While game viewing in the Kruger National Park may be seen as the main attraction of the area, there are also many other excursions to enjoy. So don't overlook the magnificent Panorama Route which is best known for its secret history, cultural heritage and dramatic landscapes as it passes through the rugged northern Drakensberg Mountains. The most spectacular stretch of the Panorama Route is the Blyde River Canyon (proclaimed as a nature reserve in 2004) with its dramatic mountain scenery and panoramic views over the escarpment. The 25,000 hectare Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve starts at 'The Pinnacle' and follows a winding path for 26 kilometres via 'God's Window' and 'Bourke's Luck Potholes' to the 'Three Rondawels'. It is the third largest canyon in the world with a drop of 800m (half a mile), the second largest canyon in Africa and the only green canyon in the world boasting a rich diversity of plants.
Highlights of the Panorama Route
- Blyde River Canyon
- Waterfall Route
- Pilgrim's Rest
Blyde River Canyon
The Pinnacle is a single, tower-like, freestanding quartzite column rising 30 meters above the dense indigenous forest below.
God's Window where majestic cliffs plunge more than 700 meters down into a lush, indigenous forest ravine offering awe-inspiring views of the Kruger Lowveld region (and Mozambique in the distance on a clear day).
Wonder View is about 2 kilometres north of God's Window and at an altitude of 1,730 meters above sea level is the highest viewpoint in the area.
Bourke's Luck Potholes (also known as nature's wishing well) mark the beginning of the actual Blyde River Canyon. This natural water feature was created over thousands of years by swirling whirlpools which occur as the Treur River plunges into the Blyde River below causing waterborne sand and rock to grind huge, cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the river.
The Lowveld View is found between Bourke's Luck Potholes and the Three Rondawels and offers stunning views of the Blyde River Canyon, the Blyde Dam and the Kruger Lowveld region beyond.
The Three Rondawels (also known as the Three Sisters) are gigantic peaks of quartzite and shale that rise more than 700 meters above the surrounding landscape. Their perfectly domed heads protrude above green vegetation and their sides are stained with fiery orange lichen. These peaks are named after the three most troublesome wives of Chief Maripi Mashile - they are (from left to right) Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto. The Swadini Dam seen in the far distance marks the end of the reserve.
Echo Caves are some of the oldest caves in the world and have been declared a Historical Monument. As the name suggests, these deep caves produce a reverberating echo and historically allowed local tribes to take refuge from
Horseshoe Falls are named after their horseshoe shape and are an exquisite sight. They have a circular appearance, and although the falls are not very high, they are very unusual. The Horseshoe Falls have been declared a National Monument and are a must see in the Sabie area.
Lone Creek Falls are another well known landmark in the Sabie area. A short walk through an indigenous forest takes you to the bottom of the 68 meter high falls which have also been declared a National Monument.
Bridal Veil Falls do funnily enough resemble a bridal veil. A challenging 750 meter walk through an indigenous forest is necessary to get to this 70 meter high waterfall.
Sabie Falls plunge 73 meters down into the Sabie Gorge. The remains of the old hydro-electric plant that provided Sabie with power in the 1900's can still be seen at the bottom of the falls.
Panorama Falls is fed by a very small catchment area and is often just a trickle of water, but after heavy rainstorms a number of separate falls can be seen spilling water into the Gorge.
Graskop Gorge offers some breathtaking views of the Lowveld below, framed between the steep, forest-clad sides of the Gorge.
Mac Mac Pools is a fun-for-all picnic spot with naturally formed swimming pools. The 3 kilometre circular Secretary Bird hiking trail starts and ends here and passes through open grassveld (with little shade) and pristine forest.
Mac Mac Falls in the Mac Mac River is 65 meters high and another National Monument. This waterfall was originally a single stream, but gold miners blasted it with dynamite to divert the river in an attempt to work the rich gold-bearing reef over which it plunges.
Forest Falls is the only waterfall in the area that is wider than it is high. Reached by taking a refreshing 7 kilometre circular walk through fragrant pine forests, Forest Falls is a delightful place to visit.
Natural Bridge is a natural wonder created when the Mac Mac River carved a path under rocks to form a natural bridge. This bridge was used more than a century ago by the Voortrekkers and later by transport riders to cross the Mac Mac river.
Lisbon Falls are the highest waterfalls in the area and reach 92 meters above ground level.
Berlin Falls are 45 meters high and situated a short walk from the road.
Hiking and Walking Trails of the Panorama Route
- Jock of the Bushveld / Fairyland (8 kilometres)
This is a 3 hour circular trail starting and finishing at the Graskop Holiday Resort. It passes through montane grassveld and the weirdly shaped rocks of the Fairyland Forest as well as Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's (author of Jock of the Bushveld) overnight camp to the edge of the escarpment overlooking the Pinnacle Gorge.
- Belvedere Day Walk (8 kilometres)
This walk starts at Bourke's Luck Potholes and descends into the canyon to meander through a lush riverine forest, where exotic birds (such as the Knysna Lourie and Narina Trogon) are found and is one of the most satisfying walks in the region. It ends at the old Belvedere Hydro Electric Power Station - the largest hydro electric power station in the southern hemisphere in the 1900's.
- Adventura Blydepoort (2 to 5 kilometres)
This resort has three, well laid out and signposted walks known as the Kadishi, Leopard and Guinea Fowl trails.
- Overnight Hikes
There are a number of 2 to 5 day walks in the area.
Contact: Safcol Ecotourism on 012 436 6300 or 013 754 2724
Towns of the Panorama Route
Graskop is the gateway to the Panorama Route and a bustling tourism destination just minutes away from the scenic wonders of the area. Graskop offers a truly spectacular day trip boasting rich historical heritage and pristine beauty.
Pilgrim's Rest is a little village, with a colourful history, and is probably the most picturesque and charming spot in the area only 23 km from Graskop. After the discovery of gold in 1873, Alec Patterson found alluvial gold in the stream that flows through the valley. The news spread like wildfire and sparked off the biggest gold rush of the time. Nowhere was gold ever mined in more beautiful and romantic surroundings. Mining continued until 1972 and today Pilgrim's Rest is a living museum, preserved in the exact architectural style of the gold rush period, boasting various buildings that have remained unchanged externally for more than a century.
Hazyview derives its name from the summer haze that envelopes the low-lying bushveld. This occurs during the heat of summer season. Hazyview is a small farming town and is renowned for its banana industry. Along with the many panoramic destinations, tourists enjoy visiting the Shangana Cultural Village where they can enjoy an educational tour through the village while their guide relates the history and customs of the Shangaan people. A bustling African market where local craftspeople make and trade their craft forms the centre of Shangana and offers an array of curios for sale. Daytime tours, midday tours with lunch, and the famed Evening Festival in the Chief's Kraal are available.
Contact: 013 737 7000 or visit www.shangana.co.za
Slightly further a field
The somewhat mystical area of Long Tom Pass is filled with beautiful mountain ranges. The Long Tom Pass gets its name from the Long Tom cannons used during the Anglo-Boer war. It was originally the route followed by pioneer wagon drivers transporting goods from Mozambique to Lydenburg. A day spent exploring the area can be combined with a visit to Hops Hollow Brewery - the highest brewery in Africa to sample their beers and enjoy a light lunch. For further information, please visit www.hopshollow.com
The town of Barberton is situated in picturesque surroundings in the De Kaap Valley which is a proposed World Heritage site. Some of the oldest sedimentary rock formations in the world are found in this valley, the hills of which have been picked bare by treasure hunters over the years, but even today the wildness of the area overwhelms visitors. Barberton is also home to South Africa's oldest stock exchange, created after the first gold was discovered there on 20 June 1883 by Auguste Roberts. The exchange, although no longer trading, can still be seen today.
Sabie is located south of Graskop. Although larger than Graskop, Sabie is a small tourist and forestry village on the banks of the pristine Sabie River and boasts the Sabie Brewing Company! For further information, please visit www.sabiebrewery.com