You could be forgiven for thinking you were driving through Scotland with misty, murky weather and conifer forests and moorland passing by the window, that is until you notice baboons scampering around the side of the roads, reminding you that, yes, this is indeed Africa!
This highland area of Mpumalanga, located in the north east of South Africa, is quite unlike the South Africa normally envisaged. Rolling hills, soaring peaks with rocky outcrops plus the big draw – the Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world, are its main attractions. I spent just one night on the edge of the canyon in December 2013 as part of a larger road-trip. I rented a bungalow at Forever Resort Blyde Canyon, a holiday village with shop, restaurant, pool and a hundred or so self-catering properties. It was rather dated, but the bungalows weren’t expensive and include kitchen/dining/living area with separate bedroom and bathroom. Unfortunately the weather was not on my side with rain and low cloud much of the time, meaning views of the canyon on my doorstep were at times completely obscured, pretty annoying considering I’d travelled to the area especially to see it! However, the countryside of the region as a whole made up for it, and exploring the small, quaint 19th century gold rush towns such as Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest, both with that ‘Wild West’ feeling, was fun.
Hiring your own vehicle is really the only way to explore the region as public transport is very limited. This also gives you the freedom to take detours to stop off at all the viewpoints along the way, including the amazing God’s Window, a few miles north of Graskop, where 700m high cliffs plunge down to the lowveld – home to the Kruger National Park.
One word of caution: beware of potholes! This was part of a longer road trip taking in Kruger, Swaziland and other parts of Mpumalanga and Gauteng, so I was kind of used to the dodgy road conditions that exist in the area. However, the roads here, especially around Graskop, were in a really bad state! Also, take warm clothes. I was there in December, supposedly during South Africa’s summer, but temperatures didn’t top 20 degrees Celsius during the day, and at night, due to the high altitude, were especially cold.