South Africa // Mpumalanga //

Blyde River Canyon

There are few places in South Africa where you can enjoy such easily accessible and dramatic scenery as that of the colossal Blyde River Canyon, weathered out of strata of red rock and dropping sharply away from the Escarpment into the lowveld. The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (also known as Blyderivierspoort Nature Reserve) stretches from a narrow tail near Graskop in the south, and broadens into a great amphitheatre partially flooded by the Blydepoort Dam about 60km to the north.

The drive along the canyon lip

The views of the canyon are wonderful from both above and below, but the nicest way to take in the vistas is on an easy half-day’s drive along the canyon lip. Some 3km north of Graskop, the R534 does a 15km loop past a series of superb viewpoints. The road winds through pine plantations until it comes to the turn-off to the Pinnacle, a gigantic quartzite column topped with trees, rising out of a ferny gorge. After another 4km the road reaches the sheer drop and lowveld views of God’s Window, one of the most famous of the viewpoints; it’s also one of the most developed, with toilets and curio stalls. The looping road returns to rejoin the R532, which continues north for 28km beyond the turn-off to reach Bourke’s Luck Potholes at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde rivers – a collection of strange, smoothly scooped formations carved into the rocks by water-driven pebbles. The best view of all lies 14km beyond, at the Three Rondavels. The name describes only one small feature of this cinemascope vista: three cylinders in the shape of huts with the meandering Blyde River twisting its way hundreds of metres below. No photograph does justice to the sheer enormity of the view, punctuated by one series of cliffs after another buttressing into the valley.

Three Rondavels to Blydepoort Dam

The 90km drive from the Three Rondavels viewpoint to the base of the canyon provides spectacular views of the Escarpment cliffs rising out of the lowveld and is easily incorporated into your itinerary if you’re heading to or from Kruger. The drive winds west to join with the R36 and heads north to begin its descent through the Abel Erasmus Pass and then the J.G. Strijdom Tunnel through the mountain, with the wide lowveld plains opening out on the other side. The road takes a wide arching trajectory to circumnavigate the canyon.