Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon.

Introduction:

A great destination for guests on South African holidays is the majestic Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, neighbouring the Kruger National Park. Celebrated for its breathtaking views, one will experience some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Africa.

From many well-positioned vantage points one has a view of the 33 km long gorge, which starts at 'Bourke's Luck Potholes' and ends at the 'Three Rondavels'. The Potholes are very extraordinary rock formations that were shaped millions of years ago by erosion.

The peculiar swirl holes developed when the once rapid river carried masses of sand and debris.This breathtaking gorge, the third largest in the world, provides unforgettable memories that become indelibly etched upon any avid adventurers soul. Its scenery is unsurpassed, its vegetation is both varied and lush and provides a home to a rich selection of bird and wildlife. The Blyde River Canyon is a must-see for guests on South African holidays.

Attractions:

In the Blyde River Canyon engineers have built an inconspicuous dam wall in a bottleneck below the confluence. The result is the Blyde Dam. The Blyde Dam is the heart of the reserve, but its nerve centre is the nature conservation team's headquarters at Bourke's Luck.

Just a stone's throw away, a network of pathways and footbridges allow visitors to explore the potholes (some of which are 6 m deep) at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur rivers.

Another attraction for guests on South African holidays at Bourke's Luck is the visitors centre, which has several fascinating displays. A recently developed, 180 m circular trail, accessible to the physically disabled, starts at the visitors centre.

Many other hikes are available which provide opportunities to view beautiful waterfalls which are common-place in the area.

Activities:

Hiking: There are numerous hikes into the canyon and along the top of the escarpment. The Blyde River Canyon Hiking Trail (5 days), takes you through the canyon, exploring over 60km of varied wetland, grassland, bush veld, and riverine habitat. The Trail is versatile as it can be walked in shorter 2-3 day sections. It is one of the finest ways to witness most of the region's species and experience its exquisite beauty.

Birdwatching: Due to the prolific birdlife in the area Blyde River Canyon is an avid birdwatcher's paradise.The area consists of a multitude of different species co-existing splendidly with the many various habitats.

History :

Certainly, this part of South Africa was populated long before it was descended upon by gold prospectors. Stone age tools of up to 150,000 years old have been discovered in the Blyde River Canyon, while a rock shelter near the Echo Caves was first inhabited at least 30,000 years ago.

More recent relics of human habitation include a number of stone wall settlements dating from the early Iron Age, a collection of sixth-century clay heads unearthed near Lydenberg (and now on display in that town's museum), and panels of monochromatic rock art spread throughout the area.

Vegetation:

Habitat includes the inspiring cliffs of the Drakensberg escarpment with its plethora of nesting habitats for several raptor species along with swift, swallow and bald ibis colonies.

The pinnacle of the escarpment drops into open montane grasslands with patches of woodland and indigenous scrub. Scrubby aloe and protea stands are found over the considerable majority of the cliffs and rocky mountainous terrain. Below in the canyon and on the slopes of the escarpment, open broadleaf woodlands and lush and fertile riparian forests are found.

Wildlife:

On South African holidays, spot wildlife in the canyon such as troops of baboon, vervet monkey and dassies which frequent the roadside above the canyon.

Other fascinating mammals include hippo and crocodile in the Blyde Dam, and impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck and zebra on the Lowveld plain in close proximity to the canyon's mouth. Rarer sightings comprise of bushpig and leopard.

Birdlife:

Blyde River Canyon has an abundant birdlife population; one of the most wondrous occurrences in the area being the predominating Peregrine Falcon and many other raptor species. Eighty percent (66 species) of Southern Africa's raptors occur, of which 55 species are regularly seen and 33 breed in the Blyde area.

The escarpment boasts the third largest Cape Vulture colony in South Africa. Vultures are recurrently seen in the early morning and throughout the day soaring high above the escarpment.

Birds also frequently observed include the Black Eagle, Crowned, Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Gymnogene, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Vulture, Whitebacked Vulture, Bald Ibis, African Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Knysna, Lourie, Purplecrested Lourie, Other species seen are Gurney's Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Cinnamon Dove, Emerald Cuckoo, Redbacked Mannikin, Goldentailed Woodpecker, Olive Bush Shrike and Green Twinspot.

Taita Falcons breed in the gorges and cliffs of the escarpment and are rarely sighted. Cape Eagle Owl, Whitefaced Owl and Wood Owl are among the nocturnal raptors regularly heard. The rocky outcrops of the escarpment are primary perches for early morning raptor spotting.

The Peregrine Falcon is usually seen in the early morning, during windy conditions, as it glides over the edge of the escarpment and heads off to hunt on the upper grassy slopes. African Fish Eagles can be heard vocalising, Gymnogene, Black Eagle, Blackbreasted Snake Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, Longcrested Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Redbreasted Sparrowhawk, and Rock Kestrel are all commonly seen.

The escarpment is well-known for its magnificent birdlife. Guests on South African holidays can spot more than 360 species in the area, particularly some 20-odd localised forest birds, such as Knysna loerie, Narina trogon, Blue-mantled flycatcher, Orange thrush and Olive woodpecker. The trails through the canyon are a good place to seek out rare birds, though the Loerie Day Trail above Sabie is conceivably better, passing through several stands of indigenous forest.

The walls of the Blyde River Canyon provide breeding sites for a number of handsome birds of prey, including Black eagle, Jackal buzzard and Lanner falcon, as well as the world's third-largest Cape vulture colony. Endemic to South Africa, and to all appearances similar to the more common and raucous hadeda, the southern Bald ibis, is often seen in the vicinity of Bourke's Luck.

How to get there:

From the zenith of the Escarpment follow R 532 through Strijdom Tunnel and turn right on R 531. Follow the signposts for Aventura Swadini Resort to get into the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.

To most visitors, the 24 984 ha reserve is a two-level attraction to be approached from either west or east. A public road runs along the long western boundary and there is easy access to beauty spots like The Pinnacle, God's Window with its kloof-framed view of the Lowveld, Bourke's Luck, and a lookout point pointing on The Three Rondavels - unusually shaped hillocks that are also visible from the Aventura Blydepoort Resort, a short distance to the north.

Anyone wanting to explore the upper level more carefully should take to the trails from this resort. The eastern approach, at Lowveld level, is via a road that enters the reserve on the flank of Mariepskop and follows the canyon bottom to the Aventura Resort at Swadini.

Location:

On the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, Northern South Africa.

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