Hiking in Africa is like a porcelain shop: don’t touch anything. When you’re walking in the brush – or anywhere near the brush – your senses are heightened. A leaf crinkling 50 m away registers. A blade of grass wiggles – dually noted. The further along the trail you go, the more the thoughts spiral in the caldron. Root or snake? Antelope or mountain cat? Is this the poisonous plant that kills with one fatal scratch? Thank goodness the view points and trail markers still placate, if only for a few heartbeats. Fleetingly gratifying. But the views in Blyde River Canyon surpass simple gratification. The three Rowdavels pleasantly peering down over the monstrous canyon walls - third largest canyon on Earth. Their domes a symbol of safety, comfort.
The trail continued onward, towards the multicolored beach – red, yellows, greens speckled with barely distinguishable sunbathing hippos. Every time the trail dipped out and into a new patch of forest, the noises evolve like a new set. An interlude between the screeching and clamoring of a thousand beetles. A dense circumference of layered commotion – like emerging from the depths of a public pool on a Saturday.
About 85% of the way in, racket up the mountain. Antelope and brown guinea like creatures running my direction. Not a trusting sign. As I continued forward, I fumbled over the entangled roots around my feet as I thought about the leopard sighting the past two days. Defeated, I turned around and headed back. Careful to not to scratch my knee on the potentially poisonous bush.
When the Nature Conservators’ hut was in sight, the sky thundered and opened up. The rain poured down filling the air with freshness. A mammoth kudu strutted across the road and paused, looking up towards the dark clouds that had rolled in.
If you go:
Stay: Blyde River Canyon Lodge - Located in a gated botanical garden on the river, it is a splendid property just outside the Reserve gates. Dine at the lodge - the fantastic traditional meals are made by locals.
Venture: See the Canyon from all angles. Drive into the clouds and witness the magnificent rock formations from the ridge. Hike the canyon. Take a boat trip on the water and engulf yourself in a panoramic view.
Notables: Check out the museum in the reserve. The exhibition provides a great description of the rock formations and how the canyon was formed. Disregard the yellowed photographs that haven't been touched in decades.