The Highlands Meander Region of Mpumalanga is one of its best-kept secrets.
A unique swathe of Mpumalanga set high on the escarpment and unlike any other area in the province. A region of waving grasses that go on for as far as they eye can see, of craggy escarpment walls, stunning mountain passes, thundering waterfalls, enchanting forests and crystal clear streams.
For many people the Highlands Meander is the ‘Gateway to the Lowveld’, a landmark to pass on the route between Gauteng and Nelspruit, somewhere to drive through rather than to stop and visit. For those who are willing to venture off the N4 and explore this undervalued region, a host of incredible sites and wonderful attractions await.
Perfectly situated, less than two hours’ drive from Gauteng and just over 30 minutes from Nelspruit, there is no excuse not to plan a day trip or weekend away to this fabulous Highlands retreat.
The route itself is a 4.5 hour round trip, through the Highlands Meander towns of eMakhazeni (formerly Belfast), Dullstroom, eNtokozweni (formerly Machadodorp), Emgwenya (formerly Waterval Boven), Waterval Onder and Schoemanskloof. The more adventurous will be rewarded for taking a little detour to the town of Tonteldoos (it was recently placed within the boundaries of Limpopo, but remains very much ‘Highlands at Heart’!).
It can be driven as a circular route starting at either eMakhazeni/Belfast, for Gauteng locals, or where the N4 splits and the road goes to either Emgwenya/Waterval Boven or Schoemanskloof, for people coming from the Lowveld.
The 284km drive might seem long when you look at it on a map, but with such wide-ranging and wonderful scenery plus plenty of interesting as well as tasty places to stop en route, the kilometres will flash by!
The Highlands Meander is truly a treasure chest just waiting to be explored, with: landscapes that would look more at home on the moon, scenery straight from the pages of fairy tales, animals and plants that are unique to the region, and a wealth of activities and attractions that will keep the whole family happy! It is a region perfectly designed for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike, with the space and tranquillity for those looking for quiet and solitude alongside a whole host of exhilarating activities for those wanting fun and excitement.
Undeniably the most famous of all the Highlands Meander Towns, Dullstroom is a tourist mecca that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and is commonly referred to as ‘Scotland’s Only Outpost in Africa’.Around two hours’ drive from both Gauteng and Nelspruit, Dullstroom makes up the perfect long weekend retreat for people wanting to escape either the Lowveld heat or the noise and pollution of Gauteng.
Trout has had a huge part to play in this small town’s success. Proclaimed a town by Paul Kruger in 1892 and referred to as the ‘Place of Eternal Mist’ by the first Dutch settlers. Dullstroom had a volatile first few decades, caught in the cross fire between the Boer and the Brits during the Anglo-Boer war when the town was virtually razed to the ground. It was with the release of trout in 1916 and the further stocking of dams in 1927 that Dullstroom started to make a name for itself in the fishing world and people began to see it as more than just a sleepy village in the mist belt.View More
The town takes its original name from Irishman, Richard Charles O’Neill’s farm ‘Belfast’. eMakhazeni or Belfast is also known as the ‘Gateway to the Highland Meander’, just 210km drive from Pretoria making it an ideal ‘weekend away’ for anyone wanting to escape the clamour of Gauteng.
As you come into this Highland’s Town there is an almost theatrical change of scenery. The monotonous flatlands of Middleburg transform into rolling grasslands with rocky hilly outcrops and lush riverine valleys cut by babbling brooks. The area can be covered by a layer of mist during the winter months giving it an enigmatic feel, but undergoes an incredible metamorphism from November to January when the Highlands’ flowers spring into life and turn the green grasses
into a colourful canvas that has captured many an artist’s imagination.
The City’s original name ‘Witbank’ came from the white ridge of sandstone early transport drivers used as a landmark. It was always considered somewhat ironic that a City known as ‘White Bank’ should become famous for its pitch black coal mines and grey coal-fired stations. So the change of name in 2006 to eMalahleni meaning ‘place of coal’ in the Ndebele dialect is now far more fitting.
Emgwenya, formally Waterval Boven, can be found at the top of the escarpment and as its original name suggests above the Elands River Waterfall. The 75m Eland Falls is best seen from viewing platform just outside the town, accessible from the Netherlands-South African Railway Company’s (NZASM) tunnel. This platform gives great views of the stunning escarpment, rich in plant life and bird species.View More
Now known as eNtokozweni, meaning the place of happiness, Machadodorp was originally named after the Portuguese Major Joachim Machado who was a prominent engineer on the Pretoria to Delagoa Bay railway line.
A picture perfect town set on the Elands River and with a spectacular mountainous back-drop it provides the perfect weekend away bolt hole. It’s somewhere to withdraw from the rush of city living and enjoy the peace, tranquillity and beauty that envelopes this town. The ideal destination for both nature lovers, wanting to bask in the breath-taking scenery and rich variety of plant species and bird life, and outdoor enthusiasts wanting to get their blood pumping on invigorating walks, rock climbing adventures or even marathon training routes. This town has a lot of history too!
The Schoemanskloof highway probably wins the award for the most underrated destination in Mpumalanga, if not South Africa. Yet it if you do take an hour or two to explore this well-known road route, you will see that it has much more going for it than simply being a bypass!View More
As the name suggests, the village of Waterval Onder is set at the bottom of the impressive 75m Eland Falls. Unlike its big sister, Waterval Boven, at the top of the Eland Falls, Waterval Onder never developed into a town and has retained a village charm.View More