PANORAMA TOUR
MPUMALANGA - BLYDE RIVER CANYON - MAC MAC POTHOLES

In Mpumalanga, neighboring the Kruger National Park, lies the majestic Blyde River Canyon. Celebrated for its breathtaking views, one will experience some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Africa.

From many well-positioned vantage points one has a view of the 68 mile long gorge, which starts at 'Bourke's Luck Potholes' and ends at the 'Three Rondavels'. The Potholes are very extraordinary rock formations that were shaped millions of years ago by erosion.

The peculiar swirl holes developed when the once rapid river carried masses of sand and debris.

This breathtaking gorge, the third largest in the world, provides unforgettable memories that become indelibly etched upon any avid adventurers soul. Its scenery is unsurpassed, its vegetation is both varied and lush and provides a home to a rich selection of bird and wildlife.
 

The Blyde River Canyon (recently renamed the Motlatse) is the third deepest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon in the western U.S. and Namibia's Fish Eagle Canyon). It ranks as one of the most spectacular sights in Africa.

This great Escarpment is the kind of place where brochures and guide books run out of original adjectives to describe the fresh mountain scenery and magnificent panoramic views over cliffs rising 600m-800m from the river bed. The entire canyon extends over twenty 12.5 miles in length.

Blyde Canyon cuts through the Drakensberg Mountain Range, one of the seven major mountain systems in Africa. The botanical wonders of these high altitude afromontane forests can be witnessed while walking some unforgettable trails laid out under the forest canopy.

Beneath the Canyon the Blyde River also yields the unique and critically threatened Lowveld Riparian Forest, which now covers only 100 hectares in extent.

Blyde River Canyon - www.classicencounters.com

The Blyde River is dammed at the mouth of the Canyon to create the Blyde Dam at Swadini. Enter the Canyon from the Lowveld (the bottom, signposted to Swadini), head to Blydesrivierpoort, and you can take boat trips across the Dam to the spectacular Tufa waterfalls, arrange canoeing, rock-climbing or abseiling activities, or simply hike into the great outdoors.

There is an information centre at the end of the road with excellent views over the dam; prior to this there are viewpoints and (approaching from Aventura Swadini), the waterfall trail up to the Kadishi Tufa is signposted around halfway along on the right, followed by a path down to the dam wall on the left.

Blydesrivierpoort is a dead-end, and you will need to return to the Lowveld in order to head up for a view down from the top. Climb up onto the Escarpment through the Strydom Tunnel (signposts direct you towards Ohrigstad).

After the tunnel, at the Abel Erasmus Pass, there is the opportunity to see one of the rarest birds in the world. The presence of the Taita Falcon in South Africa was discovered only in the 1990s. There is currently a nesting pair in the mountains opposite the curio sellers at the Strydom Tunnel (look for the sign painted onto a rock simply advertising the 'Place of Bird').

Map of Mpumalanga - www.classicencounters.com

Map of the Panorama Route

Courtesy of Jacana Media

There are then some spectacular sights in quick succession as you follow the road along the rim of the Canyon (turn left onto the Panorama Road (R532/ R534) at the top).

The Three Rondavels are huge rock spirals rising out of the far wall of the canyon.

Where the Blyde and the Treur Rivers meet, water erosion has formed one of the most remarkable geological phenomena in the country, known as ‘Bourke’s Luck Potholes’.

Blyde River Canyon - www.classicencounters.com

Over thousands of years, surreal cylindrical rock sculptures created by whirling water, have formed a series of dark pools which contrast spectacularly with the streaked white and yellow lichen-covered rocks.

Blyde River Canyon - www.classicencounters.com

Following the road and the Treur River south, there are further spectacular viewpoints: Wonder View, God’s Window and the Pinnacle.

Attractions:

In the Blyde River Canyon engineers have built an inconspicuous dam wall in a bottleneck below the confluence. The result is the Blyde Dam. The Blyde Dam is the heart of the reserve, but its nerve centre is the nature conservation team's headquarters at Bourke's Luck. Just a stone's throw away, a network of pathways and footbridges allow visitors to explore the potholes (some of which are 6 m deep) at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur rivers.

Another attraction at Bourke's Luck is the visitors centre, which has several fascinating displays. A recently developed, 180 m circular trail, accessible to the physically disabled, starts at the visitors centre.

Many other hikes are available which provide opportunities to view beautiful waterfalls which are common-place in the area.
 

Activities:

Hiking:
There are numerous hikes into the canyon and along the top of the escarpment. The Blyde River Canyon Hiking Trail (5 days), takes you through the canyon, exploring over 60km of varied wetland, grassland, bush veld, and riverine habitat. The Trail is versatile as it can be walked in shorter 2-3 day sections. It is one of the finest ways to witness most of the region's species and experience its exquisite beauty.

Birdwatching:
Due to the prolific birdlife in the area Blyde River Canyon is an avid birdwatcher's paradise.  The area consists of a multitude of different species co-existing splendidly with the many various habitats.

History :

Certainly, this part of South Africa was populated long before it was descended upon by gold prospectors. Stone age tools of up to 150,000 years old have been discovered in the Blyde River Canyon, while a rock shelter near the Echo Caves was first inhabited at least 30,000 years ago.

More recent relics of human habitation include a number of stone wall settlements dating from the early Iron Age, a collection of sixth-century clay heads unearthed near Lydenberg (and now on display in that town's museum), and panels of monochromatic rock art spread throughout the area.
 

Vegetation:

Habitat includes the inspiring cliffs of the Drakensberg escarpment with its plethora of nesting habitats for several raptor species along with swift, swallow and bald ibis colonies.

The pinnacle of the escarpment drops into open montane grasslands with patches of woodland and indigenous scrub. Scrubby aloe and protea stands are found over the considerable majority of the cliffs and rocky mountainous terrain. Below in the canyon and on the slopes of the escarpment, open broadleaf woodlands and lush and fertile riparian forests are found.
 

Wildlife:

Wildlife in the canyon area is as diverse as the habitats. They include, most evidently, troops of baboon, vervet monkey and dassies which frequent the roadside above the canyon.
 

Helicopter excursion and/or Picnic in the Blyde River Canyon