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Enormous potholes in Blyde River

We had both had a good night’s sleep tucked up in our little cabin and it was hard to force ourselves to get up and out. We’d bought bacon and eggs in the resort shop yesterday and treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast. It made a pleasant change to also cook a hot breakfast but shoulder bacon (all they had) is not something either of us would repeat in a hurry. As I was trying to get the bacon to cook Stef suddenly jumped and cried out – one of the family of baboons that was meandering up the road came for a closer look and jumped up to our kitchen window. Fortunately the metal bars across it stopped the baboon from getting in.

We left the Aventura resort and carried on our southbound route. A few kilometres down the road we followed the directions for a viewpoint, taking a very short detour off to the left. A short series of pathways takes you out to the edge of the cliff from where you get fantastic views up and down the Blyde Valley. It is the third largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the US and Fish River Canyon which we didn’t have time to see in Namibia, and it is simply huge. When we drove up towards it yesterday I had no real idea that something so vast lay behind that first face of rocks. By the car park a few people had set up stalls in what looks like an arranged sales spot and they were selling wood carvings, bowls, textiles and other bits and pieces.

Our next stop was to see the pot holes in the rock. We had seen a pothole or two in Canada. They are formed by water getting trapped in a small space and whizzing round in a circular motion. The water then erodes the rock creating a pot hole. We pulled up and were a bit taken aback that we had to pay to get in to see them. The pot holes are one of the star attractions of this area and it was pretty busy with groups of tourists as well as people on their own like us.

A pretty good path winds down from the car park to the river where bridges take you in different directions over the rocks below. We first went off to our right, seeing very small pot holes before we ended up walking up the river bank for 50m or so. By this stage we were both thinking that it was a bit of a rip off but undeterred we doubled back and went across the other bridge. We then saw why this place is so special.

Carved into the rock below us was lots of evidence of this unique geological and physical phenomenon. In Canada the holes had been about 30cm wide and about a metre deep. Here they were enormous and you could still see the action of the water at work digging ever deeper into some of the existing potholes. At the level of the river were the remnants of the outside walls of some of the potholes but the cliff edge leading down to them showed how big they had been. Most were more than a metre in diameter and several had drilled down over the years so that they must have been about 20 metres deep. It was a really unusual sight and I don’t think our pictures do it justice.

Further down the road we pulled in to another view point. This one was on the edge of the escarpment looking down over the valley below. Beneath us we could clearly see huge tree plantations with access roads tracing as rusty lines through the sand. The plantations stretched for miles following the undulations of the hills. Beyond them we could see way off into the distance, with another mountain range visible at the horizon. I have no idea how far we could see but it must have been at least twenty or thirty miles.

Following the same road for a short while more we soon came to the turn off for the God’s Window viewpoint. This again was very busy and the car park caters for tour buses. There is a short walk with a slight uphill climb to the viewpoint which again provides views out across the surrounding landscape. A steeper walk up takes you to the level of the clouds and to a short stretch of rainforest. The viewpoint here gives you similar views to the ones at the last stopping point but also has the added benefit of a short walk through this very different landscape.

At the car park here there was a pretty sizeable crafts market. A sign explains that this is a project to help support the local community and it confirms that the people are there with the consent of the parks management type people. Had we been in the market for wooden carvings of giraffes, different types of 4x4 cars, bowls, scarves etc, all the usual stuff, we could have quite happily parted with cash but we weren’t and we didn’t.

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Craft stalls at God's Window

From here we agreed we would make no more sightseeing stops but would just focus on getting down to the border with Swaziland, which we hope to cross this afternoon. We worked our way down to the toll road and then whizzed along the motorway until heading back east for the border. Before long we were at the border, neither of us really knowing what to expect but both knowing that land borders are not necessarily straight forward. On the South African side there were no clear signs of what you needed to do there was just a queue of people.

One of them muttered to us that we needed a gate pass but they didn’t tell us where we had to go to get one. We finally found out that the gate pass was a slip of paper onto which they write your registration number and then two different people at two different windows stamp it. We got an exit stamp in our passports and then drove on a few metres to the South African border. Here they took our gate pass from us. We then had to pull up again to get into Swaziland. Here you were met by friendly immigration staff, laughing and chattering and muttering “PSV Eindhoven, ah this one’s Buckingham Palace”, who told you exactly where you had to go next. It was surprisingly much less chaotic than the South African process.

We drove from the border through the capital Mbabane, a small city which has major road works ongoing to create a bypass. It looked a lot poorer than the places we had seen across the border but people here all seemed happy. We headed out through the other side of Mbabane and down to the Ezulwini valley. Here we checked into the Mantenga Lodge a smallish hotel with views out across the valley, but not as good a view as they make out in their literature! We had a little chalet room which was very cosy. Dinner was served on the patio, very tasty food with generous portions but disappointingly no Swazi options to choose from. A few games of gin rummy and we were soon off in the land of nod.