The Panorama Route

The Panorama Route The Panorama Route is a geological extension of the Drakensberg

A popular add-on to Kruger safaris but also well worth exploring in its own right, the so-called Panorama Route is a loose circuit of mostly natural attractions associated with the towering cliffs that divide the highveld around Sabie and Graskop from the lowveld of the Kruger Park and Mpumalanga’s provincial capital Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). A scenic and ecologically-varied region, its defining feature is the Mpumalanga Escarpment, a geological extension of the Drakensberg that rises sharply from the coastal plain (below 500m) to several peaks that top the 2,000 m mark. Although much of the region is given over to exotic plantations, significant tracts of indigenous forest remain, especially on steep cliffs, as do several areas of grassland studded with proteas and red-hot pokers. The region is notable historically as the site of South Africa’s earliest gold rush, one that proved to be short lived, as far richer seams of gold were discovered soon after in the vicinity of Johannesburg.

The Panorama Route_African finfoot The African finfoot

Well worth a stop if you pass through Mbombela, the 169 ha Lowveld National Botanical Garden, set on the confluence of the Nels and Crocodile Rivers, is of equal interest to botanists and ornithologists. The rainforest section protects a vast collection of prehistoric cycads, while a bird checklist of 250 species includes Purple-crested turaco, Half-collared kingfisher and African finfoot.

The Panorama Route_Mac Mac Falls Mac Mac Falls

This 65 m Mac-Mac Falls is named after a pair of Scottish prospectors who camped above it in the gold rush era. You can swim in the pool at the base of the falls, or continue by car for 2 km to the start of a 4 km day-trail to the little-visited Forest Falls. https://www.discoverafrica.com/images/bourkes_luck.jpg) Natural potholes at Bourke’s Luck

Situated at the confluence of the Blyde (Joy) and Treur (Sorrow) rivers, the bizarre riverine formation known as Bourke’s Luck comprise a series of deep cylindrical potholes created entirely by water erosion, and can be explored along a short network of paths and footbridges.

The Panorama Route_Blyde River Canyon Blyde River Canyon

The 25 km-long and 1.4 km-deep red sandstone Blyde River Canyon, protected within a 270 km2 nature reserve, is one of the largest and most spectacular features of its type on earth. It offers much to keen walkers and wildlife lovers, with the most rewarding of several day hikes being the Kadishi Trail, which leads through lush indigenous evergreen forest, inhabited by Vervet and Blue monkeys, to an impressive stalactite-like tufa waterfall. Look out for localised and endemic birds such as Knysna turaco, Narina trogon, Southern bald ibis, Cape vulture and Gurney’s sugarbird.

One of the most scenic spots anywhere in South Africa, the Three Rondavels viewpoint gazes across the wide Blyde River Canyon – the river itself a blue ribbon hundreds of metres below – to a striking trio of outcrops that recall traditional thatched rondavels (round houses).

The dank, cool chambers of the Sudwala Caves support some wonderful limestone drip formations and can be explored on regular guided tours that lead about 500 m deep into the subterranean labyrinth.

The Panorama Route_Pilgrim's Rest The Royal Hotel in Prilgrim’s Rest

Pilgrim’s Rest mushroomed into life in 1873 following the discovery of a large deposit of alluvial gold. The boomtown’s heyday was short lived, but it was later restored as a living museum evoking the gold rush era. Points of interest include the Anglican Church (built in 1884), the Methodist Church (1911), Catholic Church (1928), Old Police Station (1902), and the hilltop cemetery whose graves all point in the same direction, the one exception being an anonymous Robber’s Grave.

The Panorama Route_Gods Window God’s window offers heavenly views

The finest of several viewpoints offering views along the R532, God’s Window offers a splendid view over the edge of the escarpment to the expansive lowveld more than 1,000m below, though its impact depends on very clear weather.

The tallest single-drop waterfall in the region, the twin-stream Lisbon Falls plunges over a 90m stone amphitheatre whose base is accessible via a steep footpath.

Practical advice

  • The main air gateway to Mpumalanga is Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), which stands about 25 km northeast of Mbombela off the R40 to White River. It is connected to Gauteng’s OR Tambo International Airport by several scheduled flights daily, there are also direct flights from Durban and Cape Town, and several car rental companies are represented there.

  • For couples or families, it may well be more affordable to rent a car out of Gauteng and drive, following the N4 east from Pretoria to Mbombela, or the N12 from Johannesburg/OR Tambo to connect with the N4 at eMalahleni (formerly Witbank). The drive takes 3-5 hours, depending on your ultimate destination.

  • Self-drivers could visit most sites along the Panorama Route in one day, but two would be better. A good variety of hotels and lodges are available in Mbombela as well as smaller towns such as Hazyview, Sabie and Graskop.


You might also like

South Africa in August

Game viewing is exceptional in the Kruger from August Johannesburg and the highveld is mild to cool by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and receives regular rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry. August is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal…

An active holiday in South Africa

Trail biking in South Africa With its fine year-round climate and varied landscapes, South Africa is custom-made for active travellers. Indeed, there are a few parts of the country where a good selection of fun activities can be integrated into a regular holiday. Surfing in Ballito Bay A lovely area for active travellers is the Garden Route, where low-key physical activities range…

South Africa in September

Spring marks the start of the annual wildflower takeover along the West Coast of South Africa Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is mild by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, mild at night, and dry. September is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian…

Medical emergencies in South Africa

If no other assistance is at hand, call a medical emergency service. The government-run emergency number for ambulances in South Africa is 10177. Private 24-hour national emergency and ambulance services include ER24 (084 124), which is linked to a private network of 50-plus MediClinic hospitals, and Netcare 911 (082 911). The police flying squad can be reached at 10111. ...

Big Five safari holidays in South Africa

The most elusive of the Big Five; the leopard will drag its prey high up into the trees to escape scavengers For many first time visitors to Africa, a top priority is ticking off the so-called Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. South Africa offers many excellent opportunities to do this, and it is the easiest place in Africa to see rhinos, since it supports more than…

Medical insurance for South Africa

Full medical travel insurance, inclusive of air evacuation from remote areas, is highly recommended. Be aware that some insurance policies may not cover activities deemed to me hazardous, for instance paragliding or scuba diving. When travelling to South Africa we always recommend that you speak to a local travel consultant to ensure that you have all of the right documentation and…

Popular South Africa Safaris

These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates

 | Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa safari

Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa safari

This Southern Africa safari adventure will take you to the tip of the African continent...

 | Sabi Sands & Madikwe Combo

Sabi Sands & Madikwe Combo

Our selection of South Africa's top safari lodges and game reserves are guaranteed to suit every taste and budget. Consider this exciting safari package...

 | Highlights of Southern Africa

Highlights of Southern Africa

Exploring these areas of the Southern African continent should on top of your bucket list...

 | Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Blissful 4-day Kruger Safari

Experience luxury in the Kruger Park ...

 | Midlands meander in South Africa

Midlands meander in South Africa

Explore the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and KwaZulu Natal...

 | Big Five South African safari

Big Five South African safari

Get the best possible chance to see the Big Five wildlife in the iconic Kruger National Park and Manyeleti Game Reserve ...

 | Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Luxury South Africa to Zimbabwe safari

Spot the Big Five in Thornybush Private Game Reserve and enjoy the majesty of Zimbabwe's roaring Victoria Falls ...

Mountain Walk | Deluxe Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Hermanus Odyssey

Deluxe Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Hermanus Odyssey

Experience a safari adventure that combines the very best of Victoria Falls with the undeniable highlights of Cape Town and the Whale Coast....

 | South African safari

South African safari

Experience the best that South Africa has to offer, with a holiday tailor-made for you ...

 | South African holiday adventure

South African holiday adventure

Explore the southern-most city on the African continent, before jetting off to spot the Big Five...