Of all the geological features that I have visited in the world few are as impressive as the 22km meandering drive through Meiringspoort.
Situated north of the Garden Route, the canyon is a spectacular gateway between the Greater Karoo to the Little Karoo, and offers one of the most dramatic displays of geological formation in South Africa. Strata buckled and bent in seemingly impossible shapes are testimony to the phenomenal forces of plate tectonics that formed the Cape Fold Mountains on the cusp of land mass realignment.
A slithering incision through the jagged Swartberg Mountain Range, the route is endowed with an abundance of sun drenched peaks towering above the burbling river that serves as the remnant legacy of the ancient event which drained an inland ocean of a archaic geological era.
Photographically, opportunities abound, all requiring perfect timing to capture the essence of cliff faces, trees clawing to slopes and tranquil rock pools with the correct combination of light and shadows. There is no correct time to visit for the perfect photo, each occasion presents a lasting impression that will be etched forever in your memory.
In addition to the astounding beauty of the canyon there is a historical heritage epitomised by the road building prowess of Thomas Bains mixed with rewarding birding and diverse nature.
Nestled in a region comprised of a fusion of biomes, the botanical diversity is incredible. From the rock strewn river, up the tumbling slopes beyond the cliff faces to the serrated peaks, flora sprouts from deeply incised contorted layers creating a vertical terraced effect. Indeed, the initial genetic material which spawned the diverse array of Geraniums originates from a Pellagonium species found here.
For nature lovers seeking a more relaxed experience, Meiringspoort has a series of very well placed picnic areas with ablution facilities. Without a doubt the most popular is the stop with museum documenting the history of the access route with fresh displays of plants in bloom.
Even if you traverse the 20km with your eyes closed, stopping at the waterfall and taking the short 300m stroll to see the crystal clear rock pools is sufficient to capture the essence of this scenic route.
A column of water slips down a 40m rock face worn smooth by the passage of time and fills a cauldron of transparent water sparkling aquamarine before tumbling down to a series of inviting pools. In the searing summer heat the choice is not of if you swim, but rather in which pool you swim first.
So what am I doing here now? I’m waiting for my wonderful wife to speed past as she competes in the popular annual Meiringspoort half marathon. Parked alongside the road the perpetual birdsong, the dazzling rock formations and the intimacy with the environment while waiting for her, it seemed only natural to share the impressions of this intense landscape.