Pongola is a small town situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa only 10 kilometres from the Swaziland border. Pongola has 50 km² of sugarcane and subtropical fruit plantations surrounding it.
During the Depression years of the 1930s, drastic irrigation systems were started in Pongola. The town of Pongola thrived as a result of the canal system and a sugar mill that was built.
Considered as the jewel of KwaZulu-Natal, uPhongolo or Pongola, is now said to be 'Right at the Heart of the Zulu Kingdom'. Road access to the area is via the N2 from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and the Golela Border post from Swaziland - a major gateway to the area for foreign visitors traveling south from the Kruger Park. Distances from all major centers are: Johannesburg 420km, Durban 380km and 270km south of the southern gates of the Kruger National Park.
The Pongola area is host to many tourist attractions including Game Farms and Lodges, the Pongolapoort Dam, famed for its Tiger Fishing and surrounding wildlife, cultural history and much more.
The town of Pongola is wedged between the Swaziland border and the Phongolo river and has all the modern facilities, Supermarkets, Hospital, Small Airport, 9 hole Golf Course, Tennis and Bowls.
The Phongolo river rises just east of Wakkerstroom and drains an area of nearly 8000 km2 where the rainfall often exceeds 1000mm a year. Because the irrigation weir at Pongola could not fully utilise the erratic water flow of the river, the Pongolapoort dam wall was built in 1972 in a narrow gorge in the Lebombo mountains to form the 2492 million m3 Dam behind the 89m high wall. Phongolo is the Zulu word for trough because of the many deep pools with steep sides along its course.
One of the main attractions in Pongola is the Pongola Game Reserve which is an exclusive private getaway combining a wonderous variety of bushveld, mountains and a range of leisure activities. The Pongola River runs through the centre of the reserve before entering a 13 276 hectare lake providing safari cruises, canoeing adventures, birding and Tiger fishing. Today the Pongola area is home to many game species, 4 of the Big Five (excluding only Lion). The amazing experience of tracking Rhino on foot and participate in the Elephant tracking program can also be experienced.
The Pongola Game Reserve is the oldest in Africa, having been proclaimed by President Paul Kruger of the Old Transvaal Republic, in 1884. The reserve was deproclaimed during the Boer War and the land sold to farmers. Over the years, many farmers have switched from cattle farming to game. In 1899 the Anglo-Boer War brought strife and resulted in the abandonment of the new Pongola Game Reserve. For many years after this, financial problems, confused boundaries and political arguments made the continuence of the Pongola Game Reserve a problem.
Pongola is also a birding 'hotspot'and has over 350 species that have so far been recorded here. Pongola Game Reserve cruises on the Pongolapoort Dam which is ideal for a relaxing day in the sun.
After the 1st World War, settlers started planting crop fields, building houses and laying railway lines but droughts and disease hampered this expansion. For almost three years it was a bitter struggle to survive against sleeping sickness and the tsetse fly. Believing that the game brought the tsetse fly, settlers tried to destroy the animals to rid the area of the tsetse fly and for a long period of time, 'Kill the game!' was the motto most men lived by.
By 1940 the wild game was gone but the tsetse fly remained. In 1948 the war against the tsetse fly was finally won with the notorious DDT insecticide. Cattle flourished and sugar cane farms intruded further along the course of the Pongola River.
Pongola, situated at foothills of the majestic of the Lebombo Mountains, is an area rich in Anglo and Zulu Boer War history. But soon the vast herds of game lured determined men, hunters and explorers. Hunters made considerable fortunes. One such hunter, 'Elephant White' shot 15 elephant in one season. In the plentitude that was Africa, everything seemed inexhaustible until the 'inexhaustible' game numbers began to dwindle.
In 1874 this areas was proclaimed the Pongola Game Reserve by President Kruger and was the first ever reserve in Africa. Pongola has an unparralled selection of excellent game camps and lodges in which to spend the night. Around Pongolapoort Dam there are 10 lodges in the Pongola Game Reserve which has four of the Big 5 - no lion - but over 50 elephants, Rhino, Buffalo, Cheetah, Leopard, Hyena, Giraffe, Zebra and many species of Antelope.
The construction of the Jozini Dam in Pongola began in 1970 but was a flawed dam that caused considerable controversy . Finally, in 1993 fences were dropped and game was re-introduced into the Pongola area. Elephant herds were re-located into the reserve. One hundred years in which man has struggled against nature has passed since the first proclamation of the Pongola Game Reserve.
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