March 10, 2014 by DAVE JACK
It is not my intention when taking you around South Africa and places to go and to see that we should concentrate on just one province until we have exhausted everything there. To try to do that would take a huge amount of time at the cost of the rest of the country so I will try to spread it around the country as much as I can.
Mpumalanga – translated into English is “the sun comes out”. Many people in South Africa mistakenly put a vowel between the first and second letters resulting in “Mapumalanga” or “Mupumalanga” both of which are incorrect as there is no vowel between the M and the P. In correctly pronouncing Mpumalanga the “M” is almost – but not quite – silent so the word sounds more like “Pumalanga” than it does “M-pumalanga”.
The capital of the province is Nelspruit and over the last 10 to 20 years has grown tremendously with new businesses and shopping malls all over the place and these shopping malls have become a shoppers’ delight. The road outside Nelspruit on the way to Johannesburg you will find the informal traders at the side of the main road, the N4, selling curios and fruit that grows in the area. The curios are usually wood carved ornament type items sought after by tourists. A word of warning though. Look out for the possibility of woodworm but a good examination should give the answer to that.
It would be difficult to cover the entire province in a single day as it is extensive and the distances from one side to the other, added to which is stopping time, would make it very difficult. The secret to travelling in Mpumalanga is to do so slowly. There is so much beauty it would be a pity to miss it because of travelling too fast to see it. As a result you and I will travel the province over two weeks.
Nelspruit is a good base given its infrastructure with many restaurants and accommodation establishments many of which are good quality guesthouses and in fact the entire province as a large number of these establishments ranging up to 4 or 5 star.
From Nelspruit, it’s a good idea to head out towards White River (watch out for speed cameras through the town) and on to Hazyview and then to Graskop. The scenery is fantastic and when you reach Graskop you have arrived in the heart of “Pancake Paradise” where some of the best pancakes in the country can be found but if you are there over a weekend expect a queue to get into any of the pancake eateries.
From Graskop and just 5kms away is the first of the well-known tourist spots in God’s Window. A short walk that is not too strenuous although it can be for the elderly, takes you to the vantage point with spectacular views that, on a clear day, allow you to see as far as the mountains of Mozambique. Back in the car park a lot of stalls with locals selling all sorts of curios and these are always a very big attraction, particularly to foreign visitors.
Leaving God’s Window the next bit of the journey takes you to Bourke’s Luck potholes and a fascinating look at multi shaped potholes worn into the rocks by millions of years of water running through them. Many might think “what is exciting about a bunch of holes worn into rocks” but only once you see them will you understand the fascination of the time it has taken Mother Nature to do this but how such beauty can come from “a bunch of holes worn into rocks”. The colours of the various rocks and even parts of the same rocks is unbelievable. It is way more than just a bunch of holes water worn into rocks.
After Bourke’s Luck it’s on the Blyde River Canyon. “Blyde” from the Dutch word for happy and obviously the first white people to have seen the Blyde River Canyon would have been the Voortrekkers who had moved that far north. The ‘happy river’ was thus named in 1844, when Hendrik Potgieter and others returned safely from Delagoa Bay to the rest of their party of trekkers who had considered them dead. While still under this misapprehension they had named the nearby river where they had been encamped, Treurrivier, or ‘mourning river’.
The local people from the area would have been aware of the canyon very possibly hundreds of years before. From the view point you see deep down into the canyon and a rest just to spend time soaking in the sheer beauty of it is certainly worth your while. Possibly the best view in the whole of the Blyde River Canyon is of the “Three Rondavels“, huge, round rocks, thought to be reminiscent of the houses or huts of the indigenous people. Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on Earth, and it may be the largest ‘green canyon’ due to its lush subtropical foliage. It has some of the deepest precipitous cliffs of any canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, after the Fish River Canyon, and is known as one of the great wonders of nature on the continent.
If you left Nelspruit early enough to have taken all that in, in one day, it is probably time to turn for home and the relaxation of that guesthouse in the province’s capital. Tomorrow we set off to see more and I will tell you more about his fascinating and beautiful part of South Africa next week.