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MPUMALANGA

Mpumalanga is considered to be one of the most geographically diverse and unbelievably beautiful places in South Africa. People are drawn to Mpumalanga by the magnificent scenery, fauna and flora and by the saga of the 1870s gold rush era and a wealth of fascinating tribal legends. Mountains, panoramic passes, valleys, rivers, waterfalls and forests characterise the landscape.

This is also Big Game Country, the setting for dozens of sanctuaries teeming with wildlife and birds. Visit the world’s most famous game reserve, climb the world’s third-highest canyon, explore the world’s oldest cave and spend the night in the world’s best private game lodges.

The entire Mpumalanga area offers exceptional opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, horse-riding and fishing. Streams once panned for gold have become the haunts of eager anglers and lazy trout. Steeped in the history of pioneers, hunters and fortune seekers, fascinating gold rush towns abound. Mpumalanga offers something for everyone.

MPUMALANGA - ‘THE PLACE WHERE THE SUN RISES!’ was formally known as the Eastern Transvaal, Mpumalanga is considered to be one of the most geographically diverse and unbelievably beautiful places in South Africa.

Mpumalanga lies in the east of South Africa, north of KwaZulu-Natal and bordering Swaziland and Mozambique. In the northeast, the land rises towards mountain peaks and then terminates in an immense escarpment. In some places, this escarpment plunges hundreds of metres down to the low-lying area known as the Lowveld.

The entire Mpumalanga area offers exceptional opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, horse-riding and fishing. Streams once panned for gold have become the haunts of eager anglers and lazy trout. Steeped in the history of pioneers, hunters and fortune seekers, fascinating gold rush towns abound. Mpumalanga offers something for everyone.

THE PANORAMA ROUTE OF MPUMALANGA (NORTH ON R532)
PLACE’S OF INTEREST AND HISTORY

This scenic route starts along the R532 at the top of Louis Trichardt Ave and is signposted Ohrigstad and goes directly to the Blyde River Canyon. The scenic route R534 is a 15,4km loop along the escarpment rejoins the R532 at a point of 8.1km from Graskop.

Pinnacle Rock is a tall column of quartzite peppered with bright aloes and bushes. This rock rises 30m above the indigenous forest in the surrounding Driekop gorge. A source of the Ngwaritsana river cascades through the dark depths of the narrow cleft on the right at the head of the gorge.

God’s Window boasts magnificent views across the Lowveld from an altitude of 1730 m.
Kruger National Park and the Lebombo mountain range are in the distance. God’s Window has a nature reserve that includes a rain forest with pretty aloe gardens interspersed with large outcrops of sandstone that have formed prehistoric shapes over the ages. A trail leads through the rain forest along the escarpment edge towards Wonder View affording panoramic views over a vast expanse of the Lowveld.

Lisbon Falls are a fantastic 95 m triple waterfall that tumbles into the dark green pools far below. Lisbon creek is a typical example of an area where early diggers panned for gold. The falls are just three kilometres to the south of the Berlin Falls on the Lisbon River. The Lisbon River plunges down a double stream, over a semicircular rock face, 90 metres high. There is a 100-metre footpath leading from the parking area to a vantage point at the base of the falls for a really spectacular view. There are some lovely picnic spots here. Between Graskop and the Blyde River Canyon, you travel 2,2 km along a gravel road that leads west from the R532.

Berlin Falls are close to God’s Window, north of Graskop. This natural wonder can be viewed from a special observation platform and is along the Panorama Route. The Watervalspruit plunges down a cliff, 80 metres high into a huge green pool. Berlin Falls is a 10 km drive to the north of Graskop, along a tarred road to the west of the R532. Take the turnoff to the Blyde River Forest Station and State Sawmill. Just five kilometres away, on the western side of the R532 is a popular picnic site called Watervalspruit which has a lovely deep pool ideal for swimming. Berlin Falls were named after the farm on which they are situated and are 45 m high. They originated as a result of the different weathering of the local rocks. There are some excellent vantage points revealing the entire drop.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes at the meeting place of the Treur and Blyde rivers is one of the most incredible geological phenomena in the country. Water born sand and rocks have ground deep cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the rivers over millions of years resulting in swirling whirlpools. The potholes are named after Tom Burke who recognised the gold potential of the area. He became involved with the mining enterprise which owned the property. However the main find of gold was not on their property but on the opposite side of the river. To see these geological wonders that are an amazing array of white, yellow and
dark brown eddies of colour because of the soil present in the water, you will need to travel
roughly 35 kilometres due north of Graskop on the R 532. A series of metal bridges take you
right above them. If photographs are a high priority walkways around the ridge allow you
various angles and viewpoints from which to take your spectacular snaps.

The Blyde River Canyon lies within the 27,000 hectares of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, a 57 km belt which runs north of Graskop and along the escarpment. A great variety of vegetation occurs in this area because of the differences in altitude, temperature and rainfall. The high-lying southern section has a high rainfall, extensive grassy slopes, dense areas of rain forest with yellow wood, boekenhout, forest silver trees and ferns. The central area has mixed Sour Bush veld and thorn trees, while the northern area and foothills are known as the Lowveld Sour Bush veld. The Blyde River Canyon Reserve extends along the Blyde River Canyon’s winding path, which at every turn offers more and more impressive views over sheer edges dropping 800m into the riverbed. The fresh mountain scenery and panoramic views over the Klein Drakensberg escarpment are quite spectacular and give the area its name of ‘Panorama Route’. Viewpoints are named for the spectacle they offer, and God’s Window and Wonder View hint at the magnitude of the scenery. The ‘Pinnacle’ is a single quartzite column rising out of the deep wooded canyon and the ‘Three Rondavels’ (also called ‘Three Sisters’) are three huge spirals of dolomite rock rising out of the far wall of the Blyde River canyon. Their domed heads are iced in green and their sides are stained with fiery orange lichen. From the ‘Three Rondavels’ you can see the extensive Swadini Dam in the far distance, which marks the end of the reserve.

The geology and climate of this high rainfall plateau results in masses of waterfalls, beautiful to look at and many of which you can visit. Others are hidden deep within some of the largest man-made forestry plantations in the world, with row upon row of pine and eucalyptus trees.
The rich and varied plant life is influenced by extreme climate, a range of altitudes and various soil conditions. This variety of plant life supports an equally rich and varied fauna. Klipspringer and dassies find food and shelter in rocky areas. The grassland supports grey rhebuck and the rare oribi as well as rodents, reptiles, seed-eating birds and plenty of insects. Kudu prefer the cover of wooded bushveld and bushbuck and bushpig move amongst the luxuriant growth on the riverbanks.

All five of South Africa’s primates can be see in the The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. The somango monkey, nocturnal greater and lesser bushbabies, chacma baboons and vervet monkeys are all present. Hippopotamus and crocodile live in and around the rivers and wetlands of Swadini Dam, as do waterbirds and otters. Almost every type of habitat that attracts birds is found in the The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and all three South African species of Loerie can be found in the reserve.

Lowveld View Site is on a flat rocky mountain top at an altitude of 1219 m and appears to be only a little lower than the canyon peaks. Paths lead to the edge of the 16 km canyon. The view from here is awesome. The Blyde river below tumbles along the rocky canyon floor winding until it eventually flows into the Blydepoort Dam. Dense vegetation with moss and ferns fill the deep krantzes and the upper rocks are covered with vivid lichen.

Three Rondavels View Site has magnificent views of the well-known peaks of quartzite and shale, known as the three rondavels, with the Blydepoort dam lying far below. The Three Rondavels can be found at the northern end of the mighty Drakensberg Range, standing sentry at one end of the Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third largest canyon in the world. The peaks on Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route show spectacular views over the Blyde River Canyon – the world’s third largest canyon. Shaped like traditional African beehive huts, the Three Rondavels form 3 huge rock spirals rising from the far wall of the canyon.

The mouth of the canyon lies between Swadini and Mariepskop, which was once the scene of a great battle between Swazi raiders from the south and local Bapedi and Mapulana tribesman, who used the flat crest of the mountain as a place of refuge and a fortress whenever they were attacked. The Bapedi and Mapulana tribes became tired of the continual Swazi raids and under the leadership of Chief Maripi Mashile, they climbed to the top of the mountain peak opposite Swadini and bombarded the Swazis with large boulders in what became known as the battle of Moholoholo, ‘the great, great battle ‘. The Swazis were heavily defeated and thereafter the mountain was named Maripi in honour of the Mapulana chief.

Once known as the Three Sisters, the geological formations known today as The Three Rondavels, are one of the many natural highlights along Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route. South Africans know the rondavel as a traditional beehive-shaped hut built and used over centuries by indigenous people as their homes. Some camp accommodation in the Kruger National Park is in rondavels.
The Three Rondavels are spectacular peaks which look exactly like rondavels, round and wide, rising to a peaked top. When you stand on the viewpoint, 1 380 m above sea level with the Blyde River Canyon below, you’ll still be looking up at those 3 distinctive peaks which tower 700 m above the surrounding countryside.

These 3 geological formations were also once known as “The Chief and his 3 wives”. The flat-topped peak was named Mapjaneng after a legendary chief who defeated invading Swazis in a great battle. His 3 reputedly troublesome wives gave their names to the 3 pointed peaks, Magabolie, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto. These dramatic rock formations were created when erosion wore away the soft underlying stone, leaving exposed slate and quartzite that formed
theses shapes. Spectacular African sunsets can be seen at the viewpoint with a dramatic view of the canyon and the Blyde River dam way below.

Further along the R532 across the rolling mountain grasslands, gradually leaves the canyon behind. Diepkloof is a precarious gorge through which the Ohrigstad river flows, Further on the road descends and goes through the Rietvlei Valley to the junction of Route 36. This route commences along the road to Sabie and Pilgrim’s Rest (R532).

The Natural Bridge is a phenomenon that was caused by the river weathering away the softer rocks until it exposed the hard quartzite. The river which is a source of the Mac Mac river flows past the old prospecting pits before passing through the natural bridge. Continue on the R532 bearing left at the turn off to Pilgrim’s Rest.

Maria Shires Waterfall is named in honour of pioneer, Maria Shires (Born Taylor) 1814 to 1875, who is buried close by. She was the mother of Joseph Brooke Shires a pioneer commercial forester of this region, who planted the first Eucalyptus and Wattle at Onverwacht (now Brooklands) in 1876. Her daughter, Ann Maria McLachlan was presented with the Burgers Cross by President Burger for her devoted nursing services to the Mac Mac digger community. Her son in law, T McLachlan together with James Sutherland and Edward Buttons discovered the first gold in the region of Spitzkop on the 14th of May 1873. He later found many other valuable minerals in the region. A truly distinguished pioneering family who opened the way for the gold and forestry wealth of today.Forest Falls are beautiful broad falls, 10 m high, on the Mac Mac river and can only be viewed by walking along the 3.5 km Forest Falls Nature Trail, which starts at the Green Heritage picnic spot.

Jock of the Bushveld, Mac Mac diggers and Transport Riders Memorial. When prospector, Tom McLachlan acquired the farm, Geelhoutboom, gold was found in every stream and many prospectors followed and were soon busy with shovel, sluice box and pan. This was the richest strike so far and attracted miners from all over the world. Jansen, the Magistrate of Lydenburg visited the diggings and under pressure from experienced diggers, organised a digger’s committee. Jansen suggested that President Burgers should visit the goldfields. Burgers proved very popular with the naturally suspicious digger community. He spoke excellent English and the diggers had heard that his wife was Scottish. When the President looked over the claim holders, he noticed the predominance of Scottish names, bearing the prefix ‘Mac’ and said “I am going to call this place Mac Mac”. The role of transport riders, in providing supplies and equipment to the digger communities, should not be overlooked. These transport riders, mostly young man of adventure, were a breed of their own and hauled their wagons and oxen over terrain faced with many hazards and hardships. One of these, Percy Fitzpatrick, later became a well known South African politician and author of the book “Jock of the Bushveld”.

Mac Mac Falls were declared a National Monument on the 18th of February 1993. Cement pathways and stone steps with safety railings have been provided to gain access to the beautiful view points, from where the two cascades plunge into the deep chasm, with the river twisting 65 m below. The Mac Mac diggers were responsible for rearranging the face of the earth a little, by changing the single waterfall into the double waterfall as we see it today when gold miners blasted it with dynamite to divert the river in an attempt to work the rich gold-bearing reef over which it plunges.

Mac Mac Pools is a popular picnic area, shaded by a clump of trees on the edge of the shallow rocky river, which drops into a series of rock pools. There are shelters, braai facilities, toilets, picnic spots and a nature walk. The nature walk works its way to the base of the Mac Mac falls, providing magnificent views of the falls from below.

Sabie River Gorge and Falls are situated under the new Sabie bridge which was built to blend in with the natural attraction of the gorge. There is parking for the view site on the right before crossing the bridge. A short walk through the Williams Memorial Gardens takes one to the view points overlooking the gorge down which the Sabie river plunges 73 m.

Bridal Veil Falls which resemble a bride’s veil, can be reached by taking the old Lydenburg road. It is advisable to park on the rise and follow the rough track to the left beyond the stream. This track winds through thick vegetation up to the falls which drop 70m into the centre of an amphitheatre at the head of the valley.

Horseshoe Falls are situated 4km on a signposted gravel road off the Old Lydenburg Road. The cascade type falls form a perfect horseshoe when the river is in flood and have been declared a National Monument. This is also the site of one of the first sawmills in Sabie.

Lone Creek Falls are situated 9km from Sabie on the old Lydenburg road. A lovely short walk of 200 m through the thick vegetation of the gorge reaches a pool, into which a slender cascade of water plunges over a ledge from a height of 68 m. The falls have been declared a National Monument.

The Long Tom Pass which links Sabie with Lydenburg, is one of the most spectacular mountain passes in the country, With a summit of 2169 m, it is one of the highest major roads in South Africa. From Sabie the road climbs more than 1000 m before descending 670 m to Lydenburg. The road sweeps over sharp climbs and descents and it is difficult to imagine that this pass was once a fearsome natural obstacle. It was also the scene of a running battle between the Boers and the English in September 1900. A replica of a Long Tom canon stands in the pass, reminding visitors that the pass was named after the Long Tom canons used in the battle there during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Originally used as the route for wagon drivers travelling between Mozambique and Lyndenburg, the Pass was treacherous, with steep hairpin bends and incredible descents - not to mention the malaria and sleeping sickness that bedevilled these trips - and wild animals thatpreyed on the oxen.

Today however, as you travel on the new tarred road, you will still see the old road twisting over its dangerous course but the danger is no longer present. This area is now rich in vegetation like eucalyptus and pine trees as far as the eye can see. The scene is dominated by the peaks of Mount Anderson and Mauchsberg making it quite a beautiful route to drive along.


Amani



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