These caves are the oldest known to mankind, formed over 300 million years ago. Prehistoric man discovered these caves and at the beginning of the 19 th century they were used as refuges by sections of the Swazi people. One of their kings, Sobhuza 1, is said to have hidden in the caves to escape Zulu raiders. One of Sobhuza's brothers, Somcuba, built a capital for himself close to the caves, using it as a retreat whenever Mswati (Sobhuza's heir) attempted to recover stolen cattle. He even created a defensive alliance with the Lydenburg Republic, about which there is an old legend that the caves ( whose end has not yet been reached) leads all the way under the mountains to the town of Lydenburg.
In the early years of the 20 th century, the caves were exploited for their deposits of bat guano. It was only when Mr P R Owen acquired the farm that a road was built to the entrance and it was opened to tourists. Falls of rock, underground streams and mud make exploration of its full length difficult. In the 500 m length of the caves open to tourists, there are many dominant and powerful drip-stone formations. The ceiling of the caves contains fossilised colonies of blue-green algae known as “stromatolites”. Such stromatolites, one of the earliest identifiable forms of life in Southern Africa, flourished about 2 000 million years ago.
Long Tom Pass
The name of the Long Tom Pass is in commemoration of the Long Tom guns which were used in the battle between the Boers and the British in the Anglo-Boer War (1899 –1902) in the Lydenburg area.
In 1900 at the Battle of Bergendal, General Botha withdrew towards Lydenburg with two Long Tom guns. He moved east with guns in the direction known as the Long Tom Pass. On the British side General Buller occupied Lydenburg on the 7 September 1900. Botha then shelled the town with the Long Tom guns from the heights. Buller and his force were in possession of two 5 inch guns, and these were used during the action in the town. Buller, however, wanted to block the road from Nelspruit to Pilgrim's Rest, so they followed Botha. The Long Toms and the British 5 inch guns were to have a running duel as the fight moved through the pass.
Although the 5 inch gun's range was comparable to the Long Toms, the Long Toms were more easily moved as they were fitted with 4 wheels, whilst the 5 inch guns had only 2 wheels. The Boers also fired with the Long Toms at ranges which were too far for the British field artillery to reply, and by the time the 5 inch guns had been brought to the front, the Boers and the long Toms had disappeared. On the 11 September 1900 after the battle was over, Botha passed successfully through the pass with his men and the Long Toms. In 1953 the pass was opened and at some places the road takes a new route, but mostly the route has remained unchanged.
The Lydenburg Heads
In 1957 a young boy, Ludwig von Bazing, aged about nine or ten, was playing in the veld (fields) on his father's farm near Lydenburg. He saw pieces of the now famous Lydenburg heads lying there. Five years later he developed an interest in archaeology and went back to where he had first seen these shards, and over a period of 4 years, he collected pieces of seven heads. He joined the archaeology club of the University of Cape town, who insisted that he take these heads to the University. Carbon dating showed that these heads dated back to the year 490 A.D. and had been made by early Iron Age people. Study of the heads has suggested that they might have been used as masks. However, the neck is very long, as is the distance between the eyes and nose, which makes it rather difficult for the ordinary person to wear one. The purpose of these heads is obscure and one can only speculate that they were probably used during initiation ceremonies.
Pilgrim's Rest was named by a digger who had found gold there. He believed this would enable him to rest after his long pilgrimage seeking fortune! Thousands of prospectors flooded the lovely valley in one of the biggest gold rushes ever experienced. There were daily discoveries of fine nuggets of alluvial gold in the stream that came to be called Pilgrim's Creek. Today, the whole town has been proclaimed an historical monument and has been restored to its original splendour. The old Royal hotel – part of which used to be a church in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) – was brought to Pilgrim's Rest by ox wagon.
Blyde River Canyon
The scenic beauty of the Blyde River Canyon is awe-inspiringly magnificent! The Blyde River cuts a zig-zag passage, 16 kilometres long at a depth of 750 metres in the midst of dense vegetation below towering buttresses capped by cliffs of the most remarkable shapes. There are some magnificent viewpoints along this route, including God's Window and The Three Rondawels. On a clear day the view from God's Window extends across the lowveld, past the Kruger Park to Mozambique.
A must is God's Window, a viewpoint at an altitude of 1,829m/6,000ft extending northward over the Blyde River Canyon, eastward over the Lowveld, 1,000m/3,300ft below, and the Kruger National Park to the Mozambique border, and westward over forest-covered mountains.A well laid-out track leads from the parking place to other viewpoints. One particularly rewarding trip (following signs to the Rain Forest) is on a path which winds its way through evergreen tropical rain forest. God's Window - so called for the panoramic view of the Lowveld.
The Three Rondawels
Further north along the R532 road, the turnoff to the Three Rondawels viewpoint is 4.6km from the Lowveld View turnoff (41 km north of Graskop) and the parking area another 2.8km further. The Three Rondawels are well known gigantic peaks made from quartzite and shale. The sheer rock walls of The Three Rondawels tower more than 700m above the surrounding landscape. The Three Rondawels are named after the three most difficult and quarrelsome wives of Chief Maripi Mashile - they are Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto.
Bourke's Luck Potholes
Just above the confluence of the Blyde and Treur Rivers is a curious formation of rounded holes in the rock caused by the perpetual swirling waters of the Treur River. The potholes were named after the digger who found gold in considerable quantity in close proximity. The trekkers named the Blyde (meaning joy) and the Treur (meaning sorrow) following an incident when their sorrow turned to joy.
Kruger National Park
In 1898 President Paul Kruger proclaimed the area between the Crocodile and Sabie Rivers as the Sabie Reserve because hunting mania had wiped out the Lowveld's huge herds of game. After the Anglo-Boer war, the British began clearing the way for the protected areas by the forced removal of between 2000 –3000 local inhabitants in1903. These removals continued throughout the Kruger's history. In 1969 the Makukeke people were moved out of the Pafuri area. The dispute over land claims continues today.
Major James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed the first warden. He was a short, quick-tempered Scotsman and was given the African name “skukuza” meaning “he who turns things upside down”. He waged constant war against poachers and was responsible for expanding the Kruger Park, incurring the wrath of local farmers who felt that the Reserve was a breeding ground for lions. Both domestic stock and people were often attacked.
Piet Grobler, Minister of Lands in 1926 successfully passed the Bill on National Parks and named the area Kruger National Park. In 1927, three cars entered the Park. Two years later there were 850 cars. Over the next 50 years, 150 000 people visited the Park annually. Today, 700 000 people visit the Park every year.