spot for birders. 

READ: Road tripping for the hops: Craft breweries of Limpopo and Mpumalanga

boat on the river

One of Kambaku's safari boats. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

River and bush banks

The Olifants River. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Have dinner at Bushveld Terrace

You'll be a bit ravenous after all the wildlife spottings for the day, so grab a bite to eat at the Bushveld Terrace Restaurant with its magical outdoor setting underneath the stars and trees.

Their menu is a mix of European and African fusions, a good wine selection and heavenly dessert (the tiramisu is highly recommended), and the artwork on their walls is also worthy of admiration.

TASTE: 5 Traditional delicacies to try in Limpopo

lit up restaurant at night

(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

fudge dessert

The restaurant's delicious tiramisu. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Stay at Hans Merensky Hotel and Spa

Very close to the airport is the four-star Hans Merensky Hotel and Spa situated on a golf course where you'll make a swing among the free-roaming antelope and baboons. The hotel is named after a famous South African geologist who helped discover the phosphates and copper in Ba-Phalaborwa.

It's not the most glamorous stay a little behind the times of electronic check-in systems (avoid the busy season as the hotel gets overwhelmed at full capacity), but its gardens and pool area make for great relaxation spots after a long day exploring Ba-Phalaborwa.

WATCH: This Limpopo bush lodge proves a luxe poolside experience is the best

hotel reception in phalaborwa

The reception area. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

Garden archway

The hotel's gardens. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

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