Mpumalanga and Blyde River Canyon

Closing the fine Kruger chapter of our travels we return to our big rocky friend the Drakensburg Escarpment in the northern wonderland of South Africa’s small Mpumalanga province.   This is Adventureland, with ziplines, canyon swings, rappelling, rafting, hiking, and water falling over rock ridges into pristine Blyde River Canyon – the world’s third deepest.  There’s also trout fishing… and I’m again unprepared!

Exiting Kruger we pick up a cell signal and pull up ubiquitous Google Maps application to figure our routing.  We’ve got time to circle anti-clockwise around the Blyde River Canyon on our way south to our night’s stay in the village of Hazyview… but we’re hungry so swing by the town of Acornhoek in hopes of finding lunch.  Finally we’re in unfiltered Africa: we’re the only whites around.  It’s a busy last Saturday before the end of summer break, and it all feels quite natural, crowded with van-taxis and pedestrians carrying about their lunchtime business.  Pulling into a large shopping center, Ben is happy to see a Debonair’s pizza chain outlet.  Naftaly and I take turns minding our van as the family wedges in to the tiny storefront to place orders and wait for delivery.  Soon with 6 small pizzas in hand we’re back in the van and happily munching our way west towards Blydes river.

As we approach the mountains the terrain and weather are suddenly different… we’ve left a clear, scorching 34 degrees C (95F) in Kruger’s low veld for a misty, cool 18 degrees C (64 F) atop the Drakensburgs.  The climb is beautiful, passing through lush, clean orchards atop the alluvial plains, then up a narrow notch canyon and through a tunnel we begin to ascent the spine of the Escarpment.  Stopping for a bag of Mangos along the way (50 rand or $3 for 10 monster orange orbs), we pass greenhouses, skirt green valleys and eventually we’re a thousand meters higher atop the Drakensburgs.  Soon we pull over for a photo img_6161opportunity looking down at the famous Three Rondavels – enormous rounds of rock with pointed, grassy tops that look like giant huts lined up along a canyon rim.  It’s a spectacular view and hints at the other sites ahead… but rain is in the forecast and time is against us as mist descends atop the Drakensburgs and foils the late afternoon’s sightseeing of the Pinnacle, God’s Window, Wonder View and the waterfalls.

Still we’re glad to have caught that glimpse of Blyde’s River Canyon heaven, and we adapt our plans. Naftaly carefully descends through the thick, slippery mist, dodging potholes and eventually finding the hamlet of Graskop, where we have time to explore a fine crafts store before driving on to our night’s stay in Hazyview.  Once there some roads are blocked so Karen calls our host who escorts us to his funky hillside rental.  It’s a lovingly constructed 2-story villa of stone, plaster and wood.  Lampshades are made from African basket weavings; bulky furniture is rough-hewn from local hardwoods, and there’s an amazing collection of perhaps a thousand butterflies and bugs stored in picture frames and drawers throughout the quirky place.  Our host tells a story of how black mambas killed his birds and dogs in this house… true or not, his story ads to the African mystique, and makes the night a bit more adventurous.

Killer mambas aside, it’s a lovely, comfortable setting and we’re glad to have a large covered patio facing into the jungle below to keep the increasing rain off of us.  Sue and Karen whip up a healthy salad and pasta dinner, and with wine and chocolate cake readied for desert, I send the boys on a treasure hunt to find the green and gold winged moth.  That keeps them busy and away from devices for a bit, and afford us parents a few quiet moments to enjoy the African evening’s rhythmic frog and bird song.

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