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Dullstroom

Many travelers compare a visit to Dullstroom with a stint in the Scottish Highlands; the promise of landing a 6- to 7-pounder in the well-stocked dams and streams of the highveld's best trout-fishing region makes it a popular weekend getaway for urban South Africans. At 2,012m (6,599 ft.) above sea level, this is the highest town on the Escarpment -- expect bitterly cold evenings in the winter, and don't be surprised to find fires lit even in midsummer. The town, some 230km (143 miles) northeast of Johannesburg, dates back to the 1880s, when a committee under the chairmanship of Wolterus Dull collected money in Holland to assist Boers who had suffered losses in the First Anglo-Boer War. The town was razed to the ground by the British in the Second Anglo-Boer War, but despite perennial mist and low temperatures, the townsfolk simply rebuilt it. Its popularity with tourists has created a huge rise in development in recent years, meaning that there is a greater selection of adventure activities available in the vicinity.

Lydenburg & Long Tom Pass

Lydenburg, or "Place of Suffering," was founded by a party of depressed Voortrekkers who, having lost a number of loved ones to a malaria epidemic in nearby Ohrigstad, retreated to its mosquito-free heights in 1849. Happily, Lydenburg proved to be a misnomer, and today the town has a substantial center, though there's little to see beyond some really interesting examples of pioneer architecture. The town is also known for a famed archaeological find: the Lydenburg Heads, seven ceramic masks that date back to the 5th century and were discovered in the late 1950s. You can see replicas of the heads (the originals now reside in the South African Museum in Cape Town) at the Lydenburg Museum (tel. 013/235-2213; www.lydenburgmuseum.org.za), situated in the Gustav Klingbiel Nature Reserve, 3km (1 3/4 miles) out of town on the R37. Guided tours are by appointment only; call ahead. Hours are Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 5pm; free admission. One of the most authentic pit stops in the region is here: Vroutjies (meaning "Little Women") Coffee Shop (tel. 013/235 3016) is on the main road and does a mean apple tart and baked cheesecake.

From Lydenburg, the R37 east takes you down the Long Tom Pass -- at 2,150m (7,052 ft.), the second-highest mountain pass in South Africa. It was named after the Creusot siege guns that the Boers lugged up the pass to try to repel the British forces during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). These guns, or cannons, were known as Long Toms because of their extended necks, which could spit a shell 9.5km (6 miles). Near the summit of the pass, at the Devil's Knuckles, a Long Tom replica commemorates the 4-day battle that was fought on this mountainside in 1900 -- the original cannons were destroyed by the Boers to prevent them from falling into British hands. You can still see the holes blasted by the cannons as the Boers retreated down the Staircase, a series of hairpin bends that zigzag down the pass. If you're feeling hungry or just want an excuse to enjoy the view, Misty Mountain (tel. 013/764-3377) serves a reasonable plate of food.

Continuing east along the R37, passing the turnoff south for Hendriksdal, you come to the small forestry town of Sabie.

Sabie & Surrounds

Sabie (pronounced "sah-bee") dates to 1871, when a few friends, picnicking at the Lower Sabie Falls, were showing off their marksmanship skills. Bullets chipped the rocks behind the mock targets, revealing a glint of gold, and prospectors promptly followed. The initial boom was short lived, though the mining industry was still to transform Sabie. The first commercial trees, intended for mine props, were planted in 1876 and today form the heart of what are claimed to be the largest man-made forests in the world. To date, more than a million acres have been planted with pine and eucalyptus, and many of these are destined to prop up shafts in the mines that run deep below Gauteng's surface; tree-huggers can find out more at the Forestry Museum (tel. 013/764-1058; Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm, Sat 8am-noon; R10 adults, R5 children).

The area surrounding Sabie and Graskop is also renowned for its waterfalls. But if your idea of a waterfall worth detouring is Victoria Falls, give these a miss and head straight for Pilgrim's Rest and/or the Panorama Route. If you visit only one waterfall, consider Lone Creek Falls, reached by traveling 10km (6 1/4 miles) on the Old Lydenburg Road, northwest from Sabie. You will pass turnoffs for both the Bridal Veil (R5 per car) and Horseshoe Falls (R5 per car) before reaching the Lone Creek gate (R5 per person). The single cascade plunges 68m (223 ft.) into an attractive pool and is framed by the lush green foliage of a small damp rainforest.

A little farther along the R532, you will see the sign for Forest Falls (permit obtainable from Forestry Museum for a nominal fee); this is an easy 3km (1.75-mile) walk and well worth tackling, time allowing. To view the Lisbon and Berlin waterfalls, take the Panorama Route following the rim of the Escarpment. Note that Sabie town is only 55km from the nearest Kruger gate.

Pilgrim's Rest

The village of Pilgrim's Rest was established in 1873 after Alex "Wheelbarrow" Patterson discovered gold in the stream that flows past what was to become the first gold-rush town in South Africa. Having struck out on his own to escape the crush at Mac Mac, he must have been horrified when within the year he was joined by 1,500 diggers, all frantically panning to make their fortunes. A fair number did, with the largest nugget weighing in at 11kg (24 lb.), but by 1881, the best of the pickings had been found, and the diggings were bought by the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME). A century later, the village still looked much the same, and the entire settlement was declared a national monument. The Works Department and Museum Services took charge of restoring and preserving this living museum.

If you're looking for historical accuracy, then you'll find Pilgrim's Rest overcommercialized; the town's streets are probably a great deal prettier than they were at the turn of the 20th century, and the overall effect, from the gleaming vintage fuel pumps to the flower baskets, is a sanitized, glamorized picture of life in a gold-rush town. As theme parks go, however, Pilgrim's Rest is a pleasant experience. Most of the buildings line a single main street, and the architecture is Victorian, prevalent in so many of colonial Africa's rural towns. Walls are corrugated iron with deep sash windows, and corrugated-iron roofs extend over large shaded stoeps (verandas).

Getting There -- Travel north from Sabie on R532. The R532 meets with the R533 in a T-junction; head northwest on R533 for 15km (9 1/4 miles). Pilgrim's Rest is 35km (22 miles) north of Sabie and about 360km (223 miles) northeast of Johannesburg.

Visitor Information -- Contact the Tourist Information Centre (tel. 013/768-1060; www.pilgrimsrest.org.za; daily 9am-4:30pm) and, if possible, ask for the information officer. The center is clearly marked on the main street; staff will supply free town maps as well as tickets to the museums, and will book tours for you.

Getting Around -- Pilgrim's Rest has no street numbers; it's literally a one-horse town, with buildings stretched along a main road. Uptown, or Top Town, is literally the higher (and older) part of the main road, while Downtown stretches below the turnoff into town. Most of the tourist sights are situated in Uptown, as is the tourist office. For guided tours, contact John Pringle, the town's former information officer (tel. 083/522-6441; about R350 per person for a full-day tour).

Things to See & Do -- St. Mary's Anglican Church, seen overlooking the main street as you enter town, is where sinners' souls were salvaged. Higher up the hill, the evocative Pilgrim's Rest Cemetery is definitely worth a visit. Besides the headstone inscribed ROBBERS GRAVE -- the only tomb that lies in a north-south direction -- the many children's graves are moving testimony to how hard times really were, and the many nationalities reflect the cosmopolitan character of the original gold-rush village.

The three museums in town, the Dredzen Shop and House Museum, the News Printing Museum, and the House Museum, can all be visited with the ticket sold at the Tourist Information Centre (R10). None of these house museums feels particularly authentic; furnishings and objects are often propped haphazardly and look much the worse for wear.

The Alanglade Museum (no phone; admission R20), which used to house the TGME's mine manager and his family, is more interesting. Although the furnishings, which date from 1900 to 1930, are not original, they have been selected to represent the era and are maintained with more care than those in the house museums. It is set in a forested grove 1.5km (about 1 mile) north of town. Tours run at 11am and 2pm Monday through Saturday, and must be booked half an hour in advance from the Pilgrim's Rest Tourist Information Centre.

Don't leave town without popping in to the Royal Hotel's Church Bar (the tiny building used to be a church in Mozambique before it was relocated here, thereby answering the prayers of the thirsty Pilgrims of Mpumalanga).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.