How to explore the picturesque Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon is one of South Africa’s most beloved travel destinations. And for good reason. Not only is this scenic area part of the Greater Drakensberg escarpment, it is also one of the largest canyons in the world. The canyon, which is nestled along South Africa’s famed Panorama Route in the heart of Mpumalanga, offers breathtaking views of a lush lower lying valley and majestic mountain ranges stretching as far as the eye can see.
When one of my best friend’s recently told me she would be visiting the Blyde River Canyon for a few days, I was so excited that I practically begged her to write this guest post. Read all about Machel’s epic four days in this scenic part of South Africa here.
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The Blyde River Canyon
Recently our family of 5 enjoyed a well-deserved break to the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The Blyde River Canyon is the world’s third largest canyon after the Grand Canyon in the USA and The Fish River Canyon in neighbouring country, Namibia. It is definitely also the greenest of the three; with various lookout points where you see vistas of green and blue that go on forever.
Having been raised in Mpumalanga, exploring the Panorama Route – a drive along the escarpment offering a variety of waterfalls, breathtaking lookout points and even an opportunity to pan for your own gold – was always a much-anticipated activity during school holidays. And I simply couldn’t wait to revisit all the wonderful attractions along the route.
Naturally, I wanted my family to experience the same magic I had as a child. So, when the first chance popped up to escape our busy city life, we immediately booked a four night breakaway to the Blyde River Canyon.
Interested in other must-drive routes in South Africa? Read all about the Garden Route here.
Breathtaking views along the way
We set out from Pretoria and drove through Belfast, Lydenburg and Ohrigstad. Which is roughly a four-hour drive. Ohrigstad offers some of the most spectacular farming scenery in South Africa – lush, green fields and orchards of citrus situated between emerald-green mountains. We wished the road would go on forever, but when beautiful farmland made way to the amazing views of the Blyde River Canyon Pass just as the sun was setting, we were in awe at the earthy hues of the mountains bathed in golden sunlight. It was magical!
My 10-year old even put his tablet away for a moment to look at the view and mentioned how lucky we were to live in such a beautiful country! And anyone with a 10-year old will attest that looking at views while driving is not a preferred activity. In fact, getting them to even look up from their electronic devices is nothing short of a miracle.
Pit stop at the Echo Caves
A visit to the Echo Caves just outside Ohrigstad is a huge must. It is a child friendly cave system on a private farm with no areas too small or too deep – even for a claustrophobic. The guides are really knowledgeable and point out various interesting stalagmite and stalactite constellations along the way. As well as, share lots of interesting stories to keep the younger ones engaged and entertained. If you are not strapped for time this is a good activity to break the journey as the tour only takes about 45 minutes. There is also a small coffee shop on the premises for refreshments.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Forever Resort Blyde River Canyon from where you can enjoy extraordinary views of the canyon. Enjoy a drink on the deck of the Kadisi Restaurant watching the sun set over the famed Three Rondavels; a famous feature of the Blyde River Canyon.
I would definitely recommend their 90 minute horseback-rides, even if you are an inexperienced rider, as the route takes you to a stunning lookout point which cannot be seen from anywhere else on the Panorama Route.
The resort also offers a variety of hikes on which you can explore one of the rarest waterfalls on earth; a Tufa waterfall. A waterfall that basically builds up the rocks over which it flows faster than it erodes the rock…awesome right?
There are a number of attractions just a short drive away from the Blyde River Canyon. These include Bourke’s Luck Potholes, The Three Rondavels, God’s Window and the Berlin, Lisbon and Lone Creek waterfalls.
All attractions have entrance fees ranging between R10 – R45 per person. Do however keep in mind that they do not take cards. So, remember to carry cash.
We did all the attractions mentioned above in one day which definitely gets a little taxing if you have small children. But a break for lunch in the quaint little town of Graskop will offer a welcome reprieve. Try Harrie’s Pancakes, a long-time tourist hot-spot famed for their wide variety of pancakes with fillings ranging from chicken livers to apple pie.
Interested in exploring Graskop? Find other amazing things to do in this quaint town, here.
The museum town of Pilgrim’s Rest is also in close vicinity and well worth a visit. The whole town was declared a National Monument as a living memory of South Africa’s early gold rush days in the late 1800’s. A visit here is a treat for both young and old. With activities such as gold-panning, dressing up in old-fashioned clothing, visiting a printing museum and exploring a period-house museum, you’ll have no trouble keeping the family entertained. Don’t forget to also head to the historic graveyard, where you can find out why there is a grave facing in a different direction than all the others.
The Blyde River Canyon is an ideal stopover on your way to the Kruger National Park from Johannesburg or Pretoria. Or better yet, as a destination on its own. The visit to the Blyde River Canyon stood out as one of our most memorable family breakaways yet.
Have you ever visited Blyde River Canyon? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If you haven’t subscribed to Hoponworld yet, give us a follow to get new stories delivered straight to your inbox. Also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to see what we are up to.
***This is a guest post by Machel Streicher. Machel lives in South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria, but grew up in Mpumalanga. Which is where her love for the outdoors and traveling originated. When she is not busy juggling work and family, she enjoys discovering off the beaten path locations in South Africa and binge reading travel stories.***
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*Pinterest images by Lina Loos and Matthias Mullie on Unsplash.