Blyde River Canyon: A mys­tic get­away

A MYS­TIC GET­AWAY INTO THE SOUTH AFRICAN WILDERNESS

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Inside - Words: ALESSAN­DRO PARODI

Mil­lions of years ago, a mas­sive tec­tonic shift cleaved East and South­ern Africa, cre­at­ing the two Rift Val­leys and the Drak­ens­berg mas­sif, in an im­mense geo­graphic con­for­ma­tion that ex­tends for more than four thou­sand kilo­me­tres. Among the most sig­nif­i­cant land­scapes aris­ing from the con­ti­nen­tal frac­ture, is the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa - the third long­est canyon in the world. Lo­cated less than 400 kilo­me­tres away from Jo­han­nes­burg and Pre­to­ria, the canyon is the ideal ven­ture for an au­then­tic week­end in the South­ern African wilderness and the per­fect gate­way lead­ing to the Kruger Na­tional Park and Mozam­bique.

the dark veil of fog wel­com­ing visi­tors to the low lands of Sa­bie and White River should not dis­cour­age you. The trip into the val­ley of the Blyde River be­gins as a jour­ney of self-in­spec­tion. A visit of the Sud­wala Caves, 50 kilo­me­tres south of Sa­bie on the Panorama Route, will in­tro­duce you to the ar­tic­u­lated his­tory of this dark par­adise. The caves formed about 240 mil­lion years ago and were used in pre­his­toric times as a shel­ter by the first dwellers. In the 19th cen­tury, the place be­came a strong­hold for the Swazi king­dom and many bat­tles for the pos­ses­sion of the un­wel­com­ing land of Mpumalanga raged be­tween the na­tives and the Euro­pean trekkers. In the dark­est depth of the caves, it is still pos­si­ble to hear the echoes of the sta­lac­tites beaten as drums to alarm the in­hab­i­tants of an in­com­ing threat. In mod­ern times, the per­fect acous­tic of the place has been put to dif­fer­ent use: those who are lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence the rare live mu­sic per­for­mances hosted in the ma­jor cham­ber of the caves, are left thrilled by the life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Con­tin­u­ing north­bound on the Panorama Route, you will fol­low the foot­steps of the Afrikaans Voortrekkers. In the early 19th cen­tury, the Boer pi­o­neers reached the canyon search­ing for gold, but they had to face star­va­tion and were con­fronted by them­selves with the un­wel­com­ing Big Five: lions, leop­ards, rhi­nos, buf­faloes and ele­phants, the an­cient sov­er­eigns of the land of Mpumalanga. Sev­eral bat­tles raged be­tween the Voortrekkers and the lo­cal dwellers for the own­er­ship of the land. Pil­grim’s Rest, 15 kilo­me­tres East of Graskop, was a haven for min­ers dur­ing the gold rush and is still pre­served in its orig­i­nal shape.

The small town of Graskop marks the be­gin­ning of a heav­enly trip into the height of the Blyde River Canyon. When driv­ing north, its prox­im­ity is an­tic­i­pated by the ma­jes­tic sound of the down­pour of the Mac Mac wa­ter­falls. The falls are fa­mous for the pool con­for­ma­tions un­der­neath the drop, where visi­tors can en­joy a swim in the most nat­u­ral and peace­ful of en­vi­ron­ments. Graskop is an ideal stop dur­ing a trip in the canyon. The town of­fers a range of ameni­ties with ac­com­mo­da­tion rang­ing from lux­ury to mod­er­ate, cater­ing for all pock­ets. Re­lax­ing walks and bi­cy­cle trails await, cor­rob­o­rated by South African and Mozam­bi­can treats in the lo­cal restau­rants. The main at­trac­tion of Graskop is the Big Swing, a sus­pended wire over a gorge of the canyon. Leap­ing into the gorge, the most coura­geous visi­tors will float over a hid­den cas­cade half the way be­tween heaven and earth.

Five min­utes away from Graskop lays a stun­ning panoramic view known as God’s Win­dow. The walk­way to the Win­dow will take you through a thick and soggy por­tion of rain­for­est. It was once the main sce­nario of the canyon, be­fore moder­nity con­verted ex­ten­sive plots in the area into wood and banana plan­ta­tions. Dark and mys­ti­cal as it is, the path to God’s Win­dow is wor­thy of the pen of Joseph Con­rad and Ernest Hem­ing­way. A crack in the moun­tain opens un­ex­pect­edly and what un­folds be­fore your eyes is a bal­cony that faces over 200 kilo­me­tres of South African land ly­ing un­der­neath. On a sunny day, it is pos­si­ble to see the lat­eral ex­ten­sion of the Kruger Na­tional Park and the lights of Ma­puto, on the In­dian Ocean coast in Mozam­bique.

The Panorama Route pro­ceeds north­bound through the val­leys of the Blyde and its many trib­u­taries. Their wa­ters crack the an­cient rock con­for­ma­tions cre­at­ing spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter­falls. Walk­ing or cy­cling around the Lis­bon and Berlin falls, you will be­come a guest of the mighty and un­tamed na­ture of Mpumalanga. Here it is pos­si­ble to en­counter lizards, snakes, ba­boons and unique birds in their habi­tat. In one of the many view points over the canyon, it is pos­si­ble to dine at the Boskom­buis restau­rant, a shel­ter into the wild that serves tasty grilled meat. The prices à la carte are rea­son­able and the set up is def­i­nitely worth the short de­tour across the Treur River. In the restau­rant you will en­joy a peace­ful break un­der a wooden shel­ter, cher­ished by the calm­ing sound of the river run­ning a stone throw away from your ta­ble.

The con­flu­ence of the Treur River into the Blyde River is home to con­spic­u­ous pop­u­la­tions of ba­boons. Ap­proach­ing

Bourke’s Luck Pot­holes, where the two streams meet, the sight­ings of fam­i­lies of mon­keys be­comes more com­mon, as the an­i­mals have de­vel­oped a peace­ful sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship with men. The Pot­holes alone are worth a trip to the canyon. Ex­ca­vated by thou­sands of years of ero­sion, the river­bank of the Blyde presents a con­stel­la­tion of nat­u­ral pools and cas­cades. The con­for­ma­tion can only be ad­mired from above, on bridges that stand over the ver­tig­i­nous cliff of quartzite and shale rock. Bourke’s Luck Pot­holes take their name from the Dutch set­tler Tom Bourke, who con­sid­ered their sight­ing aus­pi­cious of good for­tune in the gold rush. Need­less

On a sunny day, it is pos­si­ble to see the lat­eral ex­ten­sion of the Kruger Na­tional Park and the lights of Ma­puto, on the In­dian Ocean coast in Mozam­bique.

to say, Bourke died in poverty.

The trip into the depth of the canyon, and into a hu­man his­tory of bro­ken dreams, con­cludes at the Three Ron­dav­els. The view of the hut-shaped moun­tain peaks is best ap­pre­ci­ated in the late af­ter­noon and at sun­set. The three pin­na­cles watch over the stream of the Blyde con­verg­ing into the Bly­de­poort Dam. They are named Magabolle, Mo­go­ladikwe and Masero­tothe, after the wives of Chief Maripi Mashile, who once owned the land.

32 kilo­me­tres away from the Ron­dav­els on the R36, the Abel Eras­mus Pass an­tic­i­pates the en­trance into the re­gion of Lim­popo. The trop­i­cal land­scapes of Lim­popo are the per­fect an­tithe­sis of the gothic sce­nario of the Blyde River Canyon. Just as the steep mountains dis­ap­pear on the hori­zon to be re­placed upon your eyes by a val­ley of mango trees, a de­tour on your left will take you to the town of Tza­neen. In the par­a­disi­a­cal set­tle­ment of Pedi peo­ple, it is easy to find street food treats, cold drinks and ac­com­mo­da­tion for the night.

Bourke’s Luck Pot­holes, where the two streams meet, the sight­ings of fam­i­lies of mon­keys be­comes more com­mon, as the an­i­mals have de­vel­oped a peace­ful sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship with men. The Pot­holes alone are worth a trip to the canyon.

Left: The Big Swing in Graskop is a stun­ning panoramic view known as God’s Win­dow. The walk­way to the Win­dow will take you through a thick and soggy por­tion of rain­for­est. Sun­set is the best time of the day to ap­pre­ci­ate the view of the canyon.

Above: Bourke's Luck Pot­holes. The Blyde River Canyon is a mys­tic get­away into the South African wilderness.

Above: The Boskom­buis restau­rant. The small town of Graskop town of­fers a range of ameni­ties with ac­com­mo­dat­ing rang­ing from lux­ury to mod­er­ate, cater­ing for all pock­ets

Left: Tourists re­lax­ing at the Boskom­buis restau­rant. Lo­cal restau­rants in the town of­fers South African and Mozam­bi­can treats.

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