The Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon. This 26-kilometer long and over 800-meter deep canyon is one of the most beautiful regions of the Transvaal Drakens Mountains in South Africa. The canyon is flanked by the famous rocks of the Three Rondavels, the shape resembles a traditional African round hut. The first glimpse of these circular round formations and it’s evident why Blyde River Canyon is considered one of the greatest natural wonders in Africa.
The red sandstone cliffs are almost vertical, and in some sections measure several hundred meters down to the canyon and river below. Most vantage points are very accessible, and located close to Blyde’s various parking areas. Clouds collect above the rocks and a mist gradually covers the land and scant vegetation of the Blyde River Canyon.
After the Grand Canyon in the United States and Namibia’s Fish River Canyon, the Blyde River Canyon is the third largest in the world. In the depths of the valley, the landscape vanishes mysteriously under an increasingly dense cloak of mist. However, the weather can’t spoil the beauty of the scenery that surrounds the Three Rondavels. On the contrary, it makes it even more dramatic.
The extreme climate, various elevations and the inconsistent composition of the terrain gives this landscape a unique character. Numerous streams, waterfalls and small rivers have shaped the land as well as the relentless effects of erosion. The steep rock faces and canyons of the escarpment in the South African province of East Transvaal have created a natural border between Highveld and Lowveld.
To enjoy this area and its cascades of water, it’s a good idea to leave the busy parking areas and popular vantage points. The scorching of the lower Lowveld benefits the survival of various types of plants and cacti that have adapted to the hot climate.
Blyde River Canyon first attracted interest in the 19th century, although this was not caused by its natural beauty. In 1873, gold digger William Trafford made a sensational discovery that gave rise to a gold rush throughout the entire region. At the confluence of the Treur and Blyde rivers, there were large deposits of gold that led to the discovery of the place that is now known as Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Over the course of several millions of years, the river water created fascinating cylindrical holes in the yellow dolomite rock.
A number of wooden bridges span Blyde River Canyon, and provide remarkable and dramatic views of the terrain. Water continues to erode the rock, and therefore creates further holes, swirls and whirlpools in this part of the canyon in which Tom Bourke discovered a fortune in gold. The gold in the canyon has long since been exhausted, but the wealth of nature and its unique splendor has survived to the present day.
Close to this section of the canyon is the nearby Blyde River Nature Reserve, renowned for its rich and diverse flora. The rocks of the Great Escarpment are home to many rare and impressive species of bird, a magnificent and protected habitat. Blyde River Canyon does full justice to its legendary reputation as being one of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the entire African continent. And the river relentlessly continues to cut deeper into the soft layers of the region’s ancient slate beds.