While staying in or around Phalaborwa, you cannot miss out on a safari boat cruise on the Olifants River. ‘Olifant’ is the Afrikaans word for elephant. Local people also call the river Lepelle, which means ‘slow-flowing’.
Cruise the waters of the mighty Olifants River on a comfortable raft while seeing hippo dip under water and crocodile laze on sand banks. These water based animals are not all you can view however, seeing that the river is bordered by various Big 5 game reserves. Watch herds of elephant drink from the banks or, if you are lucky, cross the river in front of you! Enjoy close encounters with buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe, impala, kudu and many other animals coming to quench their thirst. The lucky few have even seen lion, leopard and rhino from the deck of the boat. Bird watchers will also love this cruise for its wide variety of water and bushveld birds, some of them endemic to the area.
A 20-minute drive from Phalaborwa town takes you past the extensive copper and phosphate mines to the river. After crossing the bridge over the Selati River (you might see your first elephant and buffalo here!) you enter the Mopani veld of the local game reserves. The tar road ends at the impressive dam wall after which a short drive on a gravel road takes you to the starting point of the cruise. The boats have a lower and upper deck giving you the best vantage points for game viewing.
The Olifants River has its origin in the mountains of Mpumalanga, between Breyten and Bethal. It flows north through the Witbank Dam, the Loskop Dam and is then forced east by the Drakensberg Mountains. At Phalaborwa it enters the Kruger National Park, where it is joined by the Letaba River. It then flows into Mozambique, where the river is called ‘Rio dos Elefantes’. About 40km before it reaches the Indian Ocean it joins the mighty Limpopo River, forming the Limpopo River Mouth at Xai Xai.
There are several boat safari operators, offering 3 hour boat cruises on the Olifants River. The boats can also be rented for private functions.