Travel Tip – The Panorama Route in South Africa
The Panorama Route with the Blyde River Canyon is one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in South Africa.
It is located in the province of Mpumalanga (which means the rising sun), in South Africa.
The Panorama Route owes its name to the brilliant views of bizarre rock formations, gushing waterfalls, spectacular escarpments and one of the largest canyons in the world.
It actually stretches along the R532 from Graskop to the Abel Erasmus Pass
Most visitors to South Africa plan to take this route on their way to Kruger National Park.
We have listed the highlights of the scenic Panorama Route for you here.
We start our tour in the small village of Graskop and end it with a visit to the three Rondavels.
The first modern records of the town of Graskop date from 1843, when the Voortrekkers arrived in the area. They were looking for a way to the coast, to what is now Maputo in Mozambique.
The farm Graskop (Afrikaans) means “grassy peak” and got its name because of the vast grassy areas and the absence of trees in the area.
In the 1850s it was owned by Abel Erasmus, a rather adventurous character who hunted, prospected, and kept law and order in the area. A mountain pass leading down to the Lowveld was named after him.
Today Graskop is the terminus of the Nelspruit branch line and a centre of the large timber industry in the area.
The Graskop Gorge
Graskop Gorge is right at the entrance to the town.
Graskop is also ideal to pop in for lunch as there are quite a number of available restaurants.
The Big Swing
Here you will also find the famous Big Swing, one of the highest freefall gorges in the world, on the edge of a waterfall.
The experience is very different from a bungee jump, as participants freefall 70 m before the jump rope cushions them and they swing from one side of the gorge to the other.
As they fall, they reach 140 km/h in three seconds.
The Suspension Bridge
The spectacular 52 m suspension bridge spans the north and south sides of the gorge.
Enjoy the breathtaking view while standing 70 m above the ground.
Visitors to the centre who find the Big Swing too extreme but still want to get their hearts racing, can fly over the gorge on a high-wire slide.
The course starts from the top of a 5-metre-high tower, from which you have a 360° view.
Participants ride a 120 m zipline to the north side of the gorge before walking a short distance along a viewing platform and flying back on a second, equally long zipline.
Glas Lift and Forest Walk
The observation lift takes visitors 51 m down into the gorge and into the primeval forest below, where boardwalks and suspension bridges form a 600 m long path.
Through interactive exhibits and display boards, visitors can discover the diversity of life under the dense canopy of trees.
Enjoy the waterfall and the meandering stream.
The Pinnacle Rock
The Pinnacle Rock is located only about 8 km outside Graskop.
The Pinnacle Rock is a massive quartzite rock that erupts from the earth’s surface and reaches a height of about 30 metres.
It is a freestanding rock that towers over the dense indigenous forest of Driekop Gorge, dramatically showcasing the peculiarities of nature and the unique splendour of South Africa.
It is dotted with stunning, colourful aloes, which not only attract the local birds and insect species, but also make for particularly beautiful photographs of the rock and its surroundings.
The Lisbon Falls
The Lisbon Falls are located about 12 km outside Graskop.
Lisbon Falls is one of the most dramatic and scenic waterfalls in the Mpumalanga region.
One of South Africa’s most dramatic waterfalls will not disappoint, with water plunging 94 metres from the top of the cliff into Lisbon Creek in two separate streams.
They are the highest waterfalls in the province.
The falls are named after Lisbon Creek and Lisbon Farm, where the falls are located.
From the car park it is only a few metres to the various viewpoints.
The Berlin Falls
The Berlin Falls are located about 16 km outside Graskop.
This waterfall plunges about 80 metres in a single drop into a round pool that has an irresistible jade colour.
The sight of the green water standing out against the red rocks is unforgettable, as the water comes from the Sabine River.
This river is also popular for its bass fishing opportunities.
Berlin Falls owes its name to the miners who came to South Africa from Europe during the gold rush.
They named each waterfall in the region after their hometown or a place in their home country.
God’s Window is located about 16 km outside Graskop.
God’s Window is so called because from here you have a panoramic view of the Lowveld, which drops more than 900 metres into a gorge overgrown with lush indigenous forest.
The majestic cliffs drop more than 900 metres into the Lowveld and the private game reserves that have made the area one of South Africa’s premier wildlife destinations.
God’s Window is a small part of a 250 km earthwork of steep cliffs and extravagant beauty.
You can see the hills and forests as far as the eye can see. In fact, it seems like you can see forever!
Did you know that this viewpoint is a very popular and inspiring subject with countless local painters and photographers.
If you have a little more time and want to discover more exotic forest plants, you can also hike up into the misty rainforest.
Be sure to take some refreshments with you, as it is very humid and warm, and the hike is extremely steep and strenuous.
There are plenty of curio stalls at the car park as well as toilet facilities.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
The Bourke’s Luck Potholes are located about 38 km outside Graskop.
The Bourke’s Luck Potholes were formed by the Blyde River.
They are essentially the result of decades of water turbulence at the point where the Treur River joins the Blyde River.
Here, at the mouth of the Blyde River Canyon, huge cylindrical holes were created in the sandstone rock over time.
The result is a fascinating network of tunnels, tubes and interconnected swirling pools.
The different layers of soil in the individual holes give them a unique colour and make for an impressive and colourful landscape.
These bizarre natural formations owe their strange name to a prospector, John Bourke, who was one of the first to announce that there were gold deposits in the region and staked a claim nearby.
However, he never found a single ounce of gold there – although luckier prospectors were later to find rich quantities of gold in the area a little further to the south, at Pilgrims Rest.
Even though he came up empty, his name lives on in this stunning landscape.
Here, too, there are some curio stalls at the car park, as well as toilets. A snack shop is also available.
The Blyde River Canyon
starts at the mouth of the Blyde and Treur River at the Potholes.
Located in the north-east of the South African province of Mpumalanga, the Blyde River Canyon is considered the third largest canyon in the world.
With a length of 25 kilometres and an average depth of around 850 metres, it is also the largest green canyon in the world.
What was once a deep trench under the sea became a canyon on land.
Blyde means “glad” or “happy” in Dutch and was so named by the Voortrekkers in 1844 when Hendrik Potgieter and others returned safely from Delagoa Bay, now Maputo.
What makes the Blyde River Canyon so unique?
It is the third largest canyon on earth after the Grand Canyon in Colorado, USA, and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
However, unlike these canyons, the Blyde River Canyon is a “green canyon” where subtropical vegetation predominates.
The canyon is named after the river that flows through it, the Blyde River, now called the Motlatse River.
The three Rondavels
The three rondavels are located about 55 km outside Graskop.
The Three Rondavels are a natural rock formation on the edge of the Blyde River Canyon along the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga.
They are exactly as they sound, three round mountain peaks, very similar to the traditional round or oval African huts made of indigenous materials, called the rondavels.
The three rondavels are sometimes referred to as “The Chief and the Three Wives”.
The flat peak was named Mapjaneng (the chief) after the legendary Bapedi chief Maripi Mashile, who defeated the invading Swazis in a great battle.
While the three peaks are named after his three wives – Magabolie, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto.
These three fascinating geological formations were created when the soft bedrock eroded, leaving behind shale and quartzite in the form of three large huts.
However, they were formed, they are undoubtedly breathtaking.
The viewpoint is 1,380 m above sea level and offers a spectacular view of the greenest canyon in the world.
From here you look across the gorge to the Three Rondavels on the other side of the northern foothills of the Drakensberg range.
It is a view that is overwhelmingly beautiful and deserves more than a moment’s pause.
From the main viewpoint, if you keep to the left, short walks lead to other breathtaking viewpoints from where you can look down to the Blyde Dam in the far north of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.
There is also a nice handicraft market at the car park with the usual traditional souvenirs.
How much time should you plan for visiting ?
You should allow at least 6-7 hours to explore all these sights, without a lunch break.
For most visitors to South Africa, it is now downhill towards the Lowveld over the Abel Erasmus Pass, towards Hoedspruit, which is an hour away.
Hoedspruit, home to Moya Safari Lodge, is also known as South Africa’s safari capital and is the gateway to some of the best game viewing in South Africa.
The Orpen Gate to the Kruger National Park is also only 40 minutes away from Hoedspruit.
Abel Erasmus Pass
The spectacular Abel Erasmus Pass was officially opened on 8 May 1959 and runs through the Manoutsa section of the Limpopo Drakensberg.
It is named after the farmer Abel Erasmus, who was regarded by many as a peacekeeper in the Lowveld and farmed in the area on a farm called Graskop.
It was considered a triumph of engineering at the time, with a succession of twists and turns that can only evoke admiration for the gold-mining pioneers of the late 19th century who carved this route through the mountains in their wagons.
The pass has 62 curves, corners, and bends, 12 of which exceed an arc of 90 degrees.
The pass also includes a 133-metre tunnel named after J.G. (Hans) Strydom, who was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1954 to 1958.
This huge pass is over 24 km long and has an altitude difference of 737 metres.
Have fun on your discovery journey in South Africa
Talk to us, we are South Africa specialists with many years of experience and will be happy to advise you.