When people discuss “The Drakensberg”, most of us think about a very specific area in Natal. However, in truth, the Drakensberg escarpment stretches for more than 1000 kilometres, from the Eastern Cape all the way to Limpopo. Also known as “The Great Escarpment”, it is composed of steep walls, which were formed around a bulging of the continental crust. This occurred during the breakup of southern Gondwana. Over the previous 20 million years, southern Africa has undergone extensive uplifting, particularly in the east, with the result that most of the plateau now lies above 1000 m – this despite extensive erosion. The plateau is highest in the east, sloping gently down towards the west and south. Generally, the elevation of the eastern escarpments is in excess of 2000 m (with the highest point over 3000 m in the Lesotho region).
Interestingly, whilst the “Drakensberg” ends in Limpopo (near Tzaneen – at about the 22° S parallel), ‘The Great Escarpment” reappears on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the Chimanimani region – which leaves a gap of about 450km. This is due to a “failed” westerly branch of the main rift, which ultimately caused Antarctica to begin drifting away from southern Africa during the breakup of Gondwana about 150 million years ago.
“A map of South Africa shows the central plateau edged by the Great Escarpment and its relationship to the Cape Fold Mountains to the south. The portion of The Great Escarpment shown in red is known as the Drakensberg.” Ref: Wikipedia.
The actual Drakensberg was formed around 182 million years ago, during the early Jurassic period. Rifting tectonics (in response to the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana) are believed to have been the cause for the formation of the Drakensberg Group. Which finally brings us to the point of this story – are you aware that God’s Window in Mpumalanga is part of the Drakensberg??
Image taken from God’s Window on a rather brooding day – but the escarpment is still clearly visible…
God’s Window is one of the highlights of the Panorama Route, which explores the Mpumalanga highlands (effectively the north-eastern section of the Great Escarpment of the Drakensberg). The rugged mountains come to an abrupt and dramatic halt as seen in the image above. They fall steeply away onto the Lowveld, providing incredible views over the grasslands of Africa. As you can see, they are located on the R534 which is about a 30-minute drive from Pilgrim’s Rest where we were stationed (more about that next week).
“Big 7 Travel”, a renowned international travel site, voted ‘The Panorama Route’ one of the Most Scenic Drives in the World. A loose circuit of mostly natural attractions, it is associated with the towering escarpment of the highveld and the warmer lowveld. Some of South Africa’s best tourism attractions are located in this area, including the Blyde River Canyon (25 km long and, on average, 800m deep – which makes it one of the larger canyons in the world), Bourke’s Luck potholes and even The Kruger National Park. If you are visiting Mpumalanga, the Panorama Route is definitely a worthy endeavour! Standing right on the edge of the escarpment, the drop off the escarpment takes your breath away. You can easily understand how this spot got the name “God’s Window”…
While it has always been a popular tourist spot, it was made even more famous by the 1980s cult film “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. When “Xi” (the bushman character) sets out to return the problematic Coca-Cola bottle to the gods (towards the end of the movie), he travels to the “end of the earth” – a scene which was filmed at God’s Window. With the cloud covering the valley below, it really did appear to be the edge of the world. You can still find the film on YouTube. When re-watching it, you realise just how far in the past 1980 was!!
An image from “The God’s Must Be Crazy”…
This country of ours is simply magical. Take the time to research, and then to travel to all the wonderful places you have found. There are so many gossamer threads that link it all. By finding them, you will increase the enjoyment of your journeys tenfold!
Jacqui Ikin & the Cross Country Team