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93 MIN READ TIME

Before the gold rush

WORDS AMANDA CANNING @amandacanning PHOTOGRAPHS JONATHAN GREGSON @jonathangregsonphotography

IN THE GATHERING WIND, THE BRIDE is struggling to retain her modesty. As guests gather round her and her new husband for a photo, her full skirts billow up and it takes four people to battle them Iback down. The desired shot is not to be: a fat slug of low cloud squats over the mountain they’d chosen as their backdrop, and there is no hint of the famed canyon that lies beneath it. The wedding party gives up, piles into a convoy of minivans, and drives away.

A female leopard cub waits for her mother in a tree in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. An old diggings site in the town of Pilgrim’s Rest

Patience, though, has long been a virtue up on the Drakensburg Escarpment. With alarmingly long-toothed baboons prowling the plateau around me, I perch on a boulder and wait, joined occasionally by entrails of mist that slink in and away like mildly curious ghosts. After an hour, the grand unveiling takes place. The clouds part, and the bulbous rock pinnacles of the Three Rondavels are revealed, sheering up from the canyon floor 400 metres below, the dark green coil of the Blyde River winding its way between them. For a brief moment, and one that surely deserves an operatic burst from a choir of angels, the Mpulamunga plains far to the east are illuminated by golden beams of sunlight. Then the weather sets in, and their fields of orange, mango and avocado trees are lost to sight once more.

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