|Looking out over the Blyde River canyon, with the Three Rondavels in the background, breathtaking views.|
We woke in time to see the sunrise and Stef rushed off to try and snap a few shots from the viewpoint but it had risen too far by the time he was ready with his camera. The sunrise though reflected off the water and where the water ran over the stones on the river bed it looked like quicksilver. Although we had planned to carry on further north in Kruger we both decided that we had reached saturation with animal spottings and instead we made our way out of the park, heading west to the Phalaborwa gate. Dense vegetation lines the road and we only saw a few hippos in a river and some birds in the trees.
Leaving Kruger behind us we turned south and headed on the R40 to Hoedspruit. Just outside the park our view was dominated by what, from a distance, looked like a large white salt pan. Closer inspection showed it to be a mine of some sort. As we drove Stef was reading up on where to head for next for the night and came across information about the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. We did a quick about turn and headed down the R527 towards the canyon. The further we went the more pleased we were that we had made the detour.
To our left, the Klein Drakensberg Mountains dominated our view. As we got closer we could see the different coloured rock strata that make up the mountains. Here too, as in Namibia, they are topped off with a plateau which stretched as far as you could see. The road around gradually started to climb and climb and climb taking us through the Strijdom tunnel and into the centre of the valley. Here we still climbed further, passing lots of small craft and fruit stalls that had been set up on the side of the road.
Once over the top the valley opened up below us with tall mountain ranges on either side. Here was our first view of large agricultural land with fruit and corn appearing to be the main crops. Everywhere you looked, staggering views met your gaze, awash in bright sunshine, a pleasant change after yesterday’s clouds. We stopped for petrol at the Aventura resort and ambled down to the shop to get a bite of lunch. With no coffee to go, we went in search of the restaurant wandering around the back of the shop building. Here there was a large open pool and behind it you could see little cabins stretching out along the valley. We both had a good feeling about the place and were very happy when they had a cabin available.
Back at the shop we now bought in supplies for dinner and went to sort out our cabin. It was a really cosy place to be. A small but well equipped kitchen was at the front with a table and two chairs. Next door to it leading off the bedroom was a somewhat old fashioned bathroom, quaint but perfectly OK for what we needed. Outside there was a table and chairs and a braai for any hardy souls who could brave the now chilly night air.
Within the resort they have two viewpoints where you can look down over the valley. Taking a picnic lunch with us we drove up to the upper point waving hello to the baboons we passed along the way. A short walk from the car park takes you to a small place on the edge of the valley where you can sit on the rocks and enjoy the view. Across the valley from us were the Three Rondavels, rock formations that look similar to the traditional style of house. Below we could see the river winding its way round the valley and small specks of colour which with the benefit of the binoculars we identified as six people out kayaking. It was a superb spot and had a slight end of the world sort of feeling to it.
We drove on down to the lower viewpoint passing more baboons and the people in the cabin next to us who were wrapped up against the cold and walking. Here though the trees were too high and you couldn’t really see anything of the view. We stopped at the restaurant on our way back up to take advantage of the chap doing hand car washes. With lots of Kruger dust all over the car I’m getting covered in it each time I get something from the boot. The enforced wait found us in the bar having a quick drink and enjoying the view. Our neighbours came and joined us and we chatted about our plans for South Africa with them giving us ideas of where to go.
By the time our car was ready it was getting pretty cold and being the kind souls that we are we gave a lift back up the hill to our neighbours and made ourselves comfortable for the night. Stef cooked the most spectacular spaghetti Bolognese he’s done in ages, probably in part due to the enforced simplicity of the ingredients and the cooking utensils. It’s amazing how little you really need and how much you get used to using at home. Full of tasty food and wine and with many diary days caught up we soon snuggled up in our bed, even turning off the TV as nothing much was on.