Road tripping in the Lowveldt

Well, it wouldn’t be Easter without a little road trip now, would it? So off I set and headed towards Mpumalanga and the Lowveldt where I planned to meet up with friends for a few days R&R.  Little did I realise that leaving Joburg at midday would result in traffic the likes of which I’ve rarely seen headed down to Nelspruit. It caught me before I’d even left the city and didn’t leave again until I’d turn onto the Schoeman’s Kloof road, just after Machadodorp. And this a full 24 hours before the public holiday started!

The 1.5km queue at Middelburg Toll Plaza

The Delmas Traffic Police don’t help at all. Their cleverly designed roadblock, that wasn’t really a roadblock at all since no one was stopped, managed to cause a traffic bottleneck that was still in place on my return five days later.

Now, I just love the Lowveldt, there’s hardly a thing about it that I don’t enjoy… the terrain, the climate in autumn and the variety of things to do and see.  So to kick off my weekend, a little trip up to one of the highest points around in the Mount Sheba Nature Reserve.  From here we could see well into the Kruger, past the Wonderview at Grasskop and out towards Hoedspruit, and turning again, up into Long Tom Pass. The 360-degree vista just opens up, laying out its splendor for all to see.

Lowveldt spectacle

From the majesty of the escarpment and its blanket of cloud rising up over God’s Window, the rolling hills as far as the eye could see… the scent of the forest with its pine needles and damp earth, and the multifarious calls of the birdlife echoing through the trees.  It’s an instant big-city-hectic-life de-stressor.

A quiet meal at the river’s edge

We finished our trip by driving down through Pilgrim’s Rest and through the local farmland to the main R532 at Moremela, with a pitstop at The Chubby Pig, where their beef burger and an ice cold Savannah hit the spot while sitting under the trees at the river’s edge.  A great end to an awesome day.

For balance, the following day we ventured out to Kaapsehoop and the Sand Caves. Now, Kaapsehoop is also on the escarpment, but forms a part of the Ngodwana Plateau, overlooking the De Kaap Valley 800 metres below, with Nelspruit in one direction and Barberton in the other.  The rock fields are made up of quartzites strewn everywhere and interspersed with ancient caves eroded out of the rock.

Quartzite rock fields at Kaapsehoop

A slow walk through the rock fields descends down into the sandy-floored caves, that are almost spiritual in their silence.  It’s clear to see why these cool, damp spaces have been visited and held in reverence by locals for eons.  Some are more easily accessed than others, and I imagine there are still more we were completely unaware of, deeper into the mountains and hidden by the dense foliage.

Sand Caves, Kaapsehoop
Looking up to the light

Leaving Kaapsehoop, we drove out on the Ngodwana road and, taking the forest road, drove through old mine works and bush, down to the Ngodwana Dam.  It’s a spectacular trip and was well worth the time we spent.

Ngodwana Dam

We ended our second day with an enjoyable Portuguese-style meal, served by the very friendly staff at Sophie’s Bistro, part of the Halls Farmstall on the N4, just outside Nelspruit.

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