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PANORAMA ROUTE, SOUTH AFRICA: BEST PLACES TO STOP

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PANORAMA ROUTE, SOUTH AFRICA: BEST PLACES TO STOP

Overlooking Blyde River Canyon on the Panorama Route in South Africa at sunrise. The sun is hitting the rocks in the background and the water is calm
Blyde River Canyon

The Panorama Route in South Africa is a 160 km stretch of road that lies in the province of Mpumalanga and is surrounded by the Drakensberg mountains. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the world, with incredible key points of interest dotted along the way. Honestly, these places will blow your mind with their beauty.

When Tom and I headed to South Africa for a volunteer trip with GVI, we used our ‘days off’ to venture off the beaten track and into the mountains to tick off some bucket list locations along the Panorama Route.

In this post, you’ll find the best things to do along the Panorama Route in South Africa, as well as some key information that you’ll need ahead of your trip.

An info-graphic showing details of the Panorama Route (South Africa). There are small images of each place with text of the key point of interest.
Panorama Route Info-graphic

KEY INFORMATION ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA


LANGUAGE: There are 11 languages spoken in South Africa, however, Zulu is the most popular. 1 in 10 people also speak English too.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: May – September
CURRENCY: Rand
PLUG SOCKET: Type C, D, M & N
SAFETY: There are parts of South Africa where you need to be extra careful, however, if you stick to tourist spots like the Panorama Route during the daylight then you should not run into any issues.

THE BEST PLACES TO STOP ON THE PANORAMA ROUTE IN SOUTH AFRICA

BLYDE RIVER CANYON

Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world and is a popular spot to visit in the Drakensburg mountains.

While canyons such as Fish River and The Grand Canyon are typically made up of dusty orange rock, the landscape of Blyde River Canyon is covered in greenery and bursting with wildlife.

Coachloads of people visit Blyde River Canyon for a short walk along the trail that runs above the canyon and has some fantastic viewpoints.

You can spend as little as 30 minutes doing this and walk away with some epic photos, however, we highly recommend exploring Blyde River Canyon extensively on foot if you have the time and we will provide some hiking recommendations later on!

DURATION: 30 minutes – a whole day
BLYDE RIVER CANYON ENTRANCE FEE: R30

Blyde River Canyon at sunset. The sky is bright orange and the Thee Rondavels are in the background. This is one of the best stops along the Panorama Route in South Africa.

THREE RONDAVELS

The Three Rondavels is the most iconic landmark along the Panorama Route in South Africa.

Once you arrive at this infamous spot, you’ll soon spot the three pronounced rock formations that signify the Three Rondavels.

After a small entrance fee, you’ll gain access to the cliff edge that gazes out towards the Three Rondavels – or like us, you may find a bed of cloud with no such thing in sight (not a great start to one of the most scenic drives in the world!).

The Three Rondavels are completely out of sight in this image as the cloud covers the view. There is a girl (myself) sat on the rock above a bed of cloud on the Panorama Route, South Africa.
A bed of cloud at the Three Rondavels

Luckily, we managed to return to the Three Rondavels later that day, and thankfully the cloud had lifted.

The time you spend at the Three Rondavels will depend on how long you want to absorb the scenery, as there isn’t much else at the viewpoint – not even railings to keep you from falling off the edge of the cliff!

Although quite daunting, it’s nice that nature has been left untouched.

DURATION: 30 minutes – 1 hour
THREE RONDAVELS ENTRANCE FEE: R35

A girl standing on a rock taking a pictures of the Three Rondavels at sunset. There are fluffy clounds in the background.
Three Rondavels

BOURKES LUCK POTHOLES

Bourkes Luck Potholes is a sandstone site at the mouth of Blyde River Canyon. Over the years, the river has eroded the canyon and left the rock with some unique holes – hence ‘potholes’.

‘Bourkes’ comes from John Bourke, who thought he found gold at the location, and hence ‘Luck’. However, unfortunately, John Bourke was not so lucky, as there was absolutely no gold in sight.

Bourkes Luck Potholes is one of the bigger attractions along the Panorama Route in South Africa and we were surprised at how much there was to do.

You’ll find places to eat (at a bargain price!), a museum, and a walking trail that’s just under a mile long.

Duration: 1 Hour

ENTRANCE FEE TO BOURKES LUCK POTHOLES: R55

A wide angle view of Bourkes Luck Potholes. You can see the bridge spanning above the rocks and the river flowing below.
Bourkes Luck Potholes

BERLIN FALLS

Berlin Falls is one of the best waterfalls in the area and a spot that should not be missed.

At 160 feet tall, it spills over the rugged cliff edge and swoops down into a mesmerizing emerald pool that glistens in the sunshine.

Upon arrival, there will be a small entrance fee to gain access to the viewpoint of the waterfall from above – unfortunately, no visitors are allowed to go down to the base which is a shame.

Instead, this is the perfect spot to throw down a blanket and have some lunch while watching the abundance of birds that nest in the surrounding forest.

You’ll also find a few arts and craft stalls selling handmade gifts, which is a great opportunity to support the local community and take home a reminder of your trip.

We picked up a few things from various stalls along the Panorama Route in South Africa, however, at this particular spot, we found a wooden, hand-painted, fruit bowl that we absolutely love.

DURATION: 30 minutes – 1 hour
ENTRANCE FEE TO BERLIN FALLS: R15

A view of Berlin Falls from the viewpoint. The water is crashing down into the emerald pool below and the rock is shining bright orange.
Berlin Falls

GODS WINDOW

As soon as most people arrive, they ask ‘why is it called Gods Window? And the answer is this: Gods Window is named after a nearby rectangular hole in a rock that looks out into the distance. However, as it’s on private land, a new site (Gods Window) was created and offers the same views from slightly further along the mountain.

The ‘new’ Gods Window is arguably better – with a 0.6-mile trail through subtropical rainforest and three viewpoints along the way, providing panoramic views towards Kruger National Park.

The path to the peak is surprisingly steep and often clings towards the edge of the 700-meter high Drakensburg escarpment.

Luckily, there are railings along this route for safety, unlike some of the other stops along the Panorama Route in South Africa.

You’ll find more arts and craft stalls towards the car park, as well toilets – something many of the other sites lack!

DURATION: 1 hour
ENTRANCE FEE TO GODS WINDOW: R20

The view from Gods Window which is just off the Panorama Route and overlooing Kruger National Park. There are tropical plants in the foreground and clouds in the distance.
Gods Window

MAC MAC FALLS

Mac Mac Falls is arguably the best waterfall in the area and gushes down from an impressive 65-meters high.

It’s a twin waterfall (albeit, it sometimes becomes one during the dry season!), with crystal-clear waters at the base for swimming in.

Upon arrival, you’ll find a picnic area with tables, as well as a braai area – which, for those who don’t know, is the South African name for a BBQ.

As with many of the stops along the Panorama Route, there is a viewpoint from above and arts and craft stalls to collect some more memorabilia from – this time, we picked up a wooden African mask!

Although slightly steep, there is a circular 3km route down to the falls, known as the Secretary Bird Trail. It’s well signposted and definitely worth embarking on to get down to the falls while listening to all the different bird songs singing from the trees.

DURATION: 1-2 hours
ENTRANCE FEE TO MAC MAC FALLS: R30

A view of Mac Mac Falls from the viewpoint. The water is gushing down and the sun light is beaming to create a rainbow.
Mac Mac Falls

KEY INFORMATION ABOUT THE PANORAMA ROUTE IN MPUMALANGA, SOUTH AFRICA

WHERE DOES THE PANORAMA ROUTE START AND END?
If you’re driving from the north to south, then the Panorama Route starts at Echo Caves and finishes at Long Tom Pass.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE THE PANORAMA ROUTE?
The distance from Three Rondavels to Gods Window is roughly 85km and takes 1 hour 30 minutes without stopping. However, you will need to factor in the return journey on top of this.

HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND DRIVING THE PANORAMA ROUTE?
You can easily see all of the best stops along the Panorama Route in 1 day, however, 2-3 days is recommended if you want to take things at a steady pace or do some hiking in the Drakensberg mountains.

WHERE DO I RENT A CAR FROM?
We used Skyscanner to find our car rental from Hoedspruit – it’s a reputable platform that finds the best deals from a wide range of car hire companies.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO DRIVE THE PANORAMA ROUTE?
If you were to stop at every place that we recommend on this list, it would cost you R90 (£4.52/$6.37 USD), excluding car hire and petrol.

IS THE PANORAMA ROUTE SAFE?
Apart from the exceptional amount of potholes and cattle on the road, driving the Panorama Route is relatively safe. I say relatively, as we were advised by locals to be back at our base before dark.

A view of the Panorama Route from inside the car. There are cows on the road and another van coming towards the car. There are mountains in the distance.
The Panorama Route

WHERE TO STAY/ACCOMMODATION ON THE PANORAMA ROUTE IN SOUTH AFRICA

As already mentioned, we were visiting the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga for a few days in between our volunteering trip with GVI at Karongwe Game Reserve near Hoedspruit, so we only needed accommodation for 1 night.

As we started in the north and spent a whole day at Blyde River Canyon (more on why later), we chose to base ourselves at Blyde Canyon A Forever Resort which was great for our needs, but bear in mind that there isn’t much else around if you also choose to stay here.

Teur River Lodge is also nearby if you’re looking for somewhere to stay on the north end of the Panorama Route.

If you’re looking to stay towards the south end of the Panorama Route, then the three towns listed below are the most accessible with things to do that you’d likely want to choose from.

As always, we booked our accommodation through Booking.com as we love their flexible cancellation policy!

GRASKOP

Graskop is 10 minutes south of Gods Window, making it an ideal base for an overnight stop along the Panorama Route.

Although it’s a small town, it’s well-kept and there are a few shops and restaurants dotted around with some great tasting South African Wine. Be sure to stop at Harries Pancakes before heading out of town for some sweet or savoury pancakes (sweet will always win my vote!).

Popular places to stay include:

A stack of crepes covered in fruit, icing sugar and strawberry sauce.
Pancakes

SABIE

15 minutes south of Mac Mac Falls is Sabie. It’s a similar size to Graskop, with shops and restaurants on hand, however, it lies on the edge of the river and is surrounded by forest.

Popular places to stay include:

HAZYVIEW

Hazyview is slightly further southwest of the Panorama Route – roughly 45 minutes from both Mac Mac Falls and Gods Window. On the flip side, it’s only 20 minutes from Kruger National Park and so it’s a great option if you’re looking to visit both the Panorama Route and Kruger. However, being so close to Kruger comes at a cost!

Popular places to stay include:

A view overlooking the hilltops of Hazyview near the Panorama Route in South Africa.
Hazyview

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES ALONG THE PANORAMA ROUTE IN MPUMALANGA, SOUTH AFRICA

GRASKOP GORGE LIFT/BUNGEE JUMPING

Graskop Gorge Lift drops you at a cliff edge 70 meters above, where you’ll be able to marvel at the nearby waterfall and embark on a network of trails that run through the forest.

You’ll find numerous suspension bridges, flowing streams, and information boards to learn about the area, as well as a small cafe to grab a bite to eat.

For the more adventurous, this is the perfect spot to take a leap of faith and tick a bungee jump of your bucket list. You’ll free-fall off the cliff face and plunge toward the river…yikes, far too terrifying for us!

ENTRANCE FEE TO GRASKOP GORGE LIFT: R30
DURATION: 2-3 hours

A birdseye view of a boy bungee jumping down into a river. He has a yellow jumper and blue jeans on.
Bungee Jumping

HIKING IN BLYDE RIVER CANYON – THE HIPPO TRAIL

A popular hiking route in Blyde River Canyon is the Hippo Trail. It’s a 14 km out and back route that allows you to explore the surface of the canyon and follow the river.

As the name suggests, there are hippos on this route, and if you think hippos are cute and friendly then you may be alarmed to learn that they’re one of the most dangerous animals in Africa – it goes without saying that hiking this route is at your own risk!

However, the chances of running into a hippo on this route during the day are slim – the African sun is far too hot for them and so they spend their days snoozing in the river and only venture onto land at night.

That being said, if you do bump into a hippo, climb a tree as quickly as possible (not even joking – it might save your life).

On a less terrifying note, you’ll likely be able to spot some monkeys (when you’re up that tree!) and antelope, both of which are much more friendly.

You’ll find conflicting information online about whether you need a permit to hike the Hippo Trail, most suggesting you do, however, we didn’t require one.

You simply rock up to Blyderivierpoort dam, pay the small entrance fee and embark on your quest along the Hippo Trail to find (hopefully) no hippos!

HIKING TIME: 7-8 hours
START TIME: No later than 8:30 am to ensure you are back before the hippos come out of the water

An image of Tom and I looking at eachother and laughing on the top of a mountain along the Parorama Route in South Africa. Blyde River Canyon is in the background.
Blyde River Canyon

ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES

Induna Adventures are located around 40 minutes from Mac-Mac Falls and 20 minutes from Sabie.

They offer 14 different activities, from 30 minutes to a full day, and cater to solo travellers, as well as small and large groups. Some of their popular activities include rafting/tubing on the river Sabie, horse riding in the Lowveld Sabie Valley, quad biking, and ziplining through the forest at 100kph, to name a few!

Unfortunately, we were on a strict timetable due to our volunteering so didn’t get time to do any of these, but if you’re spending a few days driving along the Panorama Route in South Africa or have a spare afternoon, then these are great things to do for both adults and kids!

An image of two people quad biking across a dusty road. There is a girl in the front and mountains in the background.
Quad Biking

4X4 OFF-ROAD ADVENTURES

Roughly 1 hour 30 minutes from Hazyview is Dusty Tracks Off-Road Adventures in Barberton.

It was too far south for us to squeeze into our trip along the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, since we were coming from Hoedspirit and had less than 48 hours available, but we wanted to include this as it was a highly recommended activity and much more accessible if you’re staying further south.

Dusty Tracks Off-Road Adventures will take you on a journey through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Makhonjwa mountains, to forgotten towns like Eureka City, and to one of the world’s oldest gold mines – Edwin Bray.

You’ll listen to stories about the area which is steeped in history, and have the chance to wild camp under the stars – the South African night sky is the clearest we’ve ever seen!

If we ever get the chance to go back to the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, this will absolutely be on our list of things to do!

COST: R395

An image of two people in a 4x4 Jeep on dusty orange road.
4×4 off-roading

MPUMALANGA HELICOPTER RIDE

If you really want to make your trip along the Panorama Route spectacular, then Mpumalanga Helicopter Company provides an outstanding experience from above, starting from Hazyview.

They offer the below packages to tailor your needs, from 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes – each trip is a luxurious experience, with the last package even making a pit-stop for a picnic in the mountains!

A side view of a yellow helicopter flying among  the mountains. The sky in cloudy and the mountains are covered in forest.
Helicopter in the mountains

WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR TRIP ALONG THE PANORAMA ROUTE IN SOUTH AFRICA

A comprehensive packing list for your trip along the Panorama Route in South Africa is essential. As already eluded to, there isn’t much around other than nature – which is great, but obviously has its drawbacks and a shift you’ll need to make if you’re coming from a westernized lifestyle.

Below is a list of what we packed, plus a few extra things that we wished we had thought of beforehand!

Bear in mind that we went to South Africa in May – so this list may differ slightly, depending on the time of year you’re visiting.

Myself and 3 friends sat on top of a rock in Blyde River Canyon along the Panorama Route in South Africa. Our hands are in the air and we are looking into the mountains in the distance.
Blyde River Canyon


FOR EARLY MORNINGS

South Africa is extremely cold during the night until around 7:30 am. If you’re early risers like Tom and I and like to catch an epic sunrise, then below are some things that you won’t want to forget!

DAY TIME CLOTHING

As soon the sun rises, the heat picks up and the layers will soon peel off. Regardless, you’ll need to wear some appropriate clothing and footwear throughout your journey along the Panorama Route:

DAY TRIP ESSENTIALS

With shops few and far between in the Drakensberg Mountains, it’s best to be well prepared with the below essentials.

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE PANORAMA ROUTE IN SOUTH AFRICA!

So, what do you think of the Panorama Route in South Africa? Let us know in the comments box below! Or, perhaps you’ve already been – do you have any further recommendations?


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Millie and Tom x

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