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BLYDE RIVER CANYON ROUTES

PANORAMA TOURS CONDUCTED BY:

THABA TSWENI SAFARIS & WENDEL HOUGH AS GUIDE

BASED IN THE BLYDE RIVER CANYON
Thaba Tsweni Lodge & Safaris offer daily tours into the the Blyde River Canyon and Panorama Route for two to ten clients per tour. Tours are conducted in an air-conditioned micro-bus and exclusively one group per tour! Please contact Thaba Tsweni Lodge via E-Mail: thabatsweni@absamail.co.za

To help planning for your day trips, here are 4 possible routes to do.

ROUTE 1

The "There and Back" – route. Short Blyde River Canyon Tour (79km) + trip back to Graskop (50 km) = 129kms, minimum time (all stops) 3 hours.

GENERAL ROUTE DESCRIPTION

This short one way route is included in all other routes. The total distances for each relevant route is indicated under the relevant route description.

Leave GRASKOP on R532 north and turn right after 2.5 km onto the R534 marked GODS WINDOW. Continue 1.5km and turn right into parking area for.

THE PINNACLE

This 30m high quartzite “needle” rises dramatically out of the fern clad ravine (created by the Ngwaritsane River) over countless millennia. To the right of – and below – the viewing platform is a plateau from which can be seen only the topmost of 8 waterfalls which take the river down approx. 450m in a series of alternation falls and cascades.

Turn right onto R534, pass by (or stop at) 2 lay by viewpoints and after 4.5 kms turn right into parking area for-

GOD'S WINDOW

Dramatic views to the south and east from various strategically placed viewing platforms overlooking the almost sheer 300m drop into an indigenous forest clad ravine, leave no doubt as to why this majestic natural feature is called GOD’S WINDOW. Being 250m higher than the PINNACALE viewpoint, the total drop to the lands below is approx. 750m and the views of the green clad cliffs and buttresses fading away into the hazy distance make this a truly unforgettable sight. In the near distance (half way down the second buttress) may be seen the only alpine – or avalanche – bridge in the country. (For further details see under the “ON & UNDER ESCARPMENT Route.

Turn right onto the R534 and after 2km, turn right into the parking area for WONDER VIEW.

WONDER VIEW

The highest point on the edge of the escarpment accessible to the motorist, WONDER VIEW (at 1730m) gives a sense of the grandeur of the region equalled only by the views into the Canyon itself. Awesome views to all points of the compass make this viewpoint a photographer’s dream, especially at sunrise and sunset.

To the east is the almost sheer 800m drop to the Lowveld; to the north lies the 1832m high THE PEAK; to the northwest witness the intermittent, flat topped peaks of the dragon’s back growing ever more indiscernible in the hazy distance in their march towards Tzaneen; and elsewhere the awe inspiring but strangely intimate fall towards the Blyde River valley north of Pilgrims Rest from where the sudden upsurge of the mountains beyond offer make a perfect picture as the nuances of light and shade continuously change throughout the day; and last- but not least – the views to the south and south east where GRASKOP may be seen nestling against its “titled” plateau.

Turn right onto the R534 and continue 6km to the T-junction with the R532.

(2km from WONDER VIEW – on the left – is situated PARADISE CAMP. This is the starting point of the Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail, details of which can be found under the heading “Hiking”.

At the T-junction turn left (towards Graskop) & after 1 km, turn right onto the road marked LISBON FALLS. After 2kms stop at parking area for LISBON FALLS.

LISBON FALLS

At 92m the LISBON FALLS are the highest in the area. The river separates into three steams as it plunges into the pool below. If one has the time, it is possible to descend to the pool, but the path is not a registered nature trail and, as such, you may proceed with due caution and at your own risk. The descent will add one to two hours onto your journey.

Return to the R532, turn left and continue 2km to turn off left marked BERLIN FALLS. After 1.8km turn left and continue 200m parking area for BERLIN FALLS.

BERLIN FALLS

This national monument is 45m high and came into being when, over many aeons, the softer rock was gradually worn away. The relatively small size of the waterfall in relation to the hugeness of the ravine into which it plunges has inspired one commentator to call this waterfall ‘THE SPLENDID ISOLATION”.

Return to the R532 and continue for 27km. (After 19km on the right, overlooking the Treur River valley, the TRICHARDT POTGIETER monument may be seen. The reason for this monument may be discovered under the heading “HISTORY” . Where were we? Oh yes! You have proceeded 27 km from Berlin Falls and are about to turn right into the parking area for BOURKE'S LUCK POTHOLES.

BOURKE’S LUCK POTHOLES

This natural feature marks the beginning of the canyon proper. Through countless aeons the swirling whirlpools which occur as the Treur River falls into the Blyde River caused waterborne sand and rock to grind cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the rivers.

The informative Visitor’s Centre details some of the interesting natural and socio-historic features and is the starting point of the 700m walk to the potholes themselves. For full enjoyment of the potholes, at least 1 hour must be set aside.

Return to R534, turn right, and after 9km turn right onto road marked LOWVELD VIEWPOINT. After .5km stop in parking area for LOWVELD VIEWPOINT.

LOWVELD VIEWPOINT

To get the most out of this viewpoint (and at 3 Rondawel Viewpoint), move southward and then proceed north in an anticlockwise direction stopping at the various guard-railed viewing platforms as they come up.

The east is the view of the Lowveld between two peaks (Mapjaneng on the left and Hebronberg on the right) which gives this viewpoint its name. To the northeast, just 500m away but over 550m below one will see a cottage and picnic spot. This is private property and also the starting point for rafting – by appointment only! on the Blyde River. The shortest way from the viewpoint to the cottage (by road) is over 150km.

PLEASE PROCEED WITH DUE CAUTION WHEN NOT BEHIND A RAILING

Return to the R532, turn right continue for 5 km and turn right onto road marked THREE RONDAWEL VIEWPOINT. Continue for 4 km to parking area for THREE RONDAWEL VIEWPOINT.

THREE RONDAWEL VIEWPOINT

Once again moving from south to north, the majesty of this second-largest canyon in the world opens up for your delight.

Firstly one becomes aware of the natural phenomenon, which gives this viewpoint its name. But, long before written history the indigenous peoples had their own names for these features. The THREE RONDAWELS were known as “The Chief and his three wives”.

The flat topped-peak to the right is names MAPJANENG- “The Chief” – (named in honour of a Mapulana chief named Maripe Mashile who routed invading Swazis at a great battle whose name has lived on as “Moholoholo” or -in translation “The very great one”) whilst the three wives – in descending order from right to left – are named MASEROTO, MOGOLADIKWE, and MAGABOLLE. Behind them all towering in isolated and massive splendour is the 1944m high peak named MARIEPSKOP – also named after Maripe Mashile – which forms the southern portal of the canyon mouth.

To the north of MAGABOLLE the magnificent, almost arrogant, jutting profile of the SWADINI BUTTRESS forms the northern portal of the canyon mouth whilst offering a superb example of the powerful effect of wind and water on raw rock interspersed with layers of shale.

Pointing roughly northeasterly and virtually surrounded by the waters of the lake formed by the dam wall, is the mountain named THABANENG (the mountain with the shadow that moves) by the indigenous peoples and surprise, surprise! – THE SUNDIAL by the white peoples.

Of interest is the fact that the viewpoints hover around 1380m, whilst the level of the dam when full, is 665m. For further reading on the "Blyde Canyon".

Return to the R532.

At this point the “basic ingredient” route ends, please refer to the other routes for options from this point onwards.

ROUTE 2

The "Rough" Panorama route – 143kms Basic Route (79km) + Rough Route (64km), min time 4.5 hours.

ROUGH PANORAMA ROUTE

143kms basic route (79km) + rough route (64km), min time 4.5 hours

4 X 4 Route ONLY: At the T-junction 3 Rondawels and R532, turn left and continue 15.5kms (1.5km beyond Bourke’s Luck Potholes) and turn off right onto a GRAVEL road marked VAALHOEK. (This road is usually in a reasonable condition, but it is suggested that enquiries be made locally if there is any doubt in your mind or if there has been a recent rainstorm. This route is not suggested for vehicles with low chassis structures.)

THE VAALHOEK ROAD

This 29km stretch of gravel road is an incredibly scenic tour through the Blyde River Valley (the same valley which you saw looking west from Wonder View.) The road crosses the Blyde River five times across “wait a moment” causeways at one or two of which have been placed picnic tables. Take note of the way in which the valley becomes narrower and steeper and more rugged as you approach

PILGRIMS REST

The town was declared a national monument in 1973 and has a very comprehensive and informative museum service, which can assist you in greater depth than, would be possible in this brochure. A visit to the Tourist Information office will enlighten you as to what the town has to offer the tourist today.

After leaving the town by “Downtown” of “Uptown” exits, turn right onto the R533 (The gravel road became the R533 when you passed the LYDENBURG turn off about 1km before Pilgrims Rest) and continue 11.5kms to stop sign. At stop sign continue straight in direction marked GRASKOP. After 3kms turn into parking area for

THE NATURAL BRIDGE

This small natural phenomenon can hold its own amongst all the splendours with which it shares the limelight. The result of centuries of movement of water (and the sand etc. carried therein) through what was once initially a hairline crack in the rock, this natural bridge has the distinction of having withstood the onslaught of 20-ton trucks thundering over it at 80 k.p.h. for at least 30 years.

Return to R533/R532, turn right and continue 2.5kms into GRASKOP.

ROUTE 3

The "Smooth" Panorama route – Basic route (79km) + Smooth Route (119km), min time (all stops) 6 hours.

SMOOTH PANORAMA ROUTE

Basic route (79km) + Smooth Route (119km) min time (all stops) 6hrs.

At the T-junction 3 Rondawels and the R532, turn right and continue for 24kms until a T-junction with the R36.

OHRIGSTAD RIVER VALLEY

The Ohrigstad River rises in the foothills of Mauchsberg and within 10kms of its sources it is dammed by the wall of the OHRIGSTAD DAM the area around which is a Nature Reserve. (For more details of this reserve CLICK here)

The river then flows in a northerly direction through Ohrigstad. At the point where the R532 joins the R36 the river turns east and then, in a series of north-south loops, ends up as the minor feed into the Blyde River Canyon Dam.

When tobacco was king, virtually the entire valley was under the plant but since the late 1970’s it has been planted to food staples.

An amazing fact about this valley is that it very seldom is more than 1km wide, and its descent through the valley is so gradual that one cannot believe the utter grandeur of the first and last 10km’s of its journey to the dam. (The first 10kms can be seen from the Ohrigstad Dam: and an idea of the last 10kms can be gleaned from the boat which goes out from the Blyde River Canyon Dam wall three times daily – if full.

At the T-junction with the R36 turn left and continue 20.5 kms where you turn right onto R555 marked BURGERSFORT. Continue on R555 for 1.5km and park on side of road at the Voortrekkers graves.

VOORTREKKERS GRAVES

The town of Ohrigstad as it is today lies about 3.5kms from where the original town was situated. At the time of its founding ANDRIES OHRIGSTAD (as it was then called) was more of a fort to which the outlying farming community could retreat when the indigenous peoples became restless or decided to raid the fruits of the farmers’ labour.

As it turned out, the town (founded in 1845) had an ill-fated and short existence – not because of marauding indigenous peoples – but because of terrible loss of life to the massive floods which came down every year and (even more deadly) the dreaded malaria.

You are now parked at the town’s cemetery where a Memorial Crypt has been erected and in which may be found some remains of the gravestones of that time. As these gravestones were created out of a local soft slate, many are not in a good state or repair.

Return to the R36 and turn right. After 1km turn right at sign marked VOORTREKKER FORT. Continue for .5km to parking area for Voortrekker Fort.

VOORTREKKER FORT

A Memorial Hall, built just after the 2nd World War, falls within the confines of the original fort at Ohrigstad. To the left of the Hall, under roof, is an example of the building methods used in the original structure. Remnants of the original fort were restacked to a height of about 600m for the rest of the Fort’s outline.

Return to the R36, turn right, and after 3.5kms the entry to the Ohrigstad of today may be found to the left. Return to the R36 and continue for 19kms. The turn off onto road R533 marked PILGRIMS REST will be on the left. Turn left here. 6kms after the turn off is a turn-off to the right marked.

OHRIGSTAD DAM NATURE RESERVE

This dam is the focal point for the 2500ha reserve and is good for Fishing (bass, carp, tilipia and large scale yellow fish) and non-motorized watersport. (Small powerboats are acceptable, but only by arrangement with the Reserve Manager – max 6 h.p.)

Excellent bird viewing area.

The Reserve is home to a variety of birds and animals. Camping, fishing and picnicking sites are situated around the dam and are approached by a good gravel road. Unfortunately, at this time there is no running water and only bush toilets are provided.

If you decide not to visit the dam, continue straight along the R533. After 21kms you will come to a T-junction, but before this T-junction you drive over what is most probably the most interesting pass in the country form a driver’s point of view, namely Robber's Pass.

ROBBER’S PASS

This pass closely follows the original wagon route from Lydenburg to PILGRIMS REST. It is – at the best of times (even by today’s standards of vehicles and driving) a hair-raising experience and many caravanners who know the road think twice before going up or down this pass. This is not to say that the road is in a bad condition. To the contrary! It is in fact a beautiful piece of road, but! The scenic splendour, which astounds you around every twist and bend, tends to spread one’s concentration a bit thin. Very few who drive this pass do not come out of it without a new found respect for those hardy transport riders, their wagons and the hard working spans of oxen.

At the T-junction turn right onto the R533 marked PILGRIMS REST and continue 3kms, across the historical Jubert Bridge, and to the DOWNTOWN turn off or continue 1km to the UPTOWN turn off (both to the right) and enter the old mining town Pilgrims Rest.

PILGRIMS REST

For details of Pilgrims Rest entry under The “Rough” Panorama Route.


ROUTE 4

The "On and Under the Escarpment" route – Basic route (79km) + "On & Under" route (222km) = 301km. Minimum time (all stops) 10 hours.

ESCARPMENT ROUTE

In Bushbuckridge/Bosbokrand turn right onto R533 marked GRASKOP and continue 28km to where R535 marked HAZYVIEW joins the road on which you are travelling. This is the start of KOWYN’S PASS. Continue straight on up the pass, where after 5.5km you pass through the alpine/avalanche bridge, which was noticed earlier in die day from God’s Window.

For story of Kowyn’s Pass see under History.

ALPINE (OR AVALANCHE) BRIDGE

The present KOWYN’S PASS (The 3rd attempt over 70 years) was complete in 1959. Hailed as a time saving alternative to the haul from the Lowveld, via Sabie, and up to Graskop, the pass – at this particular place – became a liability during the rainy season. Continuous large rockfalls kept the road impassable for many days – sometimes – weeks! – at a time. The many logging trucks which used the pass – besides having a 100kms detour to contend with – had to reverse about 5—m round at least 2 sharp bends (not an easy task for a heavily-laden truck), then manoeuvre into a position from which to start the trip back down the pass.

After a few years of this frustrating state of things, it was decided to construct the alpine bridge, which was completed in 1971. There are still rock falls today, but these are restricted to extremely wet seasons and – for most part – are removed within hours.

Continue about .5kms past the tunnel where a cairn constructed in celebration of the pass and the parking area makes it possible for you to stop and enjoy the views over the Lowveld and u towards God’s Window. (If you cross the road, please due so with due caution)

Continue for 3.5kms and look out for turn off on the right marked PANORAMA WATERFALL. This is a gravel road, which should be used with caution after rains.

PANORAMA

As is usual with any recreational facility close to an urban environment, the gorge is – at the moment – in a state of dilapidation. Although it is possible to get down into the gorge, the path – which is not YET a registered nature trail – is almost impassable. The truly amazing thing about the waterfall is that its source is only 3 kilometres away on the other side of the town. At times – usually late in September – not a drop of water can be seen. However, after a particularly heavy rainstorm, up to seven separate falls come thundering over the edge of the ravine.

Return to R533/R535, turn right, and continue 1.5kms into Graskop.

 

CONTACT DETAILS: P.O. Box 45; Graskop; 1270; Mpumalanga; South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)13 7671380 | Fax: +27 (0)86 5241131 | E-Mail: wildinfo@absamail.co.za