August 20, 2016
We started our travels in Southern Africa with a 3 day out and back trip from Johannesburg to Blyde River Canyon near Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa. We thought the region, highly praised in Lonely Planet, would make a good place to stretch our legs and recover from jetlag before starting safari in Botswana.
August is dry season. While you can see why the area would attract international visitors, during the brown days of winter it isn’t at its glory. The weather, however, may be more desirable. We had two clear days, with a few puffy clouds and just a bit of haze. By the third morning the temperature dropped 15 degrees Fahrenheit and the fog had pulled in.
The drive from the Johannesburg airport to Graskop, our home base in the region, took just over 4 hours with little traffic. (You could also fly to Nelspruit.) It’s a flat drive at first through vast agricultural lands until you start to climb the escarpment of the Drakensberg Mountains.
The drive is probably prettier at a greener time of year. Much of the climb to Graskop is through sections of clear cut lumber activity in various states of growth – from recently burnt fields to saplings and clumps of forest. Not the most enticing area for true nature lovers.
On our way back to Johannesburg a few days later the weather had turned cooler and they were doing a lot of burning. They burn the dry grass and the fields, filling the air for hundreds of miles with smoke. I’m not sure how often they do this but we noticed that on the clearer, warmer days of our visit there was much less, if any burning going on.
Although we didn’t spend time in Sabie other than driving through it, the prettier areas to explore are further north, north of Graskop in fact. I would stay in Graskop or at one of the resorts near the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.
North from Graskop is where you find the natural landmarks that draw tourists – the Three Rondavels and Bourke’s Luck Potholes are impressive.
I wouldn’t travel to South Africa just to visit this area, but if you have time on your way to or from Kruger and would like to walk in the rainforest, wet or dry, then it is worth the detour. Hiking, however, is more limited than some sites may lead you to believe. For us, having visited South Africa before, the region gave us the exercise we needed and the quiet town of Graskop gave us the ample opportunity to rest.