In this guide we take a look at the sights along the Panorama Route around Hazyview, Graskop and Sabie.
Around four hours drive from Joburg, the Panorama Route is one of Mpumalanga's biggest attractions. Whether you are heading to the Kruger Park or returning to Joburg this route is a major diversion worth the extra effort and days spent over.
Reached via the R37 the town of Sabie marks the southern entrance to the Panorama Route area, while if you wish to be closer to Kruger Park base yourself in the east at Hazyview. From Sabie heading north via Graskop along the R532 that skirts the top of the Blyde River Canyon the route is packed with spectacular waterfalls, canyon viewpoints and other landmarks of outstanding beauty. Known as The Escarpment, this area marks the spectacular point where the Highveld meets the Lowveld (differentiated by the difference in elevation above sea level, which produces differing climate and vegetation, among other things), marked by a dramatic drop in height of 1,000 metres. Winter is an ideal time to visit the area with no rain meaning no misty views over the canyon and optimal wildlife viewing in the Kruger Park.
Here's a look at the biggest attractions to help you plan your stay.
Where: 10km from the Kruger National Park Numbi Gate, 40mins drive to White River via the R40 (check out our guide to White River) and about an hour from Nelspruit. The spectacular views of the Blyde River Canyon that lie along The Escarpment are about 45 minutes drive to the west.
Hazyview was founded by a builder named Perry in the early 1900s. The town's name comes from the haze that hangs over this area of the lowveld bushveld in summer. Hazyview has a history of gold mining and is said to have the world’s best climate for growing bananas so you'll see flourishing banana plantations in the area. It's also an area in which coffee, avocado, mango, litchi/lychee, citrus fruit and macadamia farming thrives. And you'll get to buy seasonal fresh produce at the roadside stalls which dot the main roads.
Where to stay: The Rissington Inn, 1km outside of the town on the R40 (just north of the R538 junction) is a delight. Rooms are spacious, surrounded by beautiful lush gardens and you'll receive the warmest of welcomes. There's also an excellent restaurant plus a large swimming pool and great birdwatching. So comfortable even that you might forget about the Kruger Park altogether!
Read our review of Rissington Inn here and call +27 13 737 7700 or book online at rissington.co.za.
SabieWhere: 45km drive west of Hazyview via the R536 and approximately 55km to the Kruger Park
This town is named after the Sabie River which flows through the lower Kruger Park and is famous for its sightings of crocodiles and hippos. Originally one of many gold rush towns that sprung up in this area in the 1900s, nowadays Sabie is most famous for its nearby waterfalls. Around 7km drive out of town you can visit the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls, the Lone Creek Waterfall and the Horseshoe Falls, reached via a forest track on the south bank of the Sabie River. The town is also known for its outdoor activities such as guided river rafting experiences, overnight hiking trails and mountain biking trails.
Where to stay: Families will enjoy The Hippo Hollow Country Estate on the banks of the Sabie River. Alternatively, Misty Mountain is a spectacularly located country hotel 24km west of Sabie on the road to Lydenburg with great views out towards The Escarpment.
Where: The village of Graskop is around 31km drive north of Sabie, make sure to make a stop to see the Mac Mac Falls along the way.
Graskop is the gateway to The Escarpment road and from here all the most impressive look-out points follow one another, starting with the Graskop Gorge Lift Company a major destination in its own right. Activities on offer from the Graskop Gorge Lift Company include the viewing lift experience which provides visitors with access to the bottom of the gorge 51metres below. If that's not exciting enough there's also the Big Swing which launches you off a 70-metre high waterfall or get a bird's eye view with a ziplining experience. Plan your excursions at the Graskop Gorge Lift Company here.
The Blyde River Canyon
The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world and recognised as the world's largest 'green canyon' filled with lush subtropical vegetation. Once you're in this subtropical sanctuary, the surrounding waterfalls and viewpoints are a must experience. The waterfalls in this canyon are the most impressive during the peak rainy season of December-January (although this is also the hottest time to visit the area).
9km from Graskop the first stop on the canyon road is God’s window which boasts a panoramic view over the Lowveld below. From this towering lookout the rocks tumble 900m straight down into the indigenous forest. Take your time and soak it all in, and to ensure tranquillity ditch the crowds near the car park and hike up to the misty clouds along one of the trails (remember always stick to the marked trails).
Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls
Just after God's Window make a stop to see the Lisbon Falls. At a whopping 94m it is the highest in Mpumalanga. Access to Lisbon falls is made simple with a road leading up to the ravine and there's a shady picnic spot beneath the trees. Adventure seekers can hike their way down to the bottom of the falls and take a dip in the river below. A kilometre or so away is another waterfall, Berlin Falls.
Bourke’s Luck potholes
About 28km beyond God's Window this unique natural phenomenon is named after John Bourke who was lucky enough to discover alluvial gold here during the 1880s. These hundreds of 'potholes' in the rock are a natural phenomenon caused by the Blyde River meeting the Treur River, where centuries of sand and pebbles swirling giddily about at their meeting point have carved distinctive holes up to six metres deep. You can view them from the network of connected pedestrian bridges crossing the river.
Three Rondavels and World's End
The most famous photo opportunity along the route lies at the end at the Three Rondavels and World's End lookout points, 14km north of Bourke's Luck Potholes. From here you can see right down into the twisting river valley and all the way up the canyon as it continues its journey. Easily one of the most iconic viewpoints in South Africa.
GETTING THERE AND AROUNDThe best way to explore this area is by car. It is around four hours drive from Joburg or alternatively fly to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit (about an hour from Hazyview) and rent a car.
Curiocity road trips: If you don't have your own transport or are keen to travel in a youthful and energetic group we highly recommend Curiocity's road trip packages.