Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world

Summer SunriseBlyde River Canyon, recently renamed Motlatse River Canyon, lies in the eastern part of South Africa, in the Province of Mpumalanga, “the place where the sun rises” in the local dialect.
Thanks to its length of 50 kilometers (~31 miles), its depth of 750 meters (~2460 feet) and its surface of 260 square kilometers (~100 square miles) it is the third largest canyon in the world, behind the Grand Canyon in the USA and the Fish Eagle Canyon in Namibia.

It lies in the northern part of the Drakensberg, the “Dragon Mountains“: a mountain system 1000 kilometers long (~620 miles) that reaches 3482 meters (11,423 feet) with its highest peak and which represents what remains of the ancient african plateau.
A large portion of these mountains are covered by the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 2000.

At the edge of the Great Escarpment which divides the inner highlands from the vast coastal plains, this amazing canyon consists mainly of red sandstone and is the result of the erosion carried out by the Blyde River throughout the centuries. The deep subtropical forest that covers it is so lush that it makes the Blyde River Canyon the largest “green canyon” in the world.

the-pinnacle-by-martijn-barendseThe pretty little town of Graskop is the perfect base for visiting the Canyon, offering a large choice of accomodations, restaurants and distinctive little shops that sell local handicraft.
Many activities are also available here: hiking, quad tours, 4×4 excursions, abseiling, drafting and helicopter flights.
Those who are fearless enough can try The Big Swing, a 68 meter (223 ft) freefall at 180 km/h (112 mph) in under 3 seconds on one of the worlds highest Cable Gorge Swings!
Not far from here, the fascinating Graskop Falls also represent an interesting excursion.

But it’s driving North from Graskop on the Panorama Route, which runs along the canyon’s western rim, that the breathtaking landscape can be enjoyed from its many view points.

– THE PINNACLE: a thin granite column that stands 30 meters (100 feet) out from the deep forest below.

gods-window-by-arthur-spring– GOD’S WINDOW: a steep stepped footpath leads to the two small wooden terraces that allow the view to the 750 meters (2460 feet) high sheer cliffs that plunge into the plains below. The name of this viewpoint has been inspired by the luxuriant vegetation of the landscape which recalls the Garden of Eden.
When the air is clear enough it’s possible to see as far as Mozambico, beyond the Kruger National Park.

– WONDER WIEW: the highest viewpoint of the Panorama Route also offers a wider view than God’s Window’s on the green flat Lowveld plains below. The LISBON and BERLIN FALLS, the two more famous among the many falls that populate this region, can be reached taking two different detours from this point.

bourkes-luck-potholes-by-harry-and-rowena-kennedy-2– BOURKE’S LUCK POTHOLES: these spectacular geological formations mark the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon itself. These circular recesses in the red and yellow rock have been formed by the erosion carried out by the whirlpools that form where the rivers Blyde (which means “joy“) and Treu (which means “sorrow“) meet. Thanks to a few boardwalks they can be viewed safely from above.
They take their name from Mr. Tom Bourke who wrongly believed to have found gold here at the end of the 19th century. To add insult to injury, just a few miles south of here hundreds of people really became rich thanks to this precious metal.
Nearby, a Visitor Center and a Museum are a source of interesting facts about the formation of the Canyon and its fauna and flora.

– THREE RONDAVELS: the view from here is simply gorgeous. The name comes from the three distinctive peaks of dolomitic rock that resemble the typical local huts. A small artificial lake created by the BLYDEPOORT DAM can be viewed below, a good place for taking a boat trip.

hippopotamuses-by-armin-rodlerThis corner of paradise’s vast biodiversity allows the observation of many different animals in the wild, such as the Somango monkey, the Chacma baboon, the Vervet monkey, hippopotamuses and crocodiles around the area of the dam, and many birds among which the rare Taita falcons and Bald ibises.

Picture credits:
Three Rondavels Panorama by Martin Heigan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Berlin Falls by Martijn Barendse (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Pinnacle by Martijn Barendse (CC BY-NC 2.0)
God’s Window by Arthur Spring (CC BY-NC 2.0)
God’s Window by Arthur Spring (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Bourke’s Luck Potholes by Harry and Rowena Kennedy (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Bourke’s Luck Potholes by Harry and Rowena Kennedy (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Three Rondavels by Allan Watt (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Hippopotamuses by Armin Rodler (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Bourke’s Luck Potholes by Mickey Bo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Swadini by flowcomm (CC BY 2.0)
Summer Sunrise by Mark Dumbleton (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)


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