Nature and History along the Highlands Meander

The Highlands Meander, in the province of Mpumalanga, offers nature lovers a treasure trove of natural wonders and historical gems to explore. Add to this the warm hospitality of Mpumalanga’s people, and it is not difficult to see why the Highlands Meander is a popular route for both South Africans and visitors to this beautiful country.

Encompassing Belfast, Elands Valley, Dullstroom, Kwena Basin, Lydenburg, Skurweberg, Machadodop and Waterval Boven, the Highlands Meander offers some of the best hiking, rock climbing and trout fishing opportunities in South Africa. It is also home to some of South Africa’s rarest birds, with its mountain ravines being the habitat of the only breeding community of the spectacular wild Black Leopard. From a historical viewpoint, reminders of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), including ruins of forts, artillery placements, trenches and graves of soldiers, are found in and around many of the towns along the Highlands Meander.

The sub-alpine town of Belfast, the gateway to the Highlands Meander, is renowned for its abundant fly fishing opportunities, which almost guarantee that fishing enthusiasts will go home with a plump trout for the dinner table. The spectacular Rapids Waterfall and surroundings are appreciated by hikers and fly fishermen alike. In spring Belfast’s flower farm, with its fields of tulips and daffodils in full bloom, is an unforgettable sight.

Dullstroom’s expertly crafted stone lodges are located along well-stocked trout dams and streams, and the area is transformed into a tapestry of color in spring, when the more than 120 species of indigenous wild flowers are in bloom. Designated as an international RAMSAR wetlands site, the nearby Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve is home to all three of the world’s most endangered cranes – the Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird), the Crowned Crane and the Wattled Crane.

The Elands Valley Conservancy, which starts at the historic NZASM tunnel near Waterval Boven, offers visitors awe-inspiring scenery including the Elands River Falls, the Five Arches Bridge and majestic sheer red sandstone cliffs. Nearby Waterval Boven and Machadodorp were both built along the railway line to Delagoa Bay (now Maputo) in Mozambique and their strategic position on this important route made these two towns the site of many a battle between the Boers and British during the Anglo-Boer war.

The magnificent Skurweberg in the Mpumalanga Highlands forms part of the Drakensberg mountain range. The ancient sandstone outcroppings of the Skurweberg are believed to have once been an ancient seabed from the Godwana period. Dotted with aloes and stunted yellowwood trees, the Skurweberg is the highest point of the area, which then descends Hell’s Kloof Pass into the deep gorges carved into the land by the Elands, Banspruit and Komati rivers and their thundering waterfalls.

The Kwena Basin offers visitors numerous outdoor activities, both on dry land and on the waters of the picturesque Kwena Dam. In addition to plenty of outdoor activity and stunning scenery, places of interest to visit in the town of Lydenburg include the Mashishing Township and the Lydenberg Museum, which boasts superb displays of prehistoric artifacts.

Certainly, Mpumalanga’s Highlands Meander has plenty to offer visitors who want to get close to nature, and being situated a mere two hour drive from the bustling city of Pretoria means that work-weary South Africans do not have far to travel to experience relaxation and tranquility.