The Northern Drakensberg – Mountain of the Dragon’s – rises above the sweeping Lowveld like a sentinel charged with lookout duty and keeping a constant vigilance on the savannahs below. With names like God’s Window, Devil’s Knuckles and Bourke’s Luck Potholes, one can only imagine the original impact and visions these mountains, cliff faces and sweeping slopes conjured up for the original pioneers travelling into these landscapes.
The vista’s along the upper ridge of the Drakensberg rival some of the most scenic around the world, and granted one is blessed with a day of good weather and sunny skies, is most definitely a trip worth undertaking.
These sweeping vista’s and scenic locations have given rise to the route name – the Panorama Route.
Not only does the Panorama Route offer the most remarkable vista’s over the Lowveld, however, it is also home to a number of phenomenal geographical features, such as waterfalls, canyons, gorges, potholes and much, much more. All of these natural aspects are interspersed by 3 small but very characteristic towns – ie Graskop, Sabie and Pilgrim’s Rest. Coming from each direction, the Panorama Route converges the 3rd largest canyon in the world – the Blyde River Canyon.
THE BLYDE RIVER CANYON
Not only is the Blyde River Canyon the third largest in the world, but it is also the greenest in the world. This leads to incredible artistic vista’s “painted” in a range of greens against a variety of beiges, browns and reds of the rock face behind it. The Blyde River Canyon is home to the world renonwn lookout points of The Lowveld Lookout and The Three Rondawels. The name the “Blyde” means the “Happy” River and was given rise in the very early pioneering days of the South African “Voortrekker”. When the trekking party, led by Louis Trichardt arrived at the escarmpment face looking down at the Lowveld below them, they were unable to find a passage through this extreme geology to the lower lying regions below and thus sent out a scouting party ahead of the group to look for a potential route down into the lower lying regions. The main part of the group remained camped out alongside a small river while the scouting party when ahead with the agreement that they would return by a certain date. When the party did not return as agreed, nor a short time thereafter, the main party then presumed that the scouting party had come across misadventures and has possibly been killed. Thus they decided to up camp and continue north on their own, however, before leaving, they named the river alongside which they were camped the “Treur” River – the “Sad” River. Not too far north, just as they were about to cross the next river they came across, the scouting party arrived back over the hills in the distance. Thus, immediately, they called this river, the “Blyde” River – The Happy River – and these names have remained to this day.
The dramatic geological formations of the area have lead to the presence of a large number of scenic waterfalls in the area, from the Sabie Falls, the Mac Mac Falls, the Berlin Falls and the Lisbon falls being the most prominent in the region. Each of these is unique in their structure and size and definitely worth a visit.
God’s Window is a world famous scenic location that allows one to stand on the edge of the cliff face, where the world suddenly falls away to the sweeping savannah regions below and truly gives one the feel that you are standing at a point that could only be seen or imagined by God.
Graskop was originally set up as a gold mining camp in the late 1800’s, however, it now serves as a strong epicenter to the timber industry. The name “Graskop” is Afrikaans and comes from the term “grassy knoll or peak” and is the ideally situated for a short stop in between your exploration of the panorama route. The town offers a range of quant restaurants of which the speciality is the long standing “Harry’s Pancakes” – renown for its wide range of savoury and sweet pancakes on offer. There are also a variety of curio, craft and traditional décor apparel available in the town.
Activities & Attractions in Graskop:
Blyde River Canyon: – one of the most scenic locations in South Africa
Blyderivierspoort Nature Reserve: – A large reserve featuring many camping and picnicking spots under the watchful eye of a number of natures more exotic mountainous animal and bird species.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes: – Where they Blyde and the Treur River’s meet, the most fascinating geolocial formations have resulted. Large potholes, resembling hollowed out columns are the result of millions of years of water erosion, created by the joining waters from the two rivers.
Hiking Trails: the region around Graskop is the perfect natural setting for some of the best hiking trails this part of the country can offer and if one has enough time to set aside a full day for such an activity it is well worth doing.
Waterfalls: – the two most well known waterfalls in the Graskop region are the Berlin and the Lisbon Falls. Both falls occur on the Blyde River and where they the Lisbon falls are a sheer semi-circular drop, the Berlin falls find themselves forcing their way through a narrow gully before falling almost 50m into an ominous plunge pool.
The town of Sabie gets its name originally from the Shangaan term UluSaba, which means “The Fearful River” and this was due to the proliferation of crocodiles that were found in the river at the time. The Sabie River passes directly through the town of Sabie with the Sabie Waterfall heading under the main road as one enters the town. The town of Sabie was originally established, when a well known hunter – HT Glynn came across what he thought to be a gold bearing rock and together with a friend of his, established the Glynn’s Lydenburg Gold Mining Company which later led to the development of the small town in the midst of dramatic waterfalls, misty escarpment faces and indomitable forests.
Activities and Attractions in Sabie:
- Forestry Museum: – The only one of its kind in the country detailing the uses of different wood types, and a history of the South African timber industry.
- Mondi Timber Mill: – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere
- Anglican Church: – designed by internally renown architect, Sir Herbert Baker, sits in the middle of the town and is a flamboyant sandstone church.
- Waterfalls: – The sabie region abounds with numerous waterfalls, such as te Bridal Veil, The Forest Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Lone Creek Falls, Marie Shires Falls, the Sabie Falls and the most impressive being the Mac Mac Falls – a 56m twin waterfall made this way be a digger’s blast in 1873 and received its name from the numerous Scots panning along the nearby river (all with the Surname Mac…………).
The town of Pilgrim’s Rest can only be described as Living Museum. The entire town has been declared a National Monument and allows visitors to envision and experience life in the days of the old Transvaal Gold Rush. The town was officially declared as a gold field in 1873, following which a variety of related businesses, families and services developed around it and gave rise to the development of the small town. The town’s original architecture remains largely unchanged, leaving a tranquil settlement of beautiful homes and enchanting suburbs.
Activities & Attractions in Pilgrim’s Rest:
- Diggings Museum & Gold Panning: – An informative display and tour, detailing the lifestyle of original pioneers and the methods they used in panning alluvial deposits.
- Joubert’s Bridge: – now a national monument, it was built in 1896 and stands at the western entrance to the town.
- Drezden Shop & House Museum: - A living museum depicting the lifestyle of the town’s original general dealers, including the family of the owner living in the back of the house, and original goods on display in the street-side shop.
- Historic Cemetery: – Early graves of the town’s residents, showing the common causes of death in the town at the time. The 19th century grave of a tent robber caught in the act lies perpendicularly to the others.