Blyderivierspoort (R532)

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Molatse Canyon Molatse Canyon - Photo: Hougaard Malan

Take a 23 km drive along the rim of South Africa's most spectacular canyon - The Blyderivierspoort or nowadays known as the Molatse Canyon - and marvel at the scenic wonders the poort has on offer - like the Three Rondavels, God's Window, the Pinnacle and Bourke's Luck Potholes. The road (R532) connects the northern towns accessible from the R36 (Hoedspruit, Burgersfort and Orighstad) with the southern towns of Graskop and Sabie. There is a significant altitude gain of 480 vertical metres, but due to the length of the pass, the average gradient is a mild 1:47. The steepest gradient you will experience is on the eastern sector, where it gets to 1:10.

This is an unusual pass/poort in many respects. Firstly it does not in any way resemble the normal pattern of a road through a poort, where the incising river is always in close proximity. In this case the road follows to the southern rim of the canyon and for most of the drive the true beauty of the canyon remains unseen. Therefore it's important to stop wherever you can and explore the views on foot.

Secondly the vertical profle is much more of a pass than a poort with a large altitude gain, but there are 5 separate summit points, progressively getting higher from west to east. The road has 44 bends, corners and curves of which 6 exceed 90 degrees radius, but none of them are significantly sharp. If you follow the speed limits, it should be a perfectly safe drive. Be aware that this is a densely populated area, so you have the erratic behaviour of local drivers (some fast, some very slow), as well as tourist traffic, which can be equally erratic. There is also the chance of finding livestock on the road and mountain mists with the associated reduced visibility is also common along this road.

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Digging into the details

Getting there
: The northern approach to the pass can be done from either Hoedspruit or Tzaneen via the R36 and the Abel Erasmus Pass, where you must turn left (east) onto the R532 at GPS S24.565439  E30.633037. Continue heading east for 11 km past three settlements in the river valley to your left - Mapareng, Malaeneng and Mohlatsengwane to arrive at the northern start of the Blyderivier Poort Pass.

To approach from the south, drive north out of Graskop via Kowyns Pass for 40 km on the R532 to arrive at the eastern end of the poort.

Crocodile warning signView from the level of the dam from the hiking trail and the crocodile warning sign / Photo - 93RyanB

The whole route along this escarpment is known as the Panorama Route - and justifiably so. Expect lots of tourist traffic here - especially busses, as visitors from overseas flock to see the marvels of the Lowveld - or as some tourist outfits market it as 'The Slowveld'. All along the route there are roadside craft sellers trying to eke a living out of the tourist trade.

The first 7 km is also the steepest part of the pass (at 1:10) where the road meanders along the southern lip of one of the main arms of the canyon. The road loops through a 120 degree turn at the 7 km mark, which is also a well-known look-out point. From here the views are down over the Blyderivierpoort Dam and into the hazy distance of sheer cliffs and green mountain slopes. On the far side (north-east) of the river the gruelling, multi-day Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail follows the contours along the valley floor.

From here the size and scope of the canyon be appreciated.
The Blyde River Canyon forms the northern part of the Drakensberg escarpment. It is 25 kilometres in length and is, on average, around 750 metres deep. The canyon consists mostly of red sandstone. The highest point of the canyon, Mariepskop, [see our entry on the Mariepskop Pass] is 1,944 metres above sea level, whilst its lowest point where the river leaves the canyon is slightly less than 561 metres above sea level. This means that by some measure the Canyon is 1,383 metres deep. Whilst it is difficult to compare canyons world-wide, Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on earth, and it may be the largest 'green canyon' due to its lush subtropical foliage. It has some of the deepest precipitous cliffs of any canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, after the Fish River Canyon, and is known as one of the great wonders of nature on the continent. [Source: Wikipedia]

View from God's WindowView from God's Window / Photo: SouthbeeTours










The canyon provides tourists with jaw-dropping views and local populations with a form of tourism livelihood. From this main route, there are several smaller roads leading off to different attractions and viewpoints - far too many to cover within the scope of this page. Allow a lot more time for these detours than indicated in our Fact File below. If you're a first time visitor to the Blyderivierspoort, we recommend a full day to fully explore all that the canyon has to offer. If you can spend two days with an overnight stop at one of the lodges or B&B's, then even better.

Gold in the waterBourke's Luck Potholes can be seen at the southern end of the canyon / Photo: CedarbergTravel.com

From the 7 km look-out point the road descends slightly for the next 4,5 km past an airstrip and golf course at the Blydepoort Holiday Resort, to cross the Kadisi River feeding into the canyon. The road then rises again at a gentle gradient for 1,5 km where there is a well marked road leading off to the left (north) which leads to a look-out point known as the Three Rondavels, which are amongst the most photographed natural objects in Mpumalanga. This little detour is only 3 km long (each way) and is a mandatory stopping point for all visitors. The scope for photography from the view-site is world class. You can look back to your left up a side-ravine and see the waterfall tumbling down the lip of the escarpment from the lush grounds of the Blydepoort Holiday Resort.

Hippos in the Blyderivier near the hiking trailDanger! Hippos in the river / Photo - Angello ArgirovThe hiking trail crosses the river hundreds of metres below and winds its way laboriously up the crags, right past the waterfall, then follows the western ridge of the escarpment heading southwards towards Bourke's Luck Potholes and beyond. This hiking trail is only for fit people.

The road ascends gently, faithfully following the lip of the Drakensberg Escarpment, to reach the summit point of 1379m ASL at the 19,2 km mark.  The pass ends a little further, after a small descent, at the 22,9 km point at an altitude of 1313m. Although the pass ends here, the Panorama Route continues and within 5 km you will arrive at the Treurrivier (River of Sorrow) [see the history section below on how this river got its name] where you can explore the stunning Bourke's Luck Potholes. Here in this wind and water worn mini-canyon with its contorted and twisted rock formations, gold was prospected in the late 1800's. Watch your footing on these rocks as it's easy to slip and take a tumble. There is a lovely footbridge giving access to both sides of the river.

Two more hiking trails start from this point - The Geelhoutbos and Protea Hiking Trails which are multiple day hikes reaching deep into the heart of the Molatse Canyon Nature Reserve. A little further you can see the Little Chum Falls and the Trichardt Potgieter memorial on the left just after the third of the three successive bridges on the R543. If you are one of the super-fit and plan on doing the main hiking trail which parallels the road, but at a lower level in the canyon, there is an extension which takes you east to Erasmuskop and the gravesite of Oswald Pirow which dates back to 1959.

It is another 43 km drive through lovely scenery before you reach the town of Graskop, where you can enjoy a zipslide, hikes, mountain bike trails or visit the nearby old gold mining hamlet of Pilgrims Rest for a time trip into yesteryear. The best time to visit is out of season.

Molatse CanyonThe 3 Rondavels towering over the River of Joy (Blyderivier) / Photo WikimediaCommons

In 1843 Andries Potgieter - who had just founded Potchefstroom and on the advice of Louis Trichard - took a more southerly route to explore the unknown north-eastern land, which turned out to be virtually impossible - let alone arduous!! After negotiating what is known as Casper's Nek Pass (named after Paul Kruger's father who pioneered this oldest existing road in the region still in use), the party reached the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment down which there was no possible descent at that point, or - by line of sight - for 50km in any direction. Leaving the women and children and a few men outspanned on the banks of the river just below the top of the escarpment - with strict instructions that the waiting group return to Potchefstroom if the scouting group had not returned by a date two months into the future - the men went in search of a way down to the Lowveld 1000m below. This is the river we cross today on the R543 at Bourke's Luck Potholes.

Access to the Lowveld was discovered to be via an animal track on a land under the control of a local chief named Koveni - hence the Afrikaans translation Kowyn - and onto Delagoa Bay where, for various reasons, the men were delayed. [See Kowyns Pass] The waiting party, after staying a fortnight longer than instructed, left the river on who's banks they had been anxiously waiting, and named it "Treurrivier" (River of Sorrow).

A few days later the returning men caught up with their womenfolk on the banks of another river, which was promptly named the "Blyderivier" (River of Joy). In the year 1850 the farm GRASKOP - so named because of the vast tracts of grassveld and singular lack of trees in the area - was owned by one Abel Erasmus who in later years was to become "native commissioner and magistrate" for the entire Lowveld and escarpment region and had a local pass named after him - the Abel Erasmus Pass. The local, indigenous people gave this redoubtable hunter the name "Dubula Duzi", in recognition of the fact that he waited till the very last moment before firing on his quarry. [Info courtesy of graskop.co.za]

Nature Reserve:

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (or Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve) is situated in the Drakensberg escarpment region of eastern Mpumalanga. The reserve protects the Blyde River Canyon, including sections of the Ohrigstad and Blyde Rivers and the geological formations around Bourke's Luck Potholes, where the Treur River tumbles into the Blyde below. Southwards of the canyon, the reserve follows the escarpment, to include the Devil's and God's Window, the latter a popular viewpoint to the lowveld at the reserve's southern extremity.

The Mogologolo (1,794 m), Mariepskop (1,944 m) and Hebronberg (1,767 m) massifs are partially included in the reserve. Elevation varies from 560 m to 1,944 m above sea level. Its resort areas are F.H. Odendaal and Swadeni, the latter only accessible from Limpopo province. The area of approximately 29,000 hectares (290 km2) is administered by the Mpumalanga Parks Board

Bourke's Luck Potholes: This geological feature and day visitors' attraction, is situated at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde Rivers, on the reserve's western boundary. The reserve's nature conservation headquarters is located here, beside the village of Moremela, at the canyon's southern, or upper reaches.

Sustained kolks in the Treur River's plunge pools have eroded a number of cylindrical potholes or giant's kettles, which can be viewed from the crags above. It was named after a local prospector, Tom Bourke, who predicted the presence of gold, though he found none himself. The pedestrian bridges connect the various overlooks of the potholes and the gorge downstream.

The Three Rondavels are three round, grass-covered mountain tops with somewhat pointed peaks. They resemble the traditional round or oval rondavels or African homesteads quite closely, which are made with local materials. Sometimes they are also called the Three Sisters, though this may confuse them with a similar threesome visible from the N1 road in the Northern Cape, very far to the south.

The names of the peaks commemorate a 19th century chief, Maripi, and three of his wives. The flat-topped peak adjacent to the rondavels is Mapjaneng, "the chief", who is remembered for opposing invading Swazis in a memorable battle. The three rondavels are named for three of his more troublesome wives – Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto. Behind the rondavels the distant high plateau of Mariepskop may be visible. Beside the dam, the isolated Thabaneng hill is known as the "sundial" or “mountain with a shadow that moves". It is said that the position of its shadow indicates the time of day.

On a clear day the lookout point provides extensive views. From here one looks over the canyon to the Three Rondavels on the other side, which is flanked on various sides by promontories of the northern Drakensberg range.

The formation of the attractive sedimentary formations are explained geologically as the slow erosion of underlying soft stone, leaving the exposed the more resistant quartzite and shale rondavels.

God’s Window is a popular vantage point along the Drakensberg escarpment, at the southern extremity of the Nature Reserve. Here, sheer cliffs plunge over 700 metres to the lowveld. From this escarpment—a mostly unbroken rampart of cliffs—opens a vista into the Lowveld expanse and escarpment forests, the Eden-like aesthetic appearance of which prompted the name. On a clear day it is possible to see over the Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains on the border with Mozambique.

God’s Window features prominently in the plot of the 1980 cult film The Gods Must Be Crazy. Near the end of the movie, the Bushman character Xi (played by Namibian bush farmer N!xau) travels to God’s Window, and due to some low-lying cloud cover believes it to be the end of the Earth.

The original window is a rock that is set further back on a private farm and due to quarry operations and tree plantation farming this actual rock that looks like a square window could not be used, therefore the site was moved by the government to the edge of the escarpment. [Source: Wikipedia]

Fact File:

GPS START  S24.544188 E30.717654
GPS SUMMIT S24.617332 E30.819218
GPS END  S24.641401 E30.816576
DISTANCE 23,5 km
TIME REQUIRED 20 minutes
SURFACE Tar (R532)
DATE FILMED 01.09.2018
NEAREST TOWN Graskop (43 km)

Route Map:

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Route files:

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