As I mentioned before, the weather in the highlands of South Africa is fickle; the mountains catch any moisture coming along and are covered in fog in a heartbeat. Such was God’s Window, as we passed. But when God closes a window, He opens a door.
We passed tree plantations—pine for paper and eucalyptus for fencing and building. We went through alpine tunnels, which are open on one side, rather than cut through solid rock. It gives a feeling of driving through a covered bridge. We learned a little Afrikaans:
- Graskop, meaning “grassy head”. What we would call High Plains.
- Pannekoek = pancake. Sounds quite similar.
- Rondavel, meaning round hut, is pronounced ron-DA-vel.
We had 2 natural wonder stops: Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Blyde River Canyon.
Bourke found gold in his lucky potholes, washed down from the mountains of Johannesburg [we reached Jo’berg next day].
Bourke's Luck Potholes
The Blyde River Canyon is third in the world’s grandest canyons and you have likely seen its photo at some time. It is 16 miles long and 2400 feet straight down. The part we saw was the place where the Trier [meaning sad] River joins the Blyde [meaning happy] in a huge bend. Apparently some folks happily survived the Blyde River, and someone else named the sad river to contrast. Naturally no one thought to ask the locals what the names of these rivers were. [One thing that John Smith did when he explored Virginia].
Blyde River Canyon 3 Rondavels
We were driving through the territory of the great Zulu wars, when Britain controlled South Africa, though the Afrikaaners never really recognized that fact. “Shaka Zulu” and “Rourke’s Drift” are fact-based films about this time. And looking at the land here, you understand why it was worth all the bloodshed. It is rich grazing and/or farm land, well watered from the mountains and open to the sun, with no freezing. Nowdays, it is filled with massive agribusiness of macadamia trees, banana groves, corn and wheat.
We passed through Lydenburg, where chromium is mined and smelted. The ingots then go into the stainless steel manufacturing. Lyden means “suffering,” but we weren’t told if it was named that before or after the mines opened.
Climbing again to 6300 feet, we stopped in Dullstroom for lunch. There were several very nice restaurants and we choose a British-themed one. My salad had warm fried cheese [haloumi], with cold artichokes, raw cukes [marrows], cooked butternut squash, carrot shavings, raw tiny tomatoes and roasted peppers, over lettuce shreds. And getting back on the bus, we bought a pound of macadamia nuts.
Haloumi and roast veg. salad--mmmmmm
We passed an ore train, narrow gauge, with mysterious 3’ cairns along the track. No one on the bus had a guess for these.
And on a long leg into Johannesburg, aka Jo’burg. We must have slept through this because I have no notes in my book until the outskirts, where we learned that ¼ of the South African population lives in a 12 ½ mile radius around the Jo’burg province of Gauteng.
Fire and Ice hotel. Game of Thrones, anyone?