In 1905, when Paul Kruger was president of the South African Republic, a man named John Holtzhauzen was sentenced to 30 months in prison for stealing a horse and carriage. A true horse thief! When in prison he let it be known that he and two others had been charged by the government of the South African Republic to bury gold and diamonds to the value of 2 million pounds in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the British. Whether this was true was never established, and the mystery of the missing Kruger Millions has never ceased to fire the imaginations of treasure hunters and intrepid searchers, who still seek out the missing loot to this very day.
According to the myth, the stash was hidden in the vicinity of the Blyde River, now in the South African province of Mpumalanga. I don’t know if there is any gold in the valleys and mountains of Mpumalanga. But what can be found there is a different type of treasure - some of the most magnificent scenery I have ever seen anywhere in the world. The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest of its kind on the planet after the Grand Canyon in the USA and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Unlike its desert-based big brothers, the Blyde River Canyon is covered in lush green bush. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the spell-binding beauty of this great escarpment.
A nearby lookout point is called “God’s Window.” As I stood there it seemed that I could indeed see as far as the end of the earth. The lowveld beneath the Drakensberg Mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see. This is typical African high plains – very similar to those of the Serengeti in Tanzania. There are other viewpoints nearby, Wonder View and The Pinnacle, (the names alone suggest visions of great beauty and grandeur) each offering magnificent vistas of the area.
The Blyde River and Treur River meet at a place called Bourke’s Luck Potholes – named for the unique geological formations carved into the rock-face by the swiftly swirling water currents. Surreal cylindrical rock sculptures created by the whirling water have created a series of dark pools which contrast with the pristine white and yellow rocks. Amazing stuff!
I love waterfalls, so I made sure to take in all the waterfalls in the area – and there are lots and lots of them: high ones and wide ones and tall ones and those that are split into two and three falls alongside one another. There’s more than ten waterfalls within a range of an hour’s dive. It’s almost unfair to other places that there’s so much beauty here in such a small area.
But waterfalls are but the second item of incredible beauty in this neck of the woods. There are also some magnificent caves in the area, and for those who are spelunking stimulated, you can travel from the heights of God’s Window to the depths of the Echo Caves in a matter of minutes. The tunnels of the cave run 2 kilometers underground, and one of the rooms here has a ceiling that’s 60m high!
Not too far away from the Echo Caves are the Sudwala Caves, assumed to be 2,000 million years old. With a tunnel system that runs more than 30 kilometers, these caves contain not only impressive and dramatic stalagmites and stalactites, but they are covered with a fossilized remains of ‘collenia’ - a form of algae from which it is believed life on earth evolved.
The Sudwala caves were discovered in the 19th century by the Swazi Prince Somquba as he fled the wrath of his brother Mswati. During the second Boer War, the soldiers of the South African Republic used the Sudwala Caves as a storage facility for ammunition for their Long Tom Cannons which they used to fire on the opposing British forces. Some say that the Kruger Millions were hidden here in the caves. Holtzhausen the horse thief said otherwise. Who are we to believe? Hmmm…
You can visit Mpumalanga on the JP Travel Club’s tour of South Africa. Click here for details