After being closed since 2006, the Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail was reopened last October and is ready to be traversed. Adventurers of varying fitness can enjoy the newly renovated trail which leads through private property and the southern part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve – boasting the third biggest canyon, and largest green canyon, in the world.
It is my first time hiking in this area, but I recall my mother-in-law mentioning her experience on this route during the early ’80s. She was in high school and came from a family of avid hikers. They would often travel all the way from Bloemfontein to explore Mpumalanga’s trails. “My brother wasn’t even in school yet, but he could walk it with some encouragement,” Louise Louw reminisces.
Let’s get walking
She remembers it being freezing in the mornings – they went walking in winter – but it warmed up slowly as the sun and group climbed the sky and hills. “My mom was wearing winter woollies under her trousers, but after each day’s first ascent she had to shed that extra layer,” Louise adds. She can’t remember any showers, but recollects her family gathered in the lapa, washing off the day’s ramble in a washing tub with water heated on the fire. Thirty-something years later and I can experience it for myself… with a group of friends, running showers and during late spring.
The three-day hike is 30 kilometres, but the trail can easily be explored in two days; making it ideal for a weekend break. The first day is only three kilometres and can be combined with the second day’s distance (13,5 kilometres), if you skip the first overnight hut at Watervalspruit. The self-guided hike starts at Paradise Camp – on the God’s Window Loop Road outside Graskop – and ends at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. An accompanying guide can also be arranged, which is well worth the extra knowledge on fauna and flora in the area.
Day 1 (3 kilometres: 1 hour)
We parked our cars at Bourke’s Luck Potholes and were shuttled to the start of the trail at Paradise Camp. The first day’s path stretches across grassland – past perky sugarbushes and prehistoric tree ferns – and meanders through large quartzite rocks, weathered and covered in bright orange and pale green lichen.
As Mariepskop becomes visible in the far distance, walkers descend into the valley before reaching Watervalspruit Hut, which is built along a slope and behind a windbreak of trees. The hut sleeps 15 people and the “spruit” offers a series of small waterfalls and swimming holes nearby.
Day 2 (13,5 kilometres: 5 hours)
On the second day we wound through even larger quartzite outcrops, with the dappled auburn lichen mirrored in the aloes perched on top of rocks. With only two ascending climbs, the rest of the trail is fairly flat and easy – perfect for the entire family.
During the last hour of the route, you follow the curves of the Clearstream (which is wider than your average brook) all the way to the Clearstream Hut, nestled in between pinnacles of quartzite towering over the accommodation.
Just before reaching the hut (which sleeps 18 people), the route passes a narrow and high waterfall cascading down the gorge – offering a series of large swimming holes a stone’s skip away from the lodging. Start walking as early as possible to laze about on gargantuan boulders submerged in the depths of crystal-clear water.
Gemma Garmin basks in the waterhole a few steps away from Clearstream Hut
Day 3 (13,6 kilometres: 5 hours)
The last day’s route closely follows the Treur River and passes the Fann Waterfall 45 minutes to an hour into the ramble.
Mia Louw at Fann Waterfall, a short walk from Potluck Boskombuis (Photo: Melanie van Zyl)
The Treur (which means “mourning”) was named during a Voortrekker expedition in 1844, when distraught relatives thought Hendrik Potgieter and his party were lost on their journey to Delagoa Bay (Maputo Bay today). If you embark from Clearstream Hut around 8am, you will reach the Potluck Boskombuis just before it opens at 10am, sit down at a rustic table next to the river and relish in a tin cup of warm coffee for R30.
Thus far the trail has been fairly open and treeless, but from here it winds through dense bush before crossing over open plains and descending to Bourke’s Luck Potholes.
At the Potholes, the Treur River flows into the Blyde River (meaning “happy” river) which was named after Hendrik Potgieter and his party returned safely to their families, back from Delagoa Bay. They did not perish after all, and their return was a joyous moment. Unfit hikers will also find happiness here – the trail ends and the trek is done.
There is a bustle of tourists at Bourke’s Luck Potholes, marking the end of the three-day trail
The hike costs R1 350 per person and groups of five or more will receive a 30% discount. The price includes the drop-off for hikers at Paradise Camp, as well as the transportation of bags to the huts for both nights.
NEED TO KNOW
The huts are equipped with beds, mattresses, mattress covers, towels, cooking/eating utensils and wood for the two fire pits at both overnight stops. There is no electricity, hot water in the showers or cellphone reception at the huts and hikers need to bring their own sleeping bags and pillows.
If you don’t have the time or energy for a multi-day route, you can do the Belvedere day hike, which is a 10-kilometre, circular trail. Buy a permit at Bourke’s Luck Potholes for R50 per person and walk from Potholes to the Belvedere hydro power plant and back. Visitors are advised to start the trail before noon, as it can take about five hours to finish.
WHAT TO PACK
Map | Compass | Watch | Sunscreen | Lip balm | Hat | Sunglasses | Insect repellent | Antiseptic | Socks | Underwear | Warm jacket or fleece | Raincoat | Warm underwear for cold nights | Good walking shoes | Head lamp | Candles and matches | Basic first aid supplies | Water, plenty of it | Snack foods – health bars, dried fruit | A whistle, its sound travels further than calling for help | Remember to leave your itinerary if you are doing it alone.
Mia Louw, Alexander Higgins, Gemma Garmin and Melanie van Zyl
The hikers’ comments:
Melanie van Zyl – Travel journalist
“It is a great easy-going hike option, close to Johannesburg – which is where I’m from. I loved the second night, having the river and so many pools deep enough to splash in right at the camp. There was shade and picnicking on those rocks was utter bliss. I expected a bit more forest, but the rolling grasslands and farmlands we walked through were super scenic – from sugarbush-covered hills to rippling streams. The accommodation is different in that there are no bunk beds; it was comfy with good linen.”
Gemma Garmin – Artist/photographer
“People don’t have to be nervous about the hike, because it is fairly simple; it was well marked and it doesn’t require for you to be that fit. For people who would like to do a hike over a few days, it is a good option if you haven’t done one before or if you are a nervous hiker – it felt safe, secure and it is fairly short.
“Aesthetically, the accommodation is basic – but in terms of what it offers, it was perfect – the rooms allow for multiple people to be on the hike at once. What is more interesting is where the huts are situated, because the scenery around them is beautiful. On the first day you have an amazing view, and on the second day you are by the river. And when you are at your hut, there is a lot to do – which makes a well-rounded experience.”
Alexander Higgins – Multimedia producer
“I regard myself as a reasonably seasoned hiker, and I really barely broke a sweat on the trail – maybe some people want that challenge, but I think it really allows for you to have a break. After the whole experience I felt refreshed; because it wasn’t too challenging. I found lots of opportunities to just sit, relax, enjoy the scenery, swim and to kick back – there was a lot of opportunity for downtime.
“You still get the experience of being out in nature and away from things, and at the same time you come back from it feeling refreshed, rather than like you had serious exercise. The amenities were great – the rooms and bathrooms were clean – and in terms of other amenities on other walks, it is really up there with some of the best.
“I found the MTPA staff really energetic and friendly and the guides were very knowledgeable and attentive to our needs. If you are a selfie-enthusiast there are some picture-perfect moments at a number of beautiful rock pools and waterfalls – you are going to have lots of great pictures to share on your social media spaces.”
Photography: Mia Louw