Panorama Route 1 Day Itinerary – Johannesburg to Kruger

by Garth



South Africa’s Scenic Panorama Route

The second leg of our South Africa tour was travelling from Johannesburg to Graskop near Kruger National Park, in total 250 miles – that’s 5 hours without stopping.  But you’ll want to break it up and make various stops along the way because this region of South Africa has impressive scenery which makes it a classic road trip.  It’s called the ‘Panorama Route’ and winds its way through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes in the Mpumalanga province. There are various scenic viewing points over the dramatic Northern Drakensberg mountain range – the highest and longest mountain range in South Africa. The Panoramic Route also boasts the largest number of waterfalls in South Africa.

We were part of  a small group tour, so our guide and driver took care of all the driving but we thought it would be pretty easy if you were doing it yourself, especially if you’re from the UK because you drive on the left.  Roads on the route are good quality with the odd pothole closer to Graskop.

Our first sight of wildlife at the Total service station just outside Middelburg

Our first sight of wildlife at the Total service station just outside Middelburg

Our surprise first glimpse of wildlife in South Africa was at our first stop – a Total petrol service station!  We saw our first ostrich and deer with straight antlers. We noticed some service stations are quite old fashioned and have service attendants to fill up your car. Another thing we noticed at service stations and pretty much everywhere was Nando’s restaurants just like the UK. That’s because Nando’s is a South African brand and their first restaurant was opened in Johannesburg, we always thought it was Portuguese!

A farmer sprays his crop in this region of Mpumalanga

A farmer sprays his crop in this region of Mpumalanga

Back on the road and we passed farmers in their fields looking after their citrus trees and lots of people on the sides of roads selling oranges and macadamia nuts, we past loads of macadamia trees along the route.

Oranges and avocados for sale

Oranges and avocados for sale

A lady takes time out from selling fruit, veg and macadamia nuts

A lady takes time out from selling fruit, veg and macadamia nuts

Local traffic along the Panorama Route

Local traffic along the Panorama Route

Railway crossings for famers

Railway crossings for famers

Theres' many termite hills in this region of Mpumalanga.

Theres’ many termite hills in this region of Mpumalanga.

We also drove past some huge battery chicken farms and dozens of termite hills in the fields on sides of roads, some of them the size of cars!

 

 

Dullstroom for pancakes

Garth's Bobotie pancake at Harrie's

Garth’s Bobotie pancake at Harrie’s

Before we reached our first beauty spots on the Panorama Route it was time for lunch at Dullstroom. A picturesque little town, where we ate delicious savoury pancakes at Harrie’s Pancakes – an institution in this area. Our guide said they are the best pancakes we’d ever eat, we thought they were good but not amazing, the best ones we ever had were in Amsterdam. You’ll notice Dutch references everywhere on the Panorama Route, especially on place names – references to the past when South Africa used to be a Dutch colony. We also noticed plenty of British names too as we drove through towns like Belfast.

 

 

Blyde River Canyon

Looking down on Blyde River Canyon

Looking down on Blyde River Canyon

The highlight of the Panorama Route is easily Blyde River Canyon – this is Africa’s Grand Canyon. It sits on the Mpumalanga Escarpment and is third largest canyon in the world –  16 miles long and around 750 metres deep and leading to a dam at the bottom. Unlike America’s Grand Canyon this is very different because this is a green canyon, the valleys are covered with a lush forest – indigenous bush home to loads of wildlife including baboons and leopards. The Dam and parts of the river are home to hippopotamus and crocodiles.

The view is incredible and breathtaking, it’s one of those awe-inspiring views that’s hard to take in the magnitude and scale, the light was pretty nice too with the sun low.

We stopped off at the designated Three Rondavels Viewpoint where the vertigo inducing cliff edges will make you dizzy like it did us, so we took lots of careful small steps!

The Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon

The Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon

Phil and Garth at Blyde River Canyon

Phil and Garth at Blyde River Canyon

 

The Three Rondavels

Left to right - Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto - the Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon

Left to right – Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto – the Three Rondavels

The biggest landmark in the canyon are The Three Rondavels, 3 conical shaped mountains named after rondavels – traditional round African thatched roof huts. They also have names, supposedly after a local chief’s (Maripi Mashile) wives – Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto.

Blyde River Canyon, Panorama Route

Blyde River Canyon, Panorama Route

Who doesn't love a bit of tourist-tat?

Who doesn’t love a bit of tourist-tat?

The viewpoint is a minimal walk from the car park and if you want souvenirs then there are loads of stalls here to choose from. The sellers didn’t hassle us either unlike in Johannesburg.

It’s interesting every natural attraction on the Panorama Route has a fee attached to it – fair enough if the facilities like the loos are good, but be warned they’re not!  Expect to see lots of tourists at each site, as the Panorama Route route is popular.

 

 

God’s Window

From the canyon it was a 1 hour drive to God’s Window, getting there you pass miles and miles of man made forests, there’s a huge timber industry in this area.

The incredible view from God's Window on the Panorama Route

The incredible view from God’s Window on the Panorama Route

The view from God’s Window is another epic one. The viewpoint sits at the top of the gorge and is incredibly high at 900 metres with panoramic views. The view looks across the wide open plateaus of the lush lowveld as far as your eye can see.  On a clear day you can see across Kruger National Park all the way to Mozambique – 125 miles away. What’s lovely is that the view looks like something from millions of years ago – it’s completely unspoilt and untouched by humans, not a town in sight.

Gazing through God's Window across the lowveld plains

Gazing through God’s Window across the lowveld plains

Lowveld is name given to these wide open rural landscapes found in Southern Africa. They have a subtropical climate, and are low-lying about 500 metres above sea level.  The lowveld seen from God’s Window is packed full of wild animals.

One of the high viewing platforms

One of the high viewing platforms

There’s lots of exotic plants here and loads of aloe vera, but sadly all had been ravaged by recent fires.

Aloe vera plants caught up in wild fires

Aloe vera plants caught up in wild fires

It’s a lovely beauty spot with nice easy walks at the top. We were lucky with the weather here visiting in September as it can get foggy and overcast because of it’s location in a mist belt.

Back on the road to Graskop

Back on the road to Graskop

A lone church near God's Window

A lone church near God’s Window

Landscapes like oil paintings

Landscapes like oil paintings

 

 

Overnight in Graskop

We then drove on to our final destination – Graskop. An old gold mining town, now home to workers of the timber industry and a hub for tourists because of its proximity to Kruger National Park. Other nearby towns that are popular with people driving the Panorama Route are Hazyview and Sabie.

At the hotel we drank our first ever glass of creamy Amarula, South Africa’s version of Baileys, lovely! we got excited talking about going on our first ever African safari the following day.

 

Other Panorama Route Sights

  • Lisbon Falls – The most dramatic and highest at 94 metres.
  • Bridal Falls, Berlin Falls, Mac Mac Falls – are the next most popular
  • Bourke’s Luck Potholes – unique geological rock sculptures and potholes.
  • Pinnacle Rock – a 30 metre skyscraper rock in the middle of a forest

 

Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Panorama Route Tips

Phil and Garth at Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga

Phil and Garth at Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga

    • Tip #1: Hikers and twitchers should spend a few days doing the route – there’s loads of trails.
    • Tip #2: Take a wide angle lens or use the panoramic feature on your smartphone.
    • Tip #3: Try eating ‘biltong’ a dried cured meat – lots of places on Panorama Route sell it.
    • Tip #4: We covered ourselves in mosquito repellent – just in case! as we spotted quite a few.
    • Tip #5: You’ll need cash to pay entrance fees to viewing sites and waterfalls.

 

How we did it

  • We stayed for 1 night at The Graskop Hotel – 25 miles to Kruger National Park.
  • Dinner was at Canimambo just opposite the hotel in Graskop – Portuguese & Mozambique food.
  • We paid for a small group tour of South Africa with Explore.

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5 comments

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5 comments

Jenn | By Land and Sea 5th September 2019 - 1:09 pm

Wow this looks like such a beautiful area! Those oranges!?! YUM!! I’ve wanted to go to South Africa for awhile – whenever we make it there, I’ll be sure to check this area out.

Reply
Anna 2nd September 2019 - 12:33 pm

Those views are just wow! No wonder it´s called Panorama Route. Blyde River Canyon looks stunning! I haven´t been to South Africa yet, but hope to visit soon!

Reply
California Globetrotter 2nd September 2019 - 6:30 am

I always love taking the scenic route and back roads! You always find the most beautiful places when you do! #FeetDoTravel

Reply
Lisa | Handmade in Israel 1st September 2019 - 3:59 pm

Your photos are fantastic. Such wonderful views! Those mountains really do look like little huts. #FeetDoTravel

Reply
Esther 30th August 2019 - 9:30 pm

This is just lovely! I simly adore South-Africa and you’ve captured the route perfectly!
#FeetDoTravel

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