Gazing from God's Window

Trip Start Aug 15, 2011
Trip End Sep 02, 2011

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Friday, August 26, 2011

There were points on our trip when the incredible landscapes we were seeing rivaled anything I have ever seen and our trip to the Rim of the Escarpment outside of Kruger National Park was no exception. This drive is one of the most iconic scenic drives in South Africa and the scenery is stunning so it is easy to understand why it has become so legendary.  We started out by climbing up, up, up in our bus with gears shifting and engine groaning until all of a sudden we were at the top of the rim and it looked like paradise was spread out below.  As far as the eye could see there were acres and acres of lush green grass, tall trees and millions of wildflowers.

Seeing it from a bus window hardly does it justice so luckily we were near our first stop:  God's Window.  God's Window is actually the edge of the Drakensberg Mountains pass set high (1078 m to be exact) above the landscape below which rewards you for a very steep 20 minute climb from the visitor’s center by giving you a phenomenal panoramic view of the surrounding area, especially the 'lowveld’ (as the valley below is called) and Kruger National Park.  It offers several amazing views from the various platforms and on a clear day you can apparently see all the way to Mozambique!   Unfortunately, it was somewhat hazy the day we visited so while it was still phenomenal, the farthest we could see was the edge of Kruger National Park.  We loved all the signs about the site -- finding it especially ironic that God's Window has limited hours!  :-)  
Back on the bus and continuing our drive we headed to the edge of the Blyde River Canyon to an area with a viewpoint that overlooks this large canyon, the 3rd largest in the world!  There are unusual rock formations at the Canyon such as Bourke's Luck Potholes, one of the most famous natural sights in South Africa.  The potholes are a rock formation caused by the grinding of water and small stones on the soft limestone rock. This forms large holes cut from the side of the canyon which look like oversized spa baths, albeit 98 feet deep baths! The viewpoint has a great system of bridges to see the many waterfalls and holes in the Canyon.  The area is incredibly beautiful and reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon or Sedona with its striking red rock and dramatic formations. 

The Potholes are named after a 19th century surveyor, Thomas Bourke, who worked for a local mining company trying to find gold.  He named them "lucky" as he was convinced that the potholes would yield a large gold deposit.  Although there was not much gold to be found in the potholes themselves, they did turn out to be quite lucky as they were located right next to a huge gold deposit. 

Our final stop on this delightfully fun and scenic route was the charming town of Pilgrim's Rest where we were able to rest for lunch!   It is a perfectly preserved 1800's mining town which looks like it would be equally at home in the Wild West of the US.  Gold was first discovered in this area in 1873 and the town developed to support the needs of the huge influx of miners who came to seek their fortunes.  Local lore has it that the first group of miners called themselves "The Pilgrims" because they were always in search of spirits (they apparently arrived with a wagonload of whiskey!).  While the miners eventually moved on, the town remained and the buildings have survived almost intact.  The result is a quaint and picturesque village that transports you back in time as you wander the lone dirt street under the shade of hundreds of year old trees.  It reminded me a lot of the town from Little House on the Prairie the television show although I never saw Laura or Pa Ingalls!

It was then back on the bus for a very long 6.5 hour bus ride south to the suburbs of Johannesburg passing through hundreds of kilometers of sparse countryside dotted with various animal crossing signs and numerous examples of small villages where the rural poor of South Africa attempt to eke out a living.   We also passed a sight which had me thinking I was having a mirage from my Memorial Day trip -- a full scale Irish castle in the midst of the African countryside!   Apparently it is a private residence and commonly called the Irish Folly by the locals!  While we traveled our guide gave a very informative and compelling summary of South Africa's history and future that helped put all we had seen over the past few days in perspective while underscoring what a remarkable transformation this country has undergone.  

All in all a very memorable day and an excellent transition to the next part of our exciting adventure!  Your very happy to be off the bus and regain feeling in my feet travel correspondent




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