There are no shortage of places to visit for picturesque views in south Africa. However, the panorama route definitely ranks up there at the top of the list. If you are planning a trip to Kruger, this is a must see. The panorama route takes you through the Blyde River Canyon area between Sabie and Hodespruit. Most tours include this area on your drive into the park. During my first visit to Africa about 10 years ago, I did a package trip into Kruger which allowed for a very quick stop at a few of the sights. It was so much more enjoyable to slowly drive the route and get to spend as much time as we want.
We drove in from Joburg and started noticing the major changes in elevation as we entered Sabie. These were the first real passes we have taken the Defender over. It was certainly a challenge because Garrett has not really mastered driving the manual defender up and down steep inclines, especially when we are really overloaded with gear. One of the tires started smoking and we had to pull over in the dark to let it cool….which is always scary in South Africa where road side car jacking are pretty common phenomenon.
We arrived in Sabie after dark and were lucky to find Merry Pebbles which was an awesome campground for our first night of camping on the trip. A very affordable $20 gets you access to a well set up campsite with excellent ablutions, a heated and non-heated pool, tennis courts, trampolines, a playground, restaurant, general store and more. I would definitely recommend this rest camp a a base for exploring the area.
We stopped at Sabie Brewery for lunch the following day which was fabulous! Good beer sampler tray and tasty lunch. The towns in this area are pretty small and without fancy restaurant or shops. Mostly mom and pop type stores.
The first stop on the panorama route was Mac Mac waterfall. A few minute walk takes you to the view point where you can see the long drop waterfall. We only stopped at the largest waterfalls that were on the main road, however there are others that you can see along the way.
Next was the “The Pinnacle”, a large rectangle shaped rock that juts out from the center of a rather break taking view over a lush valley. Followed very closely by “God’s Window” which is a view between the edge of two mountains into a vast valley below. It does live up to its name!
Then we stopped at Berlin Falls. This waterfall was even more beautiful than the first.
Then came “Bourke’s Potholes”. I was least impressed by this natural formation of holes in the river bed. It is very similar to some river areas outside of Aspen in Colorado.
Then you start to approach Blyde Canyon and the road takes you right along the edge. There are a few spots you can stop for a view point, but the “Three Rondavels” viewpoint is the most spectacular. There is a parking lot you can drive to and then you can walk along the edge to get a clear view of the valley and the dam.
The Three Rondavels are three neighboring round dome shaped rocks that look similar to the traditional round huts with pointy thatch roofs that are found in South Africa. This is definitely the highlight of the Panorama route.
If you are looking for places to stay around the Panorama Route, you have limited options, especially if you are doing a day trip and trying not to back-track. Sabie, Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest are your southern options. If you are heading north, you’ll have to get to the Hodespruit area before you find much of anything, although there are some game farms sprinkled throughout the area.
We were looking for camping, so the best option we found was Blyde Canyon by Forever Resorts. It is situated within the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve so the prices are a bit higher, but you get access to multiple viewpoints for the canyon on the property. It is a HUGE resort that offers beautiful brick chalets that range from a single room to homes large enough to fit a group of 10+. They each have car ports and braai pits. They have horseback riding, a large pool, tennis courts, a restaurant, endless hiking trails and a conference center. The campsites were small but the ablutions were awesome – they each had a free washer and dryer! We were so excited to get to do some laundry!!
The best part about the property was being able to drive up to the northern viewpoint and get a beautiful view to the Three Rondavels all to ourselves for sunset. It was definitely worth the slightly higher $40 price for a campsite. Plus they have free wifi at the restaurant. With more time, we would have liked to do some hiking trails in the area and some white water rafting.
The panorama route is an easy and awesome place to visit – we highly recommend it to anyone traveling through SA!