The Panorama Route
When you’re exploring a country there are few things better than stopping your car at a viewpoint and being rewarded with the kind of scenery that brightens your day and broadens your horizons. On the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, every viewpoint gives you that opportunity.
Breathtaking views, plunging waterfalls, eagles flying above you and a rich history, quite literally, as it includes the gold rush years, are the kinds of things you better get used to when you visit the Panorama Route.
‘Guarded’ by the small town of Graskop, this famous route is home to mountains, forests and canyons, most notably, the Blyde River Canyon which is also world’s largest ‘green canyon’.
The awe-inspiring Lisbon Falls, Berlin Falls and Mac Mac Falls are just a short drive away. As are scenic landmarks such as Wonder View, the Pinnacle, Bourke's Luck Potholes, the Three Rondavels and God’s Widndow, where you can walk in the thick, indigenous mist forest that stands amongst the clouds some 800m above Blyde River Canyon.
Bourke's Luck Potholes are an unusual geological formation and well worth the visit. These giant potholes formed at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur rivers and mark the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon.
While you’re there, why not add some historical romance to the mix? A short 30-minute drive from Graskop will take you to the gold rush town of Pilgrim's Rest where you can relive the 1873 gold rush in surroundings of unparalleled beauty. You can even try your hand at panning for gold.
On top of the scenic beauty and historical learnings found on the Panorama Route, you will also experience a wealth of plant and animal life in the region, including Klipspringers, Dassies, Grey Rhebuck, Oribi, Kudu, bushbuck, bushpigs, monkeys, bushbabies, Chacma baboons, Black-Backed jackals and many specied of birdlife, including resident pairs of nesting eagles that might well look you in the eye.
Some of the Panorama Route's lesser-known, but no less fascinating attractions, are clustered around Ohrigstad where the Echo Caves extend 40km into the limestone rock. At Ohrigstad Dam Reserve, you can fish for yellowtail or carp in tranquil waters surrounded by mountains, an ideal refuge from the crowds in peak season.
Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve
The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is renowned as a haven for the Big Five and for luxury game lodges of international standing. The reserve’s lush vegetation adjoins the Kruger National Park, and fences have been dropped. The wild animals cross back and forth, following ancient migration paths parallel to the Sabie River.
A lioness has just finished weaning her cubs, and because she is alone for once, she is clearly relishing her own company. The sun is setting over the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve as she washes her face like a giant tabby cat, yawns, stretches and goes to look for her cubs and the rest of her pride.
A group of tourists sits enthralled in an open game-viewing vehicle, breathing in the lioness’ rank scent, mingled with that of wild sage crushed beneath the wheels, listening to the ranger explaining lion behaviour in a quiet undertone. Meanwhile, the tracker scans the ground for other big-game spoor.
Perhaps they’ll be lucky enough to find a leopard stashing her kill in a tree tonight; or see jackals bounce through the high grass as they pursue invisible rodents, oblivious to the ranger’s spotlight.
What is certain is that later they’ll find themselves around a sheltered campfire being served a delectable dinner, with some of South Africa’s best wines to hand. At night they’ll lie down on the finest linen, hearing the eerie whoop of hyena in the distance, perhaps the child-like cry of a bush baby, and almost certainly, the roaring of lions.
This is the allure of the south-western boundary of the Kruger National Park, and is therefore also part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The 50km fence that once divided the Sabi Sand from the Kruger is long gone, and wild animals, including the Big Five, move back and forth along their old migration routes.
The origins of the reserve (now about 65 000ha) date back to the 1920s, when a number of people held hunting concessions there in the dry winter months. Later on, this became an association of freehold landowners.
The fact that two perennial rivers (after which the reserve is named) flow through it means that the area offers excellent wildlife viewing all year round. Some of South Africa’s finest luxury game lodges are found here – some of the the best known include Sabi Sabi, Mala Mala, Singita, Londolozi, Ulusaba, Chitwa Chitwa, Idube, Lion Sands, Exeter and Djuma.
They all offer individual attention, privacy, outstanding cuisine and luxurious accommodation, while the décor is often breathtaking. Some of the lodges offer spas with masseurs, aromatherapy and reflexology.
In addition, the guides at the lodges know every inch of their areas. They can often take you right to rare leopard sightings or to where wild dogs have hidden their pups in dens.
Incidentally, the only hunting these days is done with a camera...
Lion Sands Private Game Reserve
Lion Sands Private Game Reserve forms part of the greater Kruger National Park and game traverses freely between the two. Guests can share in the joys of this unspoilt wilderness and walk away restored, revived and richer for the experience.
The family-owned Lion Sands Private Game Reserve in the famous Sabi Sand Reserve, is the only lodge in the area that is located on the banks of the Sabie River, a favourite drinking spot for elephants, impalas, baboons and many other animals − and a favourite stalking ground for leopard.
The river lodge is positioned in a pristine riverine forest amongst ancient trees. The area is well known for excellent game viewing and has a lower concentration of lodges compared to other areas of Sabi Sands.
With only the river separating the lodge from the world famous Kruger Park, Lion Sands provides a great diversity of fauna and flora. The unique location makes it a perfect place in the African bush for a wedding − the reserve will help you organise the biggest day in your life from scratch.
The award-winning Ivory Lodge is an ultra luxurious getaway in the bush frequented by celebs and stars wanting exclusivity and privacy with spacious suites, personal dining areas and completely private viewing decks.
If you need a break from the excitement of game-viewing then try one of the relaxing spa treatments at Lalamuka Spa. ‘Lalamuka' means 'unwind' in Shangaan and this is exactly what Lion Sands is all about. A range of body and facial treatments are available to help rid you of urban stresses.
You'll not only see lots of game wandering along the river banks, but also on game drives and bush walks which are excellent opportunities to get close up with Africa's wildlife, including that most formidable predator, the lion.
You'll also encounter other members of the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros and leopard). The staff will also happily arrange a breakfast or dinner in the bush for a true African experience. The already delicious food tastes even better under the stars or in the warm morning sun.
The Lisbon Falls
No visit to Mpumalanga is complete without visiting some of its lovely waterfalls. On the famous Panorama Route you'll find more falls clustered in a small area than anywhere else in southern Africa. Lisbon Falls is one of Mpumalanga's most dramatic waterfalls.
You'll find the dramatic Lisbon Falls north of the little town of Graskop in Mpumalanga, just outside the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. It's situated in a very rich waterfall area - in fact, there are more waterfalls here than in any other part of southern Africa.
The Lisbon Falls lie within the popular Panorama Route, where you can visit some of the very best natural attractions in the region, including the Pinnacle, God's Window, Bourke's Luck Potholes, and some of the other waterfalls in the area including the Mac Mac Falls and Berlin Falls.
They're named after the Portugese capital of Lisbon, which is also the name of a large farm in the area. Nearby, you'll also find the Berlin Falls, which are just as spectacular. The names mark the provenance of some of the gold miners who flocked to this area in the late 1800s after gold was discovered at nearby Barbeton and Pilgrim's Rest: miners rushed from all over the world in the hope of striking it rich.
Set in a bowl of hills, the Lisbon Falls is a great place to start your sightseeing on the Panorama Route, or to unwind after a day's hectic sightseeing in the area. Pack a picnic and relax under shady trees in one of the most scenic picnic places in the area. Watch out for some fascinating birdlife including tiny colourful sunbirds.