Mpumalanga captures the World's vision of Africa. Endless bushveld, the shimmering haze above hot plains, darting antelope and the trilling sight of buffalo, elephant, rhino or leopard.

The nighttime cry of the hyena and the crackle of a campfire at a coy restcamp, safari gear, tough game rangers and their four-wheel-drivers, are all part of the enthralling business of the bush. The region is also a dream of crashing water spilling from high escarpment in a hundred falls with romantic names like Bridal Veil, Lone Creek and Horseshoe.

The Water of eons has carved canyons, crevasses and caves to be explored on foot, making the area a hiker's paradise.

It is the place of legends too, of warring African tribes in mountain top fortresses, inspiration for the romances of Rider Haggard, creator of King Solomon's Mines.

The gold rush during the 19th century spawned stories of high adventure, as pioneers raced for the short-lived veins of wealth which eluded so many of them. Most famous of the region's heroes was not man, but dog - the charismatic Jock of the Bushveld, whose owner Perky Fitzpatrick wrote so eloquently of the rough and tumble times in which he lived.

Only a little way from the giant golden city of Johannesburg, the road takes one into the flowing grasslands of this region which stretches north and east of the Highveld plateau, rising towards the towering Drakensberg mountain range.

From heights of more than 2 000 metres above sea level, the terrain drops from great Escapement to the Lowveld, where the seekers of big game flock to the Kruger National Park and the Network of satellite sanctuaries that lines its western boundary. Here 700 different species of insect, fish, bird and mammal - including the sought-after Big Five - are protected, accessible to nature lovers from all over the world.

This is the true Africa of adventure that belonged to the gold prospectors and big game hunters, whose brief prosperity and hard lives before the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand is the backbone of 19th century South African history. A living example of one of these tough gold mining towns is at Pilgrim's Rest.

The natural treasures of the central escarpment are protected in the 22 500 hecture Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, with a spectacular 30 km canyon as its focus of attention, channeling the combined waters of the Blyde and Treur Rivers along its 26km floor.

Hikers will see examples of the wide variety of contrasting plant communities, animals and birds, including the black eagle and other raptors. The escarpment is a magnet for speleologist who can explore the caverns and natural corridors with magical dripstone formations.

Nelspruit, Barberton, Lydenburg, Sabie, Pilgrim's Rest, Graskop, Komatipoort, Hectorspruit, Maleane, Kaapmuiden, White River, Hazyview and Ohrigstad: the towns string out as living reminders of the past and charming affirmations of the future, each with its own little corner of history just awaiting discovery.

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