Even the word ‘panorama’ invokes a feeling of wide space, exceptional views and long stretches of open land. Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route lives up to this description and offers the curious visitor dramatic vistas and exciting activities.
To start off your tour of the area, your best bet will be setting up base camp in the small town of Graskop. From here, you’ll only be a short drive away from all the beautiful wonders on offer. Pick your accommodation of choice, unpack and relax; your tour is about to begin.
Waterfalls and vistas
Pack a nice picnic lunch, hiking shoes and plenty of cash, and kick off your journey with a drive up north, then turning right onto the R534. A short distance ahead, you’ll see a sign pointing off the road to “Pinnacle”. This is your first stop along the route to see Pinnacle Rock; a massive tower-like buttress that stands tall above the forest canopy. Nearby you’ll also be able to catch a glimpse of your first water features, about 8 small waterfalls on the Ngwaritsane River.
Once you've had a good look, get back in the car and head further up north. Just 5.5 km up the road you’ll need to turn off on the right for God’s Window. Make your way along the footpath to the actual views site and you’ll be greeted by a superb panoramic view of the Lowveld with the Kruger National Park in the distance. Make sure you have your camera with you! It’s now time to check out another great view point called Wonder View, just 1.3 km further up the R534. This is the highest point on the escarpment and provides another amazing view of the surrounding landscape.
Once you've had a good look, keep heading up the road. After 6.8 km you’ll reach the R532 T-junction; turn right towards Graskop and then take the right turn towards Lisbon Falls, it will be nicely sign posted so you can’t miss it. Keep on this road for 2 km to reach the car park. From the point you’ll have a good view of Lisbon falls, the highest waterfall in the area. The Lisbon River branches out into 3 streams and falls about 92 meters down the escarpment into a thunderous curtain of mist. If you’re brave enough, you can complete your Lisbon Falls experience with a hike down to the rocky bottom. This hike is a little challenging and will take you about an hour to complete, but it’s well worth the effort. Here is a good place to get out your picnic lunch and enjoy a good break to the sound of the falls.
The next waterfall is located nearby; make your way 2 km north up the R532 and turn left at the Berlin Falls sign. The parking lot turn-off is 1.8 km further up the road. The Berlin Falls is a rather impressive natural formation, where the Sabine River falls 80 meters from a dramatic edge into a circular basin with steep red stone cliffs. Your next destination on your road trip is further out north, so now would be a good time to head back to your base camp to unwind as the day comes to an end.
The Blyde River Canyon
The next day you’ll be driving a little further out of Graskop. Make sure you head out early to beat the tour buses and drive about 35 km north on the R532. Look out for the ‘Potholes’ sign indicating the turnoff for Bourke's Luck Potholes. A popular landmark, the potholes is a 700 meter walk from the visitors center. The natural formations are a marvel, the result of sand and sediment scouring away holes into the bedrock over millions of years. If you’re keen, you can take a short hike on one of the two trails from the visitors center.
The Lowveld View is next on the itinerary, located just 8.9 km north on the R532 from the potholes. From this vantage point you’ll be able see the Blyde River as it meanders around majestic mountain peaks; a truly awe-inspiring view. For even more impressive views, you’ll need to keep on the R532 for 4.6 km and turn right towards the Three Rondawels. A ‘rondawel’ is a round South African thatch-roofed hut commonly found in the more rural parts of the country. These red sandstone peaks rise about 700 meters above the valley floor and provides an iconic view of the whole Panorama Route. This completes your road trip of the Panoramic Route.
The end of the journey
At this stage of your trip you have the option to return back to Graskop, or you can keep on going north into Limpopo and turn left onto the R36 towards the Echo Caves. These caverns feature stunning limestone stalactite chambers which are highly recommended for young and old. Guided tours are held throughout the day which will lead you through 2 km of tunnels. For some insight into the history of the area, the Museum of Man is near the caves. After returning to your base camp for the evening and leaving Graskop the next morning, you can do a quick detour south along the R532 to view the Mac Mac pools and Waterfalls, or maybe west towards Pilgrims Rest. The rest of the journey is up to you.
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