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The Limpopo River rises in South Africa,[1] and flows generally eastwards through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean. The term Limpopo is derived from Rivombo (Livombo/Lebombo), a group of Tsonga settlers led by Hosi Rivombo who settled in the mountainous vicinity and named the area after their leader. The river is approximately 1,750 kilometres (1,087 mi) long, with a drainage basin 415,000 square kilometres (160,200 sq mi) in size. The mean discharge measured over a year is 170 m3/s (6,200 cu ft/s) at its mouth.[2] The Limpopo is the second largest river in Africa that drains to the Indian Ocean, after the Zambezi River.[citation needed]

The first European to sight the river was Vasco da Gama, who anchored off its mouth in 1498 and named it Espirito Santo River. Its lower course was explored by St Vincent Whitshed Erskine in 1868–69, and Captain J F Elton travelled down its middle course in 1870.

The drainage area of Limpopo River has decreased over geological time. Up to Late Pliocene or Pleistocene times, the upper course of the Zambezi River drained into the Limpopo River.[3] The change of the drainage divide is the result of epeirogenic movement that uplifted the surface north of present-day Limpopo River diverting waters into Zambezi River.[4]

Course

Limpopo River is located in Mozambique
Limpopo River
Limpopo River
Location of the Limpopo River's mouth

The river flows in a great arc, first zigzagging north and then north-east, then turning east and finally south-east. It serves as a border for about 640 kilometres (398 mi), separating South Africa to the southeast from Botswana to the northwest and Zimbabwe to the north. Two of its tributaries, the Marico River and the Crocodile River join, at which point the name changes to Limpopo River. There are several rapids as the river falls off Southern Africa's inland escarpment.

The Notwane River is a major tributary of the Limpopo, rising on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and flowing in a north-easterly direction.[5] The main tributary of the Limpopo, the Olifants River (Elephant River), contributes around 1,233 million m3 of water per year.[6] Other major tributaries include the Shashe River, Mzingwane River, Crocodile River, Mwenezi River and Luvuvhu River.[7]

In the north-eastern corner of South Africa the river borders the Kruger National Park.

The port town of Xai-Xai, Mozambique is on the river near the mouth. Below the Olifants, the river is permanently navigable to the sea, though a sandbar prevents access by large ships except at high tide.

Tributaries

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