The Panorama Route

We popped out of Kruger National Park for a couple of days to have a look at the Panorama Route.

Overview: 2 days, 363 km

Leaving Kruger National Park at the Phabeni Gate on Saturday lunchtime, our first big surprise was just how much tourist accommodation is spread along the road outside the park gates. If I were coming back to Kruger, I think I’d want to be very very careful to show up at a quiet time of year. Now (mid February) has been perfect, though we achieved this more by luck than good management….

The first town we came to, Hazyview, is described in the information we read as a tourist town. I think they mean this more in the sense of serving the needs of visitors heading to Kruger rather than as a destination in its own right. We found an enormous shopping complex; every South African supermarket chain was present. We drove straight to Checkers, did a food shop, then filled up with diesel and were on our way. Mark was finding some of the services on offer in Hazyview a bit worrying, so was keen to depart sooner rather than later:

Our next stop was the town of Sabie, which is a combined forestry and tourist town (we did pass lots of forestry plantations in this area). We haven’t really come across anything we’d call a touristy area (in the sense of having accommodation, restaurants clearly aimed at visitors, souvenir shops etc) away from the coast before in South Africa. Sabie even had a big second-hand bookshop…

A bit further up the road, we stopped to look at Mac Mac Falls:

There are lots of waterfalls in this area. If we’d driven to see them all, we’d have needed another day: we decided to save that day to make sure we have time to see the really big waterfalls later in our planned trip.

A sunbird:

After an overnight stop at Graskop, another touristy town (the Pancake House seemed to be doing good business on Sunday morning), we hit the Panorama Route proper. Basically, it’s a scenic drive along part of the 1000 km long Drakensberg Escarpment (which we’ll see again much further south).

There is a selection of viewpoints to stop at along the way. Each has a separate entrance booth charging a very small amount of money, so a day on the Panorama Route is a great way to get rid of all that small change!

Our first stop is called The Pinnacle, for obvious reasons:

You can’t move for waterfalls around here:

Then it was on to God’s Window:

The view from here is supposed to be spectacular! Mind you, the rainforest vegetation at the top does make you suspect that it’s shrouded in mist quite often:

We realised what was going on when we got back to the car park – it seems that even God hides behind the net curtains when the Jehovah’s Witnesses ( turn up?

Bourne’s Luck Potholes are rock formations at the confluence of two rivers where the swirling currents and rocks carried in the water have scoured “potholes” in the rock:

This is the start of the Blyde River Canyon, which is apparently the second biggest in Africa after the Fish River Canyon (also on the list for this trip): all pretty meaningless as we have no idea how you define “biggest” when it comes to canyons!

This is possibly the most famous view on the Panorama Route, the Three Rondavels:

We continued to Echo Caves on Sunday afternoon before retracing our steps a few kilometres to our overnight stop at Blyde Canyon Resort (the idea being to make sure we got back into Kruger by around lunchtime on Monday).

The first cavern they take you in is called the Madonna Cavern after the natural formation high up on one wall:

As Mark said, if this were in Spain, they’d have peregrinos (pilgrims) showing up by the busload…..

Echo Caves was pretty cheap to visit and enjoyable as these things go. Much of the commentary from the guide was about what various rock formations resembled. For example, here’s an ostrich (two legs, visibly knobbly knees, and a black body above):

We did have a wander to a “viewpoint” after arriving at Blyde Canyon Resort. The view wasn’t great but we did see some klipspringer along the way:

So that’s the Panorama Route: fine for a couple of days’ break from the hectic wildlife-o-rama that is Kruger National Park. By Monday lunchtime, though, it was time for us to dive right back in…..

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