Gorgeous gorges and canyons
Without doubt, the 26km-long Blyde River Canyon (also known as the Motlatse Canyon) in Mpumalanga is South Africa’s best-known canyon. It is also one of the largest in the world, and the 2nd largest in Africa, after Namibia’s Fish River Canyon.
Its cliffs, mostly of red sandstone, are covered in subtropical foliage. At its highest point it is almost 2 000m above sea level and its average depth is 762m.
The canyon is a scenic feast. Not-to-be missed viewpoints, vistas and geographical features on its route are the Three Rondavels, God’s Window, the Pinnacle, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Kadishi Tufa waterfall. It is also a major feature of Mpumalanga’s scenic Panorama Route. In and around the canyon are many opportunities for adventure pursuits.
Komati Gorge is another well-known Mpumalanga attraction. Formed by the Komati River, it is located close to Carolina and Machadodorp. There is wildlife in the area, great birding and trout fishing. Privately owned resorts offer activities to make the most of these attractions.
The Mzimkulwana River outside Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal is responsible for cutting the deep and ancient Oribi Gorge. In so doing, the river created a site that millions of years later would become an adventure playground. The Oribi Gorge Wild Swing at Lehr’s Falls is legendary and one of the highest gorge swings in the world, involving a 100m plunge into the gorge. Abseiling and mountain-bike trails are some of the other challenges this area offers.
Suicide Gorge in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, 90km from Cape Town, is one of the best canyoning/kloofing experiences in the country – but only for the fearless. It involves 7m to 8m leaps down waterfalls, swimming in cold water, hiking, and much scrambling across boulders. Just as challenging is the Riviersonderend Gorge in the same area.
At Montagu, also not far from the Mother City, the Nuy River Gorge can be abseiled and kloofed. In the Groot Winterhoek mountains, 180km from Cape Town, there is a gorge aptly named Die Hel, the steepness of its descent and the iciness of its rock pools matched only by its arresting beauty.
The steepness of its descent and the iciness of its rock pools are matched only by its arresting beauty
In Cape Town, one of the routes to the top of Table Mountain is via Skeleton Gorge. Starting in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the gorge trail is tricky and steep in parts (shaded by forest, however, it does keep the hiker out of the sun). There is also the Platteklip Gorge that snakes up Table Mountain – it begins at the lower cable-way station. The views are largely spectacular.
Lanner Gorge, up against the northern border of the Kruger National Park in Limpopo province, was formed by the Luvuvhu River and borders a private concession in the park held by the Makulele community. Dinosaur fossils have been found in its cliffs, it is rich in game and birds, and is relatively close to the Thulamela ruins, once an ancient walled city. This, however, is a remote corner of the world, not easy to access, but a challenging spot to hike. The Nyalaland Trail is a guided walk for small parties that must be booked well in advance.