As the 2023rd Edition of the Africa Travel Indaba (ATI) approaches, the Mpumalanga Province, known as the place of the rising sun, will once again be promoting the undisputed beauty that can be spotted in the region, especially the iconic Panorama Route being rated the province’s top tourism product for its adventurous attractions spread.
The Panorama route boasts an array of prominent and breath-taking sites, such as the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window, Echo Caves and the Mac Mac Falls. With the right guiding, your trip navigates through the Panorama Route, and the connection in these attractions can also free-land you at the Barberton Makhonjwa Barberton Trail via the R40 and R533 road.
As you embark on your Panorama Route tour, you may have planned your trip via embassies, travel agencies and with private tour guiding at best; however it is also highly possible you are taking a tour on a self-drive with family and friends with your trip likely starting at the Kruger National Park (KNP).
The best way you can connect is via Swadini, which is a driving distance of around 36.2km from the park, approximately 27 minutes if you are at average 80 km/h (49 mph). As you pass through Swadini, you might be tempted to hang around sometimes for an overnight or two, to explore the beauty that crosses through the Blyde River Canyon.
The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in the United States and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. It is the largest ‘green canyon’ due to its opulent subtropical vegetation, with the deepest cliffs of any canyon on the planet. This Nature Reserve in South Africa also offers a variety of adventure sports such as white water rafting and abseiling as well as quieter activities like fly-fishing.
Its grasslands consist of more than 1 000 flora species of which many are endangered not found anywhere else in the world.
There are a few accommodations you could book your stay and enjoy the lush view; some lodges and hotels allow instant overnight bookings while some have strict online booking policies, however that can be verified.
For nearby accommodation, the Klaserie River Safari Lodge accommodation comes to mind, famous for its combination of rustic beauty of the African bushveld and the calm serenity of the riverine forest.
If you are instead looking for an affordable overnight stay, Swadini Nature reserve is your best spot; known for hosting groups of visitors in case you are planning to hang-trip as a squad.
Accommodation is optional to choose from, either in a chalet or a tent, either way, at night you will be able to sleep peacefully at the lullaby that the animals of the night will sing to you. Birds will whistle while lions and tigers roar. The reserve is the best spot to view those Three Rondavels that won’t let you stop looking up with amazement, while you get mind bubbled in the hypnosis of all the open scenic spaces laying bare.
From this point you are headed east via the mountainous, misty and bushy Graskop as you navigate your way to God’s Window, which is about 118 kilometres long and approximately two-hour drive.
God’s Window is a small part of a 250km long earthwork of sheer cliffs and extravagant beauty. This space is called God’s Window due to its phenomenal views that when standing on it, you are able to experience the panoramic view of the Lowveld, more than 900 m down into opulent indigenous forest dressed rift; while up there, you can also spot the hills and forests as far as the eye can stretch. Being situated near private game reserves has over the years, spotlighted God’s Window to be one of South Africa’s main wildlife destinations.
In the midst of your drive, valleys are decorated by bushy pine trees alongside the route as they slide through to the Echo Caves, just outside Ohrigstad.
The Echo Caves were declared a Historical Monument for being some of the oldest caves in the world. Many tourists are curious to find the end of the cave which is said to be somewhere close to the Strijdom tunnel. For those that would like to visit this spot in the near future, a special tour can be organized to go deeper into the cave, however this is only allowed only for people without claustrophobic problems. The caves were given their name by the local people who used to use the stalactites as a drum which served as an early warning system when Swazi tribes were approaching. The caves are about 40km in depth, and the sound from drumming on the stalactites can be heard throughout the caves.
Fastforward to the historical Bourke’s Luck Potholes,
This sacred space is known for being the mark the start of the Blyde River Canyon. They were formed through the swirling eddies of water which have caused extensive water erosion over a period of time. This is where the Treur River meets the Blyde River and for tourists to experience this bizarre water, they will need to take about a 700 metre walk to the water feet.
Centrally located on the Panorama Route is the Graskop Gorge Lift Company which is an ideal stopover point and an end destination with so much more to do, including to do on-site and in the area. Most areas are wheelchair and pram friendly.
he most spectacular things to do in the Graskop Gorge include walking in the 52m-long Suspension Bridge which spans the northern and southern sides of the gorge, with the most breath-taking views that can be experienced when standing 70m above the ground.
The Suspension Brdge sways slightly when other people are on it but offers a relatively sedate experience, allowing visitors to enjoy the magnificent views of the mountains, rugged cliff faces, forests and the Motitsi waterfall. Although the bridge can in fact hold 200 people, only 20 people are allowed on at a time to maximise visitors’ enjoyment.
You will also find enjoyment in the viewing lift which takes visitors 51m down the face of the gorge into the indigenous forest below. The lift is `guaranteed for safety with about 88 tons of steel in the shaft and over 240 tons of concrete in the foundation. It also takes one minute to go down at a total distance of 60m from the base to the top of the shaft. Interactive exhibits and interpretation boards enable visitors to explore the diverse life that thrives under the dense canopy of trees, the waterfall and meandering stream.
Mac-Mac Falls, located 13km deep between Sabie and Graskop, is yet another mind blower which has caused both local and international tourists to flock in for the sight of the its magic, even if their intention is not always to stretch through the nine yards of the Panorama Route.
The Mac-Mac Falls was named after Scottish gold miners found the first payable amount of gold in the nearby lying Mac-Mac between 1840 and 1870. The fascination of the Mac-Mac Falls is the 65 m high in the Mac-Mac River is a declared National Monument. Originally, this waterfall was a single stream, however it was dynamite-blasted by gold miners to divert the river in an attempt to work the rich gold-bearing reef over which it plunges.
Lastly, via R40 through White River, is a path leading to the land of the oldest rocks in the world, situated in the heart of Barberton. The mountains hold evidence of some of Earth’s earliest forms of life, including microfossils, stromatolites, and other biologically derived material. Geological sampling indicates that some rock formations in these mountains are 3.2 to 3.6 billion years old.
These Mountains of the Barberton Greenstone Belt are now on the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site programme. The geo-trail uses richly-illustrated panels that draw aside the curtains of arcane geological communication and reveal the significance of the Barberton Greenstone Belt in every-day language and concepts.
Tourists who visit this area find the story of the rocks more fascinating when they go through the books engraved with some of the special rocks found in the area, books that explain the long history of the mountains and what they are all about.