An early start was what today required, and Alisa gave a gasp of excitement when she saw sun and blue skies at 0800, but she inexplicably let me continue to sleep, so we only hit the road north at 1000 after packing up and leaving Blyde River Chalets. However, there was still clouds and fog remaining, which completely obscured the area around the Pinnacle and God’s Window, so we continued on, and shortly after spectacularly broke through the fog to see the mountains and valleys laid out before us. A 20 minute drive brought us upon Bourke’s Luck, the name of so-called potholes dug out in the side of a canyon by the pools of running water. We wandered the park, clearly a commercialized area (including the R55 entrance fee), took the requisite pictures (though the ones we had others take of us turned out to be quite poor), and decided to head to the main event of Blyde River Canyon.
I had heard of this natural wonder only recently, and thought that it having fantastic vistas, it would make a nice escape from the city and start the transition away from the World Cup to nature sightseeing. Putting the location into our iPad App of NDrive South Africa, it wanted us to turn around at the Potholes and proceed all the way south to Graskop and up the other side, a journey of 90 minutes. However, everywhere we read had said to continue up the road from the Potholes, so we did.
Through large pine tree forest plantations we eventually started to see the tail end of the canyon and the rainbow of colours left on the canyon wall from the sediments either deposited or revealed by the ancient river. The clouds were still dissipate at this point, and the remnants of last night’s storm were still evident, but there were only patches of overcast clouds making their way off to the lowfeld below. We found each vantage point just off the main road and was on a steep cliff that looked out over the canyon and through breaks in the mountain range onto the lowveld below that stretched out all the way through Kruger and eventually to the Mozambican border. Unfortunately visibility wasn’t 100%, as there was haze off on the horizon, but the view was still impressive, and certainly worth the 500 km journey from Johannesburg.
Pictures and more pictures were snapped, plus lots of HD video of us on the ledge and admiring the views below and in front of us. There were only light crowds wherever we went, we often saw many of the same people at multiple location, and many of the foreigners seemed to be here for the World Cup, while many of the South Africans had Western Cape, or KwaZulu-Natal plates. Holiday for school children has been in place since the World Cup began on the 11 of June, so families seemed to be making the most of their holidays and getting out to the far reaches of their country. While a famous marketing slogan by now, South Africa is truly ‘an entire world in one country’. The area of Mpumalanga was exceeding beautiful throughout, and being within half a days drive from Johannesburg, it must be a popular destination on the weekends and when the weather is clearer.
Yesterday’s rainout meant our time constrained us to the look out points, though reading Lonely Planet seemed to suggest that the hikes were often multiple day hikes requiring lodging in the park or camping. It would have been interesting to see the trails as all the look out points we visited did have signs alerting visitors to danger, but had only few bars or fences at the very edge of the canyon. This almost caused a problem for one American tourist as he as standing on a ledge when a South African military helicopter swooped from around a corner directly in front of him. We thought it odd for training exercises to be conducted so close to a tourist spot, but perhaps there was nothing better to do today than fly fast through the canyon. It must be the best canyon for military exercises as the next two largest canyons in the world, Fish River and the Grand Canyon, are surely off limits to such things. Alisa was disappointed that the eagles that had been circling nearby were then scared off by the low flying helicopter, but she got some nice shots in with her telephoto lens before the bird flew off.
We hoped that the sun now had 7 hours to create a clearing at God’s Window, so we headed back towards Graskop, accidentally bypassing the Berlin Falls, but arriving at Wunder View and God’s View to take in the impressive sights. The entire lowfeld lay out beneath us as one large green and gold carpet dotted by the the dark spots of overhead clouds stretching for miles, with towns and small lakes dotting the edges of the horizon. Again, visibility wasn’t at its peak, but the wide view and impressive height could still be appreciated as what God’s actual window must truly look like from His perspective. It was difficult to capture the expanse in one picture frame, thus the videos that were taken will hopefully provide a richer experience for our remembrance.
Curio shops were stationed at all the official Park locations, and even though the signs told visitors that these were sanctioned by the Province in order to help the local people earn a living, their offerings looked identical to those in Johannesburg, Rustenburg, Pretoria, Durban, etc. Alisa and I debated how certain designs promulgated the country, as it can be disappointing to be told that a certain product is locally made, when it is virtually indistinguishable from one that can be purchased 1000 km away. However, we did notice carving and bowls that we had never seen, and while Alisa was able to hold herself back from grabbing one of the unique wooden bowls, I found a carving of a Kudu, one that I had never seen carved before and decided that for R100 that it was worth picking up and adding to my collection of African items that I try to limit to truly unique or one of a kind artifacts.
Looking at the time, and still wanting to sample Graskop’s pancakes, plus picking up some fabric for my mother in Pilgrim’s Rest, we decided that stopping at two more waterfalls was not going to be critical, and so we zoomed down the hills back to Graskop where we sat down at Harrie’s, supposedly the original when it comes to the Graskop pancake legend.
I was leaning more towards the sweets, ones with ice cream, chocolate, etc, but Alisa insisted on having a proper meal first so we ordered up a pancake (a crepe is how Americans would describe it) that was filled with prawns and calamari in a garlic sauce reduction.
We split that and a Greek salad in order to save room for ‘desert’, and the calamari pancake turned out to be very tasty, though putting a piece of pancake, calamari, prawn, plus a piece of the side of cucumber, covered in garlic sauce all at once into my mouth is surely a combination that I will likely never sample again.
We ordered a cinnamon pancake with apple and ice cream, which essentially turned out to be a take on apple strudel, and it was quickly engulfed by the two of us. It would have almost been worth staying in Graskop another night just to come back to try more of their pancakes off their ‘sweets’ menu.
Off we went to Pilgrims’ Rest where I completed the shopping and we hopped back on road, crossed Robbers’ Pass and went down the formerly potholed road (though large random ones remain) to Lydenberg and finally onto the main motorway of the N4 heading back to Johannesburg. Four hours later we arrived, picked up Debonair’s Pizza, and trekked back to Elna’s place to eat and watch the final Round of 16 match of the World Cup.
Tomorrow is the first of two rest days in the World Cup. The first day in 17 days that will not feature a World Cup match. Luckily we have a day planned out exploring Pretoria as we have our car for one day longer. Alisa has begun to narrow down our options for getting to Victoria Falls, so hopefully we will have our second month in Southern Africa planned out soon and will be able to head out to new places and new adventures soon!