October 15, 2006

South AfricaToday dawned clear and sunny, unlike the last few days in Kruger Park, which had started out with clouds that didn’t clear until late morning. And since our hut faced east, we woke up early and got up not much after 6 am. Rosemary got up first to photograph the sunrise, then Paul got up and went out birding.

We had breakfast, making toast in the little oven, then headed out to see the Blyde River Canyon and other sites up in the highveld. Driving back down the single-track road took 8 minutes from the house to the gate, after which we turned right towards the Blydepoort Dam. The dam creates a reservoir that is framed by the cliffs that form the great escarpment at the north end of the Drakensberg range, a spectacular sight. At the dam was an information centre, so we went in and looked at the displays. We had already decided to walk the Waterfall trail, which was just a short distance back down the road. The trail was quite short, 2.1 kilometres round trip, and it followed a stream up to a waterfall that plunged into a pretty little pool. There were many different butterflies flitting about, and across the trail there was a web that belonged to an ornately-shaped white spider with red spots.

From here our plan was to drive to Sabie, then work our way north through the view sites of the canyon. So our route took us down the R40 to Hazyview, a slow drive because it goes through townships, which are low-density urban areas where the sides of the road always have people walking along. Then we turned west and climbed up to Sabie, arriving there just about noon with the car’s fuel gauge pointing almost to empty. We filled the tank and did some grocery shopping at the Spar.

There was nothing much of interest in Sabie, other than the very large jacaranda tree outside St. Peter’s Church, so we continued to our next destination. Sabie is in the middle of a vast area of forestry plantations, so as far as the eye can see there are neat rows of equal-aged pine and blue gum trees with the occasional clear-cut. We passed a familiar sight, a lumber mill. Our destination was Lone Creek Falls, on a side road not far from Sabie. Luckily the land surrounding the waterfall was preserved in its natural state so the setting was nice. It was much higher than this morning’s waterfall, 68 metres high in fact; there was a fair amount of water coming down and the sun was just shining through the top of the falls.

There were other waterfalls we could have stopped at, but we were both hungry and we were running short of time. One of our guide books had recommended Harrie’s Pancake House in Graskop, so we wanted to try it out. About half a block away we saw several big tour buses, so we knew we were headed in the right direction. Despite the fact that it was 1:45 pm the place was full of tour bus people. We were told there would be a 20-minute wait, so we spent the time browsing at the Africa Silk shop across the street, also mentioned in the guide book. The silk comes from the mopane worm and is produced locally. Rosemary tried on a silk dress but it didn’t fit properly no matter what size she tried.

The crepes at Harrie’s were fantastic and not at all expensive. We both decided to have a sweet pancake and not one of the savoury kinds. Rosemary had a sugar, butter, and syrup pancake with ice-cream and Paul had a banana caramel pancake with cream. Rosemary stuck with English Breakfast tea and Paul tried the local coffee, which was good quality too. Outside the restaurant we bought some macadamia nuts and cashews for R35 from a street vendor, who had already approached us several times while we were waiting to be seated. We asked her if they were locally grown, and she said no, they came from Mozambique.

By now it was 2:45 pm and we really had to get going. First stop on the escarpment was God’s Window. This view looked down a gorge over the lowveld, which was mostly hazy farmland and not extremely impressive. There was a short trail up through a little rain forest, and at the top the view was of the forestry plantations, not very picturesque at all. In the rain forest there were some interesting-looking plants with orange flowers. Rosemary looked in her flower book and found that they were Escarpment Bush Lilies—the description specifically mentioned the rain forest at God’s Window!

Next stop was Bourke’s Luck Potholes, about 25 kilometres down the road, where we were startled to find the entrance fee was R22 per person. But it was a neat place: here the Blyde and Treur rivers join in a narrow canyon, and all the surrounding rocks contain potholes from tiny to elephant-sized.

We couldn’t spend too much time at the potholes, because we still had to get to the Three Rondavels. We had planned all along to be there in late afternoon because of the better light for photography, but we hadn’t quite planned on getting there at 4:50 pm, especially since the gates closed at 5 pm. The views were really spectacular: the “rondavels” are rocky domes that rise about 1000 metres from the bottom of the canyon, and they were glowing red in the afternoon sun. Once again we took pictures and hurried on our way. As we left the site, the gate was closed and there was a big tour bus outside. We could see the bus driver handing out informal incentives to the gatekeepers in the form of cans of beer, and eventually the gate opened.

From here it was only about four or five kilometres to the Blydepoort Dam as the crow flies, but the road down the escarpment actually makes a huge loop through the Abel Erasmus Pass and the Strijdom Tunnel. So we had more like 90 kilometres to drive. But there was no township along the road, so it was fast going and we were back at Trackers before dark, about 6:15 pm. Julianne met us and we chatted for a bit. We borrowed their Internet connection and tried to send an e-mail to the family. Signing in to Hotmail went smoothly but asking it to send a message didn’t. After several attempts we finally got it to work.

Then we put on our headlamps and walked down to our rondavel. Dinner tonight was rice with veggies, and cashews for dessert. Bedtime was about 10 pm.

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