Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

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Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
Blyde River Canyon 01.jpg
The Three Rondavels promontory of the Drakensberg escarpment
South Africa Mpumalanga relief location map.svg
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Location in Mpumalanga
South Africa relief location map.svg
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Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (South Africa)
LocationNorthern Mpumalanga, South Africa
Nearest city Graskop
Coordinates 24°36′00″S30°49′30″E / 24.60000°S 30.82500°E / -24.60000; 30.82500 Coordinates: 24°36′00″S30°49′30″E / 24.60000°S 30.82500°E / -24.60000; 30.82500
Area29,000 ha (290 km2)
EstablishedNovember 1965
Governing bodyMpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA)

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (or Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve) is situated in the Drakensberg escarpment region of eastern Mpumalanga, South Africa. 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. [1] 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. [1]

Bourke's Luck Potholes

Potholes and plunge pools of the Treur River Bourke's Luck Potholes 03.jpg
Potholes and plunge pools of the Treur River

This geological feature and day visitors' attraction, named after prospector Bernard Thomas Bourke (brother of Eddie Bourke), is situated at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde Rivers, on the reserve's western boundary 24°40′28″S30°48′39″E / 24.67444°S 30.81083°E / -24.67444; 30.81083 (Bourke's Luck Potholes) . The reserve's nature conservation headquarters is located here, beside the village of Moremela, at the canyon's southern, or upper reaches. Bourke's Luck Potholes marks the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon. [2]

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. [3] The pedestrian bridges connect the various overlooks of the potholes and the gorge downstream.

The Three Rondavels

The three rondavels Three Rondavels - panoramio.jpg
The three rondavels

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. [4]

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. [5]

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. [4]

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

God's Window

A southward view from God's Window towards Kowyn Pass South Africa-Mpumalanga-Gods Window002.jpg
A southward view from God's Window towards Kowyn Pass

God’s Window 24°52′28″S30°53′29″E / 24.87444°S 30.89139°E / -24.87444; 30.89139 (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 escarpmenta mostly unbroken rampart of cliffsopens a vista into the Lowveld expanse and escarpment forests, the Eden-like aesthetic appearance of which prompted the name. [6] 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.

A viewing platform 24°52′35.8″S30°53′19.6″E / 24.876611°S 30.888778°E / -24.876611; 30.888778 (God's Window viewing platform) near the car park gives extensive views down the gorge to the plain below.


The high plateaus are inhabited by mountain reedbuck, baboon troops and rock hyraxes. Impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck and zebra roam the wooded lowveld area. Hippo and crocodile are present in the Blyderivierpoort Dam.

Three species of flat gecko were described in 2014 from the reserve and its vicinity. The Blyde River flat gecko, discovered in 1991, is as yet only known from the cliff face of one of the three rondavels, [7] while the Mariepskop flat gecko was discovered on nearby Mariepskop in 1982. [8] The Abel Erasmus flat gecko is known to occur at Bourke's Luck inside the reserve. [9]

Exotic fish like smallmouth bass, brown and rainbow trout occur in the river, which have reduced the range of the local Treur river barb to upper catchments of the Blyde River system. [10] Thanks to reintroductions after its rediscovery in the 1970s, it now flourishes here. [11] The Natal mountain catfish occurs as an isolated population in the Limpopo system, and the Belvedere creek is the only place in the Limpopo system where the Rosefin barb is found. [11]

African fish eagle and African finfoot are found along the Blyde River. The lowveld woodlands harbour purple-crested lourie, emerald cuckoo, red-backed mannikin, golden-tailed woodpecker, gorgeous bushshrike, white-faced owl and a number of raptors like white-backed vulture, gymnogene, black-chested snake eagle, Wahlberg's eagle and long-crested eagle. A number of raptors frequent the mountains and cliffs, including cape vulture, black eagle, jackal buzzard, peregrine falcon, lanner falcon and rock kestrel.

Birds associated with flowering plants of the higher slopes include Gurney's sugarbird and malachite sunbird. A breeding colony of bald ibis occurs in the grassy uplands, besides small numbers of cape eagle-owl and red-breasted sparrowhawk. Forest birds include crowned eagle, Knysna lourie, cinnamon dove, olive bushshrike, green twinspot and wood owl.


Ten species of the Proteaceae occur within the reserve's confines, among which the Blyde river protea which is endemic to the canyon. Protea laetans.jpg
Ten species of the Proteaceae occur within the reserve's confines, among which the Blyde river protea which is endemic to the canyon.

The reserve's vegetation is classified as the Northeastern Drakensberg High-Mountain Sourveld ecoregion, an area prone to lightning-induced burning. Its very diverse flora is ascribed to the variation in altitude and rainfall (541 mm to 2,776 mm p.a.), and the extremes in geology and pedology. [1] It is topographically complex with a variety of habitats which include grassland plateaus, wetlands and sponge areas, grassland slopes, afromontane forest, riparian forest, moist woodlands, dry woodlands and shrublands. Its four veld types are Afromontane Forest, North-eastern Mountain Sour Grassland, Sour Lowveld Bushveld and Mixed Lowveld Bushveld. [1]

Around a 1,000 plant species have been recorded. This includes cycads, of which the Blyde river cycad is almost endemic to the reserve, with some 200 individuals remaining. [13] A variety of orchid, lily and protea (genera Protea , Faurea and Leucospermum ) species occur, including the Blyde river protea which is endemic to the canyon, [12] and the escarpment pincushion of which about 30 plants are present. [14] Tree ferns grow along seepages in the uplands.

Indigenous forest covers 2,111 ha of the nature reserve, or 7.3% of its surface area. These are fragmented into some 60 patches between 0.21 ha and 567 ha in extent. They are assigned to two forest communities, high altitude moist and low altitude dry afromontane forest. The altitudinal gradient accounts for most of their variation in plant communities. [1]

General area

The reserve is fringed to the east by the Mariepskop and Klaserie Waterfall Nature Reserves, and the Mapulaneng forestry region, below the escarpment. National Park status had been considered, if some adjacent areas were to be incorporated and their forestry activities discontinued.

Percy FitzPatrick and George Fullerton's summer quarters as transport riders during the 1880s was situated at Paradise Camp 24°55′24″S30°52′08″E / 24.92333°S 30.86889°E / -24.92333; 30.86889 (Paradise Camp) , some 6 km south of God's Window, and similarly perched on the edge of the escarpment. Close to God's Window are several waterfalls, including Berlin Falls and Lisbon Falls. [15]

Related Research Articles

Geography of South Africa Overview of the geography of South Africa

South Africa occupies the southern tip of Africa, its coastline stretching more than 2,850 kilometres from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic (western) coast southwards around the tip of Africa and then northeast to the border with Mozambique on the Indian Ocean. The low-lying coastal zone is narrow for much of that distance, soon giving way to a mountainous escarpment that separates the coast from the high inland plateau. In some places, notably the province of KwaZulu-Natal in the east, a greater distance separates the coast from the escarpment. Although much of the country is classified as semi-arid, it has considerable variation in climate as well as topography. The total land area is 1,220,813 km2 (471,359 sq mi). It has the 23rd largest Exclusive Economic Zone of 1,535,538 km2 (592,875 sq mi).

Drakensberg Mountain range in South Africa

The Drakensberg is the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central Southern African plateau. The Great Escarpment reaches its greatest elevation – 2,000 to 3,482 metres within the border region of South Africa and Lesotho.

Mpumalanga Province of South Africa

Mpumalanga is a province of South Africa. The name means "east", or literally "the place where the sun rises" in the Swazi, Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages. Mpumalanga lies in eastern South Africa, bordering Eswatini and Mozambique. It constitutes 6.5% of South Africa's land area. It shares borders with the South African provinces of Limpopo to the north, Gauteng to the west, the Free State to the southwest, and KwaZulu-Natal to the south. The capital is Mbombela.

Mbombela Place in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Mbombela is a city in northeastern South Africa. It is the capital of the Mpumalanga province. Located on the Crocodile River, Mbombela lies about 110 km (68 mi) by road west of the Mozambique border, 330 km (210 mi) east of Johannesburg and about 82 km (51 mi) north of the Eswatini border. Mbombela was one of the host cities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Graskop Place in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Graskop is a small town in Mpumalanga province, South Africa. It was set up in the 1880s as a gold mining camp but it now serves as a tourist destination and the timber industry. “God’s Window”, a scenic view from the escarpment of the Lowveld below, is located outside the town.

Highveld Natural region of the South African inland plateau

The Highveld is the portion of the South African inland plateau which has an altitude above roughly 1500 m, but below 2100 m, thus excluding the Lesotho mountain regions to the south-east of the Highveld. It is home to some of the country's most important commercial farming areas, as well as its largest concentration of metropolitan centres, especially the Gauteng conurbation, which accommodates one-third of South Africa's population.

Phalaborwa Place in Limpopo, South Africa

Phalaborwa is a town in the Mopani District Municipality, Limpopo province, South Africa. It is located near the confluence of the Ga-Selati River and the Olifants, halfway up along the western border of the Kruger National Park in the Lowveld.

Blyde River Canyon Large canyon in South Africa

The Blyde River Canyon is a 26km long Canyon located in Mpumalanga, South Africa. It is the one of the larger canyons on Earth but much smaller than those of Asia, the Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon. Unlike the Grand and Fish River Canyon, the Blyde River Canyon is a "green canyon" which is dominated by subtropical vegetation.

The Treur River barb or simply Treur barb is a species of cyprinid fish. It is endemic to northern Mpumalanga, South Africa.

<i>Protea laetans</i> Species of flowering plant in the family Proteaceae

Protea laetans, the Blyde River protea or Blyde sugarbush, is a localized plant of the family Proteaceae. It was recognised as a species in 1970, and is endemic to the Blyde River Canyon of the Mpumalanga escarpment, South Africa. The slender plants are up to 5m tall and flower from mid to late summer. The bracts of their closed flower heads are shiny and silvery in appearance. They are most easily viewed near the F.H. Odendaal camp of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Laetans means joyous, i.e. Blyde.

Berlin Falls

The Berlin Falls is a waterfall in Mpumalanga, South Africa. They are located close to God's Window and the highest waterfall in South Africa's Mpumalanga province, Lisbon Falls. Whilst less than a tenth of the heigh of South Africa's tallest waterfall, the Tugela Falls, they are nonetheless extremely beautiful. Berlin Falls, which forms part of the Blyde River Canyon on the Panorama route, is one of several waterfalls that can be found in the Sabie region – the others being Horseshoe Falls, Lone Creek Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Mac-Mac Falls, and the highest waterfall in Mpumalanga, Lisbon Falls, which is a staggering 90m high.

Kowyn Pass

Kowyn Pass is situated in Mpumalanga province, on the R533 road between Graskop and Bosbokrand, South Africa. The pass was completed on 3 October 1959. It descends from an altitude of 1,448 metres above sea level near Graskop, to 500 metres at Bosbokrand, which implies an average slope of 1:14.

Blyde-Olifants Conservancy

Blyde-Olifants Conservancy, The Conservancy consolidates a group of privately owned game farms in the central Lowveld region into an official nature reserve. Lying roughly between Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa. Through the conservancy run two incredibly different rivers - on the one hand is the river most often associated with the colour brown - the powerful Olifants River - behind which runs the Drakensberg escarpment, creating a striking backdrop, whilst on the other is the clear, sparkling Blyde River, a tributary of the Olifants River.

Blyde River

The Motlatse River, Blyde River, or Umdhlazi River is a river in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces of South Africa. It has a northwards course in steep-sided valleys and ravines of the Mpumalanga Drakensberg, before it enters the lowveld region of the Limpopo province. It has its ultimate origins at around 2,000 m altitude in the Hartebeesvlakte conservation area, to the north of Long Tom Pass. It runs through the Blyde River Canyon.

The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region is a biosphere reserve situated in the north eastern region of South Africa, straddling Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces. In 2001, under the supervision of the then Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region was officially ratified by UNESCO as part of the Man and the Biosphere (MaB) Programme. UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme provides a framework for exploring local solutions to challenges by mainstreaming biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, integrating economic, social and environmental aspects and recognizing their vital linkages within specific learning landscapes adjacent to Protected Areas.

Treur River

The Treur River is a small river in the Drakensberg escarpment region of eastern Mpumalanga province, South Africa. The R532 motor route intersects it twice. Its ultimate origin is inside the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, though most of its course is to the west of this protected area. It is a tributary of the Blyde River, and has no major tributaries of its own. There are two sharp drops in its course, at Poe Falls 24°45′S30°52′E and Bourke's Luck Potholes respectively.

The R532 is a Regional Route in South Africa.


Mariepskop, at 1,947 m above sea level, is one of the highest peaks in the northern Drakensberg, and the highest point of the Blyde River Canyon, South Africa. It is situated at the junction of three conservation areas, namely the Mariepskop Forest Reserve, Mariepskop State Forest, and the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. The mountain is bordered by sheer cliff faces on several sides, and is composed of Proterozoic sedimentary rocks of the Transvaal Supergroup. It is named for the 19th century Pulana chief, Maripe Mashile, whose tribe used the mountain as a stronghold. Some infrastructure and roads were built in the 1950s to service a military radar station. Mariepskop is flanked by Tshwateng (1,628 m) at the opposite side of the Blyde River, and by Hebronberg (1,767 m) in the south.

Panorama Route Road in South Africa

The Panorama Route is a scenic road in South Africa connecting several cultural and natural points of interest. The route, steeped in the history of South Africa, is in Mpumalanga province, centred around the Blyde River Canyon, the world's third largest canyon. It features numerous waterfalls, one of the largest afforested areas in South Africa, and several natural landmarks. The route starts at the foot of the Long Tom Pass just outside Lydenburg, following the natural descent from the Great Escarpment to the Lowveld, and ending at the border of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces near the Echo Caves.

<i>Protea parvula</i> Species of flowering shrub

Protea parvula, also known as the dainty sugarbush, or kleinsuikerbos in Afrikaans, is a small flowering shrub belonging to the genus Protea.


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