March 18, 2014 by DAVE JACK
I said previously that Mpumalanga is a large province with a huge amount to see and do and it would be a very big job to try to cover every tiny bit of it and as a result, it is very possible to leave parts of it and some activities out. As an example, in my blog last week I didn’t mention the king swing in Graskop or Africa’s longest canopy ride in Hazy View as we rushed through those two towns.
What I’m going to try to do this week is to take in a few more places worth seeing and where you might want to spend time, assuming of course you don’t want to go back to do the adventure activities we missed last time.
This week we’ll go in a slightly different direction. Get onto the N4 as though you are heading towards Gauteng and not too far out of Nelspruit is a turnoff to Sabie. Again my suggestion is to drive that road slowly so that you don’t miss the scenery, a lot of which are tree plantations but still a very pleasant drive. On that road you’ll also find the Sudwana Caves also worth a visit. It’s not too far before you get to a T junction. Turn right towards the town of Sabie or left onto the Long Tom Pass that eventually takes you to Lydenburg but it’s the pass itself that is worth travelling. The scenery is quite spectacular with places where you can stop to take photographs or simply to savour the pure and amazing beauty of it all.
Virtually at the top of the pass is the replica of the “Long Tom” gun. The Pass was named after the final conventional Anglo Boer War battle that took place on the slopes of Mauchsberg between Lydenburg and Sabie, reaching a peak summit of almost 2000 meters. A replica of the Long Tom cannon is at the Devil’s Knuckles on the pass to remind tourists why the pass is named Long Tom. These cannons were fairly successfully used against the British Forces during the Anglo-Boer War. They were imported from France by the Boers as platform cannons that could swivel a full 360 degrees, and were originally used as fort cannons, which could be adapted by the Boers to be used as mobile artillery. Initially transported on rolling stock as an armed deterrent along railway lines, but later as field guns on 4 wheeled carriages, that were drawn by spans of oxen.
Having enjoyed the Long Tom Pass and had a look at the cannon replica, let’s do an about turn and head back down the pass to the town of Sabie with its coffee shops, eating places and more pancakes. After the drive to the top of the Long Tom Pass you may well feel like that cup of tea or coffee and the decadence of a pancake or scone before we head off to our next destination, a little town that years ago was a prospecting town for those looking for their fortunes.
Coming from the the direction of Sabie, the road to Pilgrims Rest is over what some would call a mountain. Up a narrow twisting road and a very steep and equally twisty road down to the town, a road that has had the brakes of many a vehicle burning in protest.
Pilgrim’s Rest is protected as a provincial heritage site. It was the second of the Transvaal gold fields, attracting a rush of prospectors in 1873. In the 1970s the town, that hadn’t changed much, became a tourist destination.
It is certainly worth a stroll around the village and a trip to Pilgrim’s Rest wouldn’t be complete if you don’t have a visit to the graveyard. That in itself reads like a story book.
At the graveyard, every grave was laid facing in the same direction, except for the famous Robber’s Grave and that’s perpendicular to the rest, simply with a cross and the large words “Robbers Grave”. It’s said that his grave was laid out that way, so that he couldn’t see the rising sun.
One story is that it is the grave of a robber who was shot stealing a tent from one of the miners. A tent was a “home”, so was the most valuable of anyone’s belongings. Stealing this tent was the worst crime and the punishment the extreme. Another story is that the robber instead of a tent had stolen a wheelbarrow.
I guess nobody will ever know!
After you have finished the fascinating trip to Pilgrim’s Rest (again with more pancakes), it is probably time to head back to Nelspruit for the night. The following day the incredible trip awaits to the tiny village of Kaapschehoop.
It is 1486m above sea level on the Highveld escarpment, about 25 km from Nelspruit and on a circular drive that takes you from virtually the centre of Nelspruit to the village and then down to the N4 again and to Ngodwana where the paper mills are. Paper a huge part of business for the province along with tourism.
The name of Kaapschekoop is probably from the fact that when gold was found in the town, it gave hope to the early inhabitants of the De Kaap Valley not far away, of ideas of huge wealth.
Kaapschehoop is set out between large natural clearings in the rock fields near the top of the escarpment looking over the De Kaap Valley about 800 metres below, with faraway views towards Barbeton and Nelspruit.
Below a typical little road in the village.
One of the big attractions is the wild horses running freely in the veld around the town but for me the fascination of the village is that it almost feels as the world stood still in Kaapschehoop in the late sixties.
I have touched on as much of Mpumalanga as I can and taken two weeks of my travelling around South Africa to do so, but quite honestly one needs to spend at least a week or maybe more there to see all that this incredible province has to offer.