The granite domes of the Drakensberg range of mountains in South Africa’s Transvaal rise above the twisting valleys of the Blyde River Canyon, their summits separated by terrifying ravines.
Below, rivers and streams run through a tranquil landscape, bypassing old prospectors’ posts, forgetting forestry stations and vertical cascades of Lichen-covered rock. The river sounds mingle with the calls of rare birds and the barks of baboons beneath cliffs dyed red, yellow and orange by minerals.
This extraordinary canyon, which is part of the dividing line between the great plateau of southern Africa and the Lowveld to the east, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful landscapes in all of Africa. Nearly 3300ft (1000m) high, the escarpment plummets sheer to the floor of the Blyde River Canyon.
High on the escarpment stand the triplet peaks of the Three Rondawels, named for their resemblance to the circular thatched huts traditional to some African communities.
A hundred thousand years ago, Stone Age hunters roamed these valleys and verdant hillsides. Long before the arrival of the Bushmen (or San people) who left rock paintings on the canyon’s walls. Another, more macabre, legacy in the valley is the bones of Swazi warriors, killed in the tribal wars against the Pedi and Pulana in 1864. The Swazis suffered heavy casualties as spears rained down on them from the summit of Mariepskop, which their enemies chose as a natural fortress.
The Drakensberg escarpment offers astonishing views over the Lowveld and one of Africa’s most famous game reserves – the Kruger National Park.
Wildlife roams the craggy mountains and valleys of the reserve. Baboons and monkeys keep to the shelter of the forests, while antelopes – kudu and Klipsringers – hold the high ground. Predators include leopards, hippos and otters who live in the dams and streams.
It was here in 1840 that a party of Boer pioneers left their women and children behind while they explored eastwards to the port of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo). When they failed to return on the promised date, the women assumed the men has died and named the dream on which they had camped Treur, meaning ‘sorrow’. Shortly afterwards at another river, the two parties were reunited, They called the river Blyde, meaning ‘joy’
The Blyde rises on the escarpment, near the small village of Pilgrim’s Rest, where prospectors are gone, but the water of the Blyde hurtles on, dropping to the floor of the canyon in a series of stunning rapids and cascades.
Through the ages, the Blyde has brought down thousands of tons of waterborne particles which have eroded its spectacular path for 15 miles (24km) through the canyon.