Panorama Route South Africa

April 5, 2020
Nadine Maneveld
Nadine is a wide eyed traveler fascinated with people and cultures that shape a landscape. Her African heritage has contributed to her compassion and curiosity for learning more about her local environment and those far flung.

The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, South Africa, has one of the world’s most beautiful driving routes. It is often overlooked in favour of iconic pilgrimages such as the Garden Route and Route 62. This scenic passage along the Mpumalanga Escarpment is definitely worth travelling. It connects several cultural and natural points of interest.

In another life, Mpumalanga’s escarpment bustled with fortune seekers traversing the region’s treacherous mountains and rugged terrain in search of gold. Although much of the gold was mined in the heydays of the late 1800s, the province still beckons adventurous pilgrims. This is due to the breathtaking, natural treasures abound.

The Panorama route’s popularity has much to do with its proximity to the Kruger National Park. It is often part and parcel of any organised trip to the game reserve. But, this awe-inspiring passage has much more going for it. Aptly named, this scenic drive promises endless views, plunging waterfalls, crystal rock pools, lush forests, and charming towns steeped in history. This all makes for an aesthetic road trip en route to an epic safari in the Kruger National Park.

View 17 Tours that travel via the Panorama Route, South Africa

 

Kruger National Park roadtrip

Where does the Panorama route start and end?

The Panorama route begins at the foot of the Long Tom Pass outside Lydenburg. It weaves into the Mpumalanga highlands before ending at the border of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, near the Echo Caves.

When is the Best time to explore the Panorama Route in South Africa?

The best time to visit the Panorama Route is in the dry winter months between May and August. The driving conditions will be better and the views clearer. This also coincides with the best time to visit the Kruger National Park. Thus, making the Panorama Route the perfect addition to a South African safari tour.

To plan your full South Africa Itinerary, check out this travel calendar for South Africa. Includes tips on where to go month by month.

How Long to Spend on the Panorama Route

With so much to see and do along the Panorama Route, you have to spend at least two to three days in the area. However, if you were short on time, it is possible to drive the Panorama Route in one day. This is due to the main highlights and attractions being clustered in three areas that are in close proximity to each other.

 

South Africa Map

Panorama Route vs the Garden Route

South Africa has ever-changing landscapes, pristine coastlines, quirky small towns and an abundance of breathtaking spaces. This has cemented the country’s reputation as one of the world’s best road trip destinations.

If you were torn between the Panorama Route and the Garden Route, here’s a quick breakdown of what you can look forward to on both road trips.

The Garden Route is one of the country’s most lauded road trip destinations. Wrapping around the Western Cape’s glorious coastline, this 200km passage is known for its varied vegetation, sublime beaches, and dense mountain forests. This bucket list trip is popular with thrill-seekers. This is thanks to the plethora of action-packed activities available. Here you are able to barrel in the Plettenberg Bay surf to leaping off the world’s highest bungee at the Bloukrans Bridge in Tsitsikamma. Additionally, you are able to spot the Big Seven at legendary Addo Elephant National Park. The Garden Route is a prime destination for an action-packed Southern Africa tour.

Best for: Beaches and outdoor activities
How long: 5 days

 

Bloukrans Bridge

 

Further north, the Panorama Route traverses along the highest tar road in South Africa. It gives way to spectacular views of the area’s mountains, canyons, and valleys. Known for its cultural heritage and its dramatic landscapes, this meandering road trip is best enjoyed by those who prefer the slow life.

In this exquisite pocket of South Africa, visitors have a chance to explore thundering waterfalls and gaze out over the world’s third-largest canyon. You are even able to follow in the footsteps of the prospectors who once flocked here en-mass during the gold rush in 1873. But, it’s more than just a pretty face. The Panorama route is also surrounded by a handful of nature reserves and game parks. This includes the legendary Kruger National Park, the Ohrigstad Dam Nature Reserve, Sabie Sands Game Reserve, Mount Sheba Nature Reserve, as well as Gustav Klingbiel Nature Reserve.

Best for: Nature walks and scenic views
How long: anywhere from 1 to 4 days

Travel routes to the Panorama route

Panorama Route Map

 

Panorama Route to Kruger self-drive

The Panorama Route’s popularity has much to do with its proximity to the Kruger National Park. If you’re on a self-drive trip around the region, the Panorama Route has two towns that are the perfect launchpad into the Kruger National Park.

At the tail end of the route, Hazyview is the most popular town to camp out before embarking on a safari tour. This is due to the fact that it gives visitors a direct line to the Sabie Sands Game Reserve. Further north, Hoedspruit is closer to the main Kruger National Park entrance.

Those taking a self-drive Panorama Route to Kruger trip should keep in mind that Malaria is endemic. Especially in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and in Limpopo (including the Kruger Park and private game reserves). Please take the necessary precautions.

 

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Panorama Route from Johannesburg

The total distance for a round trip from Johannesburg is roughly 2,000 km (1,242 miles). It is best enjoyed over four days. Alternatively, you can fly into closer cities such as Nelspruit and Hoedspruit and hire a car from there. If you decide to self-drive from Johannesburg to the Panorama Route, here’s a useful set of directions to explore the circuit before embarking on a Kruger Park safari.

Panorama Route from Hoedspruit

It’s a 30-minute drive from Hoedspruit to the starting point of the Panorama Route. Take the R527 toward the R36 Abel Erasmus Pass until you get to the Echo Caves. From here, join onto the R532 which will take you along the entire Panorama Route. First stopping at the Blyde River Canyon, then Bourkes Luck, Berlin Falls, Lisbon Falls, and God’s Window. Stop off at Pinnacle Rock for an obligatory snapshot of the natural formation. Do this before either taking the R533 toward Pilgrims Rest or staying on course along the R532 toward Sabie.

Top Panorama Route Attractions

With spectacular sweeping views, impressive mountain waterfalls and endless skies, it’s no wonder they call it the Panorama Route. Most of the route’s most popular attractions are dotted along the R532. This road winds its way across the verdant Blyde River Canyon, which at every turn offers more and more impressive views.

To rush the drive would be to miss the enchantment. In addition, the Panorama Route is also jam-packed with plenty of sunny-day pursuits for those who wish to stretch their legs between stops. From multi-day hiking treks across old prospector thoroughfares, to heart-pumping quad bike trails, visits to traditional villages, and rafting down the Sabie River Valley – there’s no shortage of exciting things to do on the Panorama Route.

Here are the top attractions to look out for on your Panorama Route tour:

 

 

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Abel Erasmus Pass

The Abel Erasmus Pass is one of the region’s most magnificent mountain passes. It winds its way around the Manoutsa section of the Limpopo Drakensberg. The first iteration of this scenic passage was carved out by the gold rush pioneers of the late 19th century. This allowed access to the Selati goldfields.

In its entirety, the pass is only about 10 km, but the pass is considered an engineering triumph. It boasts 62 bends, corners, and curves that give road trippers jaw-dropping views of the Blyde River Canyon ( Motlatse Canyon), and the Drakensberg mountains.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes

A highlight on every Panorama Route itinerary, Bourke’s Luck Potholes is one of the Blyde River Canyon’s major icons. Located on the R532 just 32km north of Graskop town, these bizarre cylindrical holes, hewn by centuries of water, mark the start of the Blyde River Canyon.

At the confluence of the Blyde River and the Treur River, swirling eddies of water carved an otherworldly network of tunnels, tubes and interconnected whirling pools. The different soil levels in each hole give them each a unique colour and make for a striking landscape. A series of metal bridges and walkways provide various angles and viewpoints from which to take an obligatory snapshot of these natural wonders.

Good to know:
Bourke’s Luck Pothole entrance fee 2020:
R65 per adult and R25 per child 12 years and younger.

 

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Echo Caves

A mysterious case of missing cows in the 1920’s lead to the discovery of this expansive labyrinth of ancient caves. Nestled in the northern area of the Drakensberg Mountains, near Ohrigstad, the Echo Caves were once home to the Pedi people. They used it’s hollow stalactites as an alarm to warn their people of attacks by neighbouring Swazi tribes. As the caves extend for some 40 km, the sound travelled for long distances and the people could take refuge.

Today, this underground wonderland is littered with fossils, giving intrepid travellers a glimpse into the region’s past with excellent spelunking throughout some of the oldest limestone caves in the world.

Good to know:
Echo caves entrance fee 2020:
R80 per adult
R30 per child between 6-12 years old
R50 per child between the ages of 13-18 years old.

Elands River Falls

The Elands River Falls is one of the highest waterfalls on the Panorama Route. It is situated at one of South Africa’s top rock climbing destinations. The cliffs surrounding the waterfall, known as the ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ Crags are a mecca for experienced climbers looking to test and challenge their climbing skills.

But for those who prefer to have their feet planted firmly on the ground, there is a wooden observation deck, which is situated against the cliff face. The views from here showcase all 70m of the majestic Elands River Falls to perfection.

God’s Window

An icon on the Panorama Route, this epic viewpoint needs little introduction as the name says it all. God’s Window is an area of breathtaking scenic splendour. It boasts panoramic views of the Lowveld more than 900m down into a lush indigenous forest-clad ravine. The hike up the narrow pathway along the escapement is steep. However, those up to the task will be rewarded with uninterrupted views of the Lowveld’s canyons, rock formations, and waterfalls.

Good to know:
There is a R10.00 entrance fee to access the viewpoint and there are stalls and toilet facilities available.

god's window

Graskop Gorge

This verdant gorge is occupied by an exquisite Afromontane forest. It is one of the Panorama Route’s most epic viewpoints. These forests cover only 0.5% of the country’s land area, occurring in pockets characterised by impressive mountains, rugged cliff faces, forests, and dramatic waterfalls.

The Graskop Gorge is a breath of fresh air amid the other regular sights. The area is host to plenty of sunny-day pursuits that are sure to be the highlight of your Panorama Route tour. Get your heart racing on the world’s highest cable gorge swing. Fly across the gorge on a 130m high-wire zipline, or simply glide down the cliff face of the Graskop Gorge in Africa’s first viewing elevator.

However you choose to reach the bottom of the gorge, the network of wooden trails that wind their way through the forest. It gives guests the opportunity to explore the breadth of the Afromontane forest and witness some of the best viewpoints. When you’re ready to call it a day, stopover at the centre’s cafe to fuel up for your next leg of the trip. Visit the curio-store to take a piece of the region home with you.

Good to know:
Entrance fee:
R30 – Adults & Pensioners (17 and older)
R20 – Children 4 – 16 (under 4 are free).
The entrance fee may be used to discount one activity.

LIFT EXPERIENCE:
Adults (17 and older) – R205.00
Children 4 – 16 – R140.00
SA Pensioners (65+) – R170.00

BIG SWING & ZIPLINE:
Zipline (p/p) – R180.00
Single Big Swing (p/p) – R450.00
Tandem Big Swing – R800.00
Video (includes USB) – R180.00

 

 

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Horseshoe Falls

Situated just 4kms off the Old Lydenburg Road, Horseshoe Falls provides weary travellers a perfect oasis in which to cool off after a long drive. A short walk through the beautiful terrain affords visitors the opportunity to spot magnificent birdlife and other animals before taking a refreshing dip into the cascade type falls.

Good to know:
A nominal entrance fee of R10 is payable at the gate to view the Horseshoe Falls.

Kadishi tufa waterfall

Hidden at the end of the Blyde Dam, the Kadishi tufa waterfall is a must-add onto your Panorama Route Tour. Unlike most waterfalls that cause the erosion of rocks, a tufa waterfall creates rock through sedimentary deposits of limestone over millions of years.

The Panorama Route’s Kadishi falls is one of few living tufa waterfalls in the world. It is said to be the second-highest in the world, dropping 200 meters from its limestone shelf to the water of the Blydepoort Dam. In addition to taking in the beauty of this rare natural wonder, hiking here is a magical experience. The Kadishi trail is one of the most popular routes. It descends into the valley and meanders into the ravine alongside the Kadishi River with its numerous waterfalls and pools.

 

 

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Lisbon Falls

The Mpumalanga region is home to the largest number of waterfalls in the country and, right at the centre of it, is the glorious Lisbon Falls. Situated just a stone’s throw away from Graskop, beside the R532 road, the Lisbon Falls are the Panorama Routes’ highest and most dramatic water feature. It offers guests a picturesque backdrop to indulge in picnics and bird-watching adventures.

Lydenburg Falls

Lydenburg is a scenic spot on the Panorama Route. It is framed for its endless expanses of greenery and epic waterfalls that gush down the region’s impressive mountain ranges. It is situated on the Dorps River two hours away from the legendary Kruger National Park. This popular attraction consists of three individual falls; two tumbling, side by side into a large basin with the third that gushes from the basin itself.

Good to know:
A nominal fee of approximately R20 per vehicle is charged for entry to the waterfall.

Mac Mac Falls

Last on the list of the Panorama Route’s exquisite water features is the Mac Mac Falls. It is one of the region’s most underrated gems. The waterfall has remained fairly untouched since fortune seekers blasted it with dynamite in search of gold back in the 1800s. Two double streams tumble 70m below, causing dream-worthy spectacles of water rainbows, white spray, and a deep, dramatic pool. The falls are as beautiful and unspoiled as they were back then. Although, now there is a viewing platform so you can step out over the ridge and get a real sense of the plunge.

 

 

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Mariepskop Mountain

Mariepskop Mountain, at 1,945 meters above sea level is one of the highest peaks in the northern Drakensberg. It is also the highest point of the Blyde River Canyon. Because of its height, the mountain has a history of service to the military. On its summit are a SAAF radar station, a microwave tower and forestry fire look-out posts. As a result, the area has remained fairly untouched where the mountain and surrounding nature reserve remain a natural wilderness.

Thanks to the lack of development, Mariepskop’s plant diversity exceeds that of Table Mountain with over 1 400 floral species and 2 000 plants. Hence, hiking trails and patches of fynbos and forest are popular with trekkers and bird watchers alike.

Mount Sheba Nature Reserve

Nestled amongst mountain peaks above the historic town of Pilgrims Rest, the Mount Sheba Nature Reserve is one of the Panorama Route’s most scenic regions. It spans 1110 hectares of winding hiking trails and gardens rich with rare plants and bird species. This majestic reserve deserves at least a day to explore. The reserve offers a variety of outdoor activities which include superb mountain bike trails and trout fishing in the well-stocked dam.

Pinnacle Rock

The Pinnacle Rock is one of the most intriguing natural attractions situated along the Panorama Route. Erupting from the canyon and reaching some 30 meters in height, this naturally carved, free-standing quartzite rock is a dramatic display of the Panorama Route’s beauty.

Good to know:
An entrance fee of R 17.00 per person is charged and numerous vantage points allow great photo opportunities and views.

 

three rondavels panorama route

Three Rondavels

Along with Bourke’s Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels are one of the major icons of the Panorama Route. Shaped like traditional African beehive huts, the Three Rondavels form huge pinnacles of rock rising above the canyon below.

Geographically speaking, these three fascinating geological formations were formed when the soft underlying stone eroded. This left the slate and quartzite in the shape of three large huts. Local lore says that the flat-topped peak represented Chief Mapjaneng, famous for opposing invading Swazis in a memorable battle, is on the right. Whilst the rondavels are three of his more troublesome wives – Magabolle, Mogoladikwe, and Maseroto.

Good to know:
To view the Three Rondavels there is an entrance of:
R15 per car
R35 per van
R60 per bus

 

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Panorama Route Towns

The Panorama Route’s towns are also well worth a visit for those interested in the culture and history of the region. This route is entrenched in the history of South Africa. Here, many of the towns were established to aid the country’s very first gold rush in the 1800s.

So, if you’re planning on taking a slow, self-drive Panorama Route tour, here’s what to see and do in the towns around it.

Lydenburg

Situated at the base of Long Toms Pass, this historic town is an ideal stopover. This is especially for travellers en-route to the Kruger National Park as well as those embarking on a Panorama Route tour. Shrouded in mystery and history, Lydenburg offers plenty of intriguing gems for those who linger.

The town was founded by the company of Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter. He sought safety from malaria and the debilitating heat of lower-lying areas in the early 1800s. Although it was meant to be a place of refuge, a series of bloody pitched battles with the local Bapedi armies and later the British settlers left the town in near-constant conflict. But, Lyndeburg’s history goes much further back. Long before this, a mysterious civilisation occupied the region.

In 1957, a ten-year-old boy, Ludwig von Bezing, stumbled upon fragments of the earliest known examples of Iron Age art south of the equator. When pieced together, these terracotta fragments formed the Lydenburg Heads, the oldest of which dates back to around 500AD. Little is known about the people who made them or what their use was, but it’s suggested that the heads may have been worn as helmet masks. It was also used during initiation and other religious ceremonies.

In modern times, the town has reshaped itself as an artistic hub. Painters, woodcarvers, stained glass artists and botanical sketch artists are some of the talented creatives residing in Lydenburg. An annual exhibition is held in the Civic centre to display and market their wares. This attracts tourists from all over the world seeking to pick up their own piece of art to display back home.

 

 

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Sabie

Sabie is one of the Panorama Route’s most tranquil towns. It is situated 64kms away from the Kruger National Park and nestled in the centre of one of the largest man-made forests. This small town is a great base to end your Panorama Route road trip and begin your classic Big Five safari.

An accidental discovery of gold during a picnic in 1895 helped establish Sabie as another gold rush town. Although there may not be much gold left to mine, the town still is still rich in natural treasures. Patches of indigenous forest survive in some of the valleys. The banks of streams are covered with beautiful wildflowers and ferns.

There is something here for everyone and it is impossible to be bored. There are a plethora of exciting things to do in Sabie, including 4×4 Trips, swimming, fishing, abseiling, archery, hot air ballooning, bird watching, boating and sailing, Helicopter Flips, white-water rafting, rock climbing, hiking and so much more!

 

Sabie waterfall panorama route

Graskop

Nicknamed the “gateway to the Panorama Route”, Graskop is one of the region’s most scenic towns. Situated on the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment, this former mining camp is only a stone’s throw away from the Panorama Route’s most scenic wonders. Such as God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and the world-renown Blyde River Canyon.

In addition, Graskop boasts a vast array of exciting activities. This includes golf courses, hiking trails, 4×4 trails, horse riding, quad bikes and motorbike tours.

Pilgrim’s Rest

Pilgrim’s Rest was proclaimed to be a goldfield in 1873. Soon after, digger Alec “Wheelbarrow” Patterson had found alluvial gold on the Ponieskrantz farm. Pilgrims Rest is the Panorama Route’s most iconic town. Located in the Kruger Lowveld region of Mpumalanga, this quirky town takes visitors back to a time when optimistic panners and prospectors from all over the world flocked to the area in search of fortune.

Although the initial discovery was kept secret, a second prospector named William Trafford also discovered gold close by. Within a year there were 21 stores, 18 canteens, 3 bakeries and all sorts of other interesting establishments.

Today, Pilgrims Rest is a living museum. The entire town has been declared a National Monument and gold panning is still supported and practised by people. In addition, guests can explore the abundance of local craft stores for keepsakes or get the blood pumping with outdoor pursuits by the likes of horse riding, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking and golfing.

 

 

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Hazyview

This small farming town is renowned for its green subtropics. It produces the country’s most thriving banana and macadamia nut industry. But, this isn’t Hazyview’s sole accolade. The town boasts an array of eclectic things to do, from hot air ballooning over the shimmering valley to visiting the Shangana Cultural Village on the R535. There are also many superb hiking trails and game viewing opportunities for those who wish to get closer to nature. There are also a plethora of restaurants and pubs when it’s time to refuel.

Ohrigstad

Wedged in a valley between the Abel Erasmus Pass and Lydenburg, Ohrigstad is the Panorama Route’s oldest town. Founded in 1845 by Hendrik Potgieter, the well-known “Voortrekker” leader; this charming village is the ideal rest-stop for those who love to relish in the slow life.

A few days spent here can go from fly-fishing to game viewing, horse riding, and even hiking. It is ideally located to be used as a base from which to explore the Blyde River Canyon, Bourkes Luck Potholes, Gods Window and Pilgrims Rest.

Kiepersol

Situated near the Numbi Gate of the Kruger National Park, this quaint village is an ideal pit-stop en-route to a Big Five safari tour. Although it lacks precious metal such from its gold rush neighbours, it is more than made up for with a wealth of natural beauty.

The undulating hills of this subtropical area are a favourite among bikers who regard it as one of the best areas in the world to go cruising. But, if you’d rather explore on foot, there are plenty of hiking trails through the forests that are abundant with South African birdlife.

 

 

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Panorama Route Accommodation

The Panorama Route is one of South Africa’s most scenic self-drives, and one of its most popular. The trip is best enjoyed slowly and luckily there is an array of accommodation options on the Panorama Route to suit all budgets and styles.

Your Panorama Route accommodation choice depends on how you choose to do the route and how long you have. Popular towns along the route include Graskop, Hazyview, White River and Sabie. They all offer various styles of lodges and self-catering accommodation options – with easy access to the Panorama Route.

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