acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Friday, January 2, 2009

a lowveld day out

Yesterday was a fabulous fresh sunny day after rain. We took a drive to the mountains. The Drakensberg Mountains that loom in the blue distance from our stoep. It’s about an hours drive – craggy red cliffs painted with Day-Glo green lichen loom ever clearer and brighter with each kilometre. Soon we are swinging into the canyon of the Blyde River gorge.

Named from the old trekking days – a family were camped by the Treur River and the menfolk went ahead to scout out the country and plan the next stage of the journey. They never returned, and finally the camp was packed up and the river named the Treur River – or river of Sadness. To cut a long story short, by the time they reached the Blyde River, they had found each other again and the river was named Blyde – or river of Happiness.

This was the Louis Trichardt trek – families on their way to Maputo – then called Lorenzo Marques. Legend has it that they camped at the head of the Drakensberg Mountains for sometime trying to find a route down to the lowveld below. Finally, they dismantled the ox carts and lowered them in pieces to be reassembled at the foot of the mountains. People and livestock were able to follow a narrow path. Astonishingly, they succeeded in this miraculous feat – and if you saw the mountain faces of sheer craggy grandeur, you would also be amazed! Sadly when they did reach Maputo, they all died of malaria. There is a monument to this trek in Maputo city which survived all the years of civil war there. Their route became a trade route between the coast and the interior – made famous in the book Jock of the Bushveld.

There is now a dam wall that has created a man made lake in the natural amphitheatre of the gorge. It is incredibly peaceful there and natural indigenous forest runs down to the lake shore all around. People who come to take in the view are awestruck and talk in lowered voices. Some sit in silent contemplation. It’s a little like going to church.

Having soaked in the stillness, we decide to go in search of lunch. Taking the back roads we meander past several Lodges whose gates look unenticing; scratch our memory books, but find those small eateries closed for New Year’s Day. We end up following long red farm roads – noting along the way that their rainfall is better than ours and their grasses long and green – to find ourselves at Leydsdorp.

Leydsdorp is a small remnant of a gold mining settlement – dating back to the gold rush days of Klondike, and Australia, and pre-dating the successful finds of the Witwatersrand where Johannesburg is situated. It followed a similar pattern to gold mining settlements everywhere at this time. Men who dug and panned for gold in them thar hills, drank copiously at the local watering hole – and thereby hangs many a tale!

However, fresh water has always been a problem and the miners moved on to richer finds, leaving a selection of small whitewashed buildings – one of which is the Leydsdorp hotel. Many of these buildings have since been refurbished and Leydsdorp seems to have been on the brink of rediscovery for sometime. It is an intriguing little place steeped in history and well worth the visit. Without the glitz of well trampled tourist attractions, it still has the air of history – a place in waiting, surrounded by scrubby bushveld and granite hills – off the beaten track.

We stopped at the hotel. Small dogs lay around the entrance watchfully and alerted the owners to the arrival of new customers. Inside the wooden doors, the original bar counter and mirrored bottle display keep mute testament to more than a hundred years of barroom talk. There are a couple of bullet holes in the ceiling and the remnants of a trophy head of a bushpig – shot to ribbons by over zealous drinkers, perpetuating the spirit of the wild wild west.

A small gaily coloured Brazilian Red rump parakeet struts up and down the bar counter chirping away. The management couple are friendly and welcoming and we settle in to chat, trying not to rubberneck the history and writings on the walls around us. It’s not a big room, but beyond is a bigger room with a red pool table, and some regulars are engrossed in a game.

This tiny ghost town settlement now boasts a restaurant, self catering accommodation in the old Kruger house, hotel rooms, swimming pool, and a location in the heart of lowveld game country. Our hosts are animal lovers and beyond the parakeet, is a squirrel in a sleeping box (it bites sometimes); numerous diminutive hounds, and somewhere a young bush pig. “All our animals live in harmony here” informs our genial host.

We order lunch. Some more people arrive and settle in to chat. I notice that as soon as our place mats are laid down, the parakeet starts to become more friendly – pottering about – always out of arms reach, but chirping away. Food arrives. The squirrel wakes up and through the door the puppies silently gather, and along comes The Pig.
A young bush pig ambles in – light glancing a golden sheen off his reddish coat. He snuffles about and then heads out the door again. Oh – we realise – he probably followed the waiter! Food successfully swallowed and the menagerie normalises again. Do I make it sound bad? It wasn’t at all – just extra-ordinary and entertaining.

Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me but I hope you get the picture from my words.
There is also a website for and several for the Blyde River Canyon.
It was a great day out and so often we forget that people travel from all over the world to visit these weird and wonderful sights that are all within our reach. It was a good reminder.


Miranda said...

Ah Val, sounds fabulous. You write fantastically - no camera needed. What a gem of a place. Happy new year

karen said...

Hi Val - loved the Post Christmas, descriptions, the packing away, the rain and those Frogs!! thanks for the virtual tour sans camera - who needs it when you're around! and Happy Happy New Year to you! lol x

Anonymous said...

Oh the childhood memories come slowly filtering back through a thick fog of time. We spent a few holiday trips in and around that part of the world. Happy times, but memories are vague. Children view and remember differently to adults. What you describe served as backdrop to sibling disputes over back-seat real estate. Thanks for the memories of special little places, gems really.

Lori ann said...

oh wow, thanks so much Val for sharing your New Years Day adventure...i could picture it all, your writing is so vivid, its true i never missed the pics. those funny animals, i laughed, that i would have liked to see.
I love to learn all I can about a place,its a great thing to do in your own backyard too,keeping us appreciative of where we live! I LOVE this post.
xxx lori

Kate said...

I suspect I've said it before, but, Val, these posts need to be in a book.

Reya Mellicker said...


You are so brave. I think that every time I read your blog.

River of sadness, river of happiness? Oh yeah. I know about those rivers. Well, not those EXACT rivers, but yes, rivers of sadness and happiness. I know about that.

Glad to hear it's raining there.

Debby said...

You mean there were no pictures? I swear I saw everything you wrote.

I liked the bushpig best. He was cute.

Val said...

thanks everyone for your lovely comments! i think i must get out more often - there are more wierd and wonderfuls around here that i should probably look at.....great to have you guys with me in my head along the way :-)

Miranda - thanks - yes two quite contrasting places in one day! x

Karen - frogs were bubbling and croaking last night but bull frogs a little quiet...

Rob - yes backseat real estate - i remember those issues well!

Lori - those animals made the visit

Katherine - thank you - you have certainly planted a seed in my brain :-)

Reya - i love the story of those river names - and they are also a metaphor we can all relate to I am sure.Brave? really?? i dont feel very brave....

Debby - that bushpig was seriously cute!! so funny that he followed the waiter, hung around to see if we were messy eaters, and then left when we weren't :-)

Blog On everyone xxxV

Angela said...

Val, I can`t add much that hasn`t been said (and felt) by everyone - but you know I`m your greatest fan! Come see us here and fill your head with quite DIFFERENT pictures. Then you will marvel even more at your own world!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully described. As Miranda said, the camera wasn't needed anyway.

CJ xx

Unknown said...

What a wonderful rich post, Val! You are such a wonderful storyteller, I hope you've got that book going!
We went up to Blyde in August - first time I've been there, isn't it just the most majestic country!

Val said...

Angela - i'd love to thanks x

CJ you are too kind - actually im not sure a camera could really do justice to the grandeur of the mts anyhow, but a pic of the pic woulda been nice :-)

Ab Van - one of these days...hopefully its taking form in my head....those mountains are truly awesome - when you coming up this way again?


Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Who needs a camera when your posts speak a thousand pictures.

My favorite picture of all is that of the pig wandering in...priceless.