The Panorama Route is one of the most scenic routes along the Mpumalanga escarpment. The route winds its way through the northern Drakensberg craggy mountains and the north-eastern end of the Great Escarpment and includes breath-taking views and natural wonders along the route. The towns of Lydenburg and White River are gateways to the route, which takes you through the quaint towns of Pilgrim's Rest, a living museum dating back to the hey days of the gold rush, as well as Sabie, Graskop, Ohrigstad and Hazyview.
Travel up Long Tom Pass and at 2149 metres above sea level this is the highest tarred road in South Africa. Passing through Graskop we stopped at The Big Swing. This extremely exhilarating activity (and not for the fainthearted) has a 68m free drop before the rope tightens and you swing across the width of the Graskop Gorge. This is officially the highest cable gorge swing in the world, with the equivalent of an 18 storey free fall and swing after it going from 0 – 160km in 2 seconds! There is also a zip line which travels over the gorge giving you a unique view of the waterfall below.
The next stop was the Pinnacle Rock, which is a tower of free-standing quartzite and this rises 30m from the ravine below.
The Three Rondavels was our next stop with its famous South African view of the rugged mountains and the distant waters of the Blydepoort Dam. Then on to God’s Window which is aptly named for a breathtaking panoramic view of the Lowveld and in the far distance the Kruger National Park and Mozambique more than 100km away! A very steep pathway leads you to the edge of the escarpment to the view points but if you want to avoid the crowds head up along the pathways into the rain forest to alternate viewing points to enjoy the expansive views.
A good tip is to visit Wonder View instead of God’s Window. Wonder View, which happens to be the highest viewpoint on the Panorama Route, has even more magnificent views than the one at Gods Window. No walking is necessary as the viewpoint is right next to the road, it is far quieter, and views are 360-degrees over the Lowveld.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes was our next stop, which marks the beginning of Blyde River Canyon. Through countless aeons the swirling whirlpools which occur as the Treur River plunges into the Blyde River has caused waterborne sand and rock to grind huge, cylindrical potholes into the bedrock of the river. It is the 3rd largest canyon in the world, and is filled with lush vegetation and wildlife. It is also the largest forested and green canyon in the world. The Potholes are quite some distance from the car park but the paths are very well laid out. Suspension bridges give you a magnificent view of the Potholes 30 metres below.
It is interesting to note that the potholes were named after a rather unsuccessful gold digger who once staked his claim nearby. Tom Burke was perhaps one of the first prospectors to proclaim that the surrounding area would yield gold. Unfortunately for him, he never found it – though hundreds of others did. His small gold mine proved to be completely fruitless but his legacy lives on at Bourke’s Luck Potholes.
Our last stop along the Panorama Route was Lisbon Falls. These are the highest falls in the area and the most beautiful, as the Lisbon River cascades over a sheer cliff in a double stream. To round off a busy panoramic day, one has to visit Harry’s Pancakes in Graskop.
Harry Sietsema opened his doors 14 years ago, and today you can find his restaurant by simply looking for the congregation of tour buses. Tasting one of his thick crepes should definitely be high on your priority list - some of the most popular savoury fillings include trout mousse and horseradish, and butternut with cumin and blue cheese sauce. If you're in time for tea, the black cherries and liqueur sauce or green fig preserves and pecan nuts - both with either cream or ice cream - are knockouts.
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