Visiting the Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon Reserve is situated close to Kruger National Park and stretches over 29000 hectares. It’s the third-largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and the Namibian Fish River canyon, and the second deepest in Africa. The Panorama Route takes you on a meander around the canyon, which lies against the Greater Drakensberg escarpment. Known as the “River of Joy”, its towering cliffs rise nearly 800 meters above the winding valley, providing backpackers and day hikers with epic views of the Drakensberg Mountain Range and the lush natural forests that make a trek through Blyde breathtakingly scenic.
Our visit through the Blyde River Canyon
Starting from Sabie, driving along the R532, our first stop is Mac Mac waterfall, a twin fall that plunges some 70 meters into a gorge below. Nowadays national monument, the waterfall was not always split in two. Gold miners in the area for the gold rush blasted the originally single stream to try and reach the gold-bearing reef over which it drops. Mac Mac tends to revert to one fall during the dry season. The path to the viewpoint terrace is quite short, and around the car park, you’ll find some stands selling local souvenirs.
Leaving the fall, after a short deviation on the R533, we get to Pilgrim’s rest village, a national monument and realistic depiction of the 19th century Gold Rush Era. It’s worth having a look walking around the village and visiting the several Museums that offer you a window into the past capturing the spirit of a bygone era and the life of the people during their quest for gold. Going back on the R532, passing by Graskop, known as ‘’the jewel of Mpumalanga‘’ and perched on the edge of Drakensberg escarpment, following the R534, we reach ‘’the Pinnacle rock‘’. It’s a tower-like freestanding quartzite buttress that rises 30 meters above the forest. Following the path, from the car park, it takes only 10 minutes on foot.
Going on the R534, we get to the God’s Window, one of many viewpoints along the canyon trail. It’s so-called for its incredible view of the Lowveld more than 900 meters below. From the car park, taking a path inside the forest, we have a nice walk to the several viewpoints that face the slope. Just 2 km north of God’s window there is another viewpoint called Wonder view that, with its altitude of 1730 meters, is the highest in the area.
The next stop is Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a natural phenomenon that marks the beginning of the Blyde River canyon and that is located where the Blyde River (meaning river of joy) and the Treur River (river of sorrow) join. Here, hundreds of years of flowing and churning water has carved odd-shaped sculptures in the stone that are recognised as one of the country’s most interesting rocky formations, that look as though they would be more comfortable on the moon. The beautiful rocks are a geological wonder, and their vibrant colours set against the flowing water make this place a sight not to be missed. Around the car park, there is a beautiful pick-nick area with a restaurant/bar where you can have your rest and relax.
Driving on the R532, we meet our last spot, the famous Three Rondavels viewpoint. They are three massive spirals of towering dolomitic rock, which rise out of the far wall of the Blyde River Canyon. It looks like someone took a paintbrush and splashed the rocks in vibrant oranges and greens because of the lichens and trees growing on them. After getting the viewpoint with a short hike, the view is breathtaking: on our left the Blyde dam, on the right the 3 dolomitic peaks. Our beautiful day throughout the Canyon is done, the games of Kruger National Park are waiting for us!
Map: click here.
Sights of the Canyon: click here.
Where to sleep: Sabie and Graskop are 2 good bases if you want to explore the canyon. Coming from Jo’burb, they are along the R532 at the beginning of the canyon. I slept at Jock Sabie Lodge (double 50$). The 2 towns are about 400 km from Johannesburg (4hrs drive), 200 km from Phalaborwa (north-west Kruger gate) and 50 km from Hazyview south gates of Kruger). We rented a car at Jo’burg airport – Our itinerary was: Jo’burg – Sabie, Sabie – Blyde River Canyon – Phalaborwa (Kruger NP).
Are you looking for accommodations around Blyde River Canyon? Click here