The Panorama Route is undoubtedly one of the most stunning drives in South Africa. The route traverses the Mpumalanga Region (in the north-eastern section of the of the Drakensberg Mountains) along the R532, with breathtaking views of mountain scenery, picturesque waterfalls and a huge canyon.
All these natural wonders make the Panorama Route an epic drive to undertake and there are many highlights. The map below details a route from north to south, or vice versa, stopping at the main attractions between from northerly start point of the R532 all the way down to Graskop. Although this drive can be done in one long, rushed day, we recommend taking 2 to 3 days to really enjoy the natural beauty.
Blyde River Canyon Viewpoints
One of the worlds largest canyons and certainly one of the most spectacular. There are a number of awesome viewpoints for the Blyde River Canyon along the Panorama Route. In the northern section of the drive, there are 3 viewpoints clustered quite close together. Don’t be confused by mislabelled images for God’s Window and Wonder View, they’re further south. If you can, checkout all three, because they are all stunning and all a little bit different:
1. Upper & lower lookouts at Blyde River Canyon – A Forever Resort
If you head to A Forever Resort, you’ll find a lower and upper lookout which both offer amazing views over Blyde Rive Canyon. Our favourite was the upper viewpoint, sometimes referred to as World’s End View. It was super quiet, with virtually no other people around, making it the perfect picnic spot. If you only have time to stop at one viewpoint here, then make it this one! And if you have a little more time and are wanting to get a little off track, there are some awesome hikes starting from this area too. You’ll need to head to the resorts reception and pay and entrance fee to access the viewpoints and trails.
Entrance Fee: For the viewpoints & hikes (non guests) – R50 p/p
2. Three Rondavels View Point
If you punch ‘Blyde River Canyon’ into your search engine, chances are the images that pop up first are taken from here. Just a short drive from A Forever Resort, the views from here are awesome and particularly nice late in the afternoons ‘golden hour’. There’s a couple of lookouts here so make sure you visit both. It’s worth noting that the three Rondavels can also be seen from a different angle at the lookouts at A forever Resort. If you’re short on time, you could skip this one if you’ve already been to the others.
Entrance Fee: R20p/p
3. Lowveld View
Even if you’ve visited the previous viewpoints, it’s well worth a quick stop here. After a short drive from the Three Rondavels viewpoint, follow the path down for yet more amazing views of Blyde River Canyon. Sadly, the mist had taken over the landscape during our visit, but it was still a beautiful place to stop. Keep an eye out for the colourful lizards scuttling around the viewpoints. These Sekukhune Flat Lizards are endemic to this part of South Africa.
Entrance Fee: Free
Tip: With all three of these viewpoints, try to get there at the beginning or end of the day to avoid the crowds, especially the Three Rondavels. And subject to weather conditions, the golden hour light prior to sunset is the best time to visit in our opinion.
Bourkes Luck Potholes
Named after prospector John Bourke, one of the first to claim that the region was home to gold deposits. Though John never found any gold here, others did. This is probably the most touristy and commercial attraction on The Panorama Route.
At the point where the Blyde River and the Treur River meet, thousands of years of erosion has formed natural cylindrical potholes in the sandstone bedrock. There’s a range of bridges to cross leading to viewpoints which look over the swirling pools. As well as the potholes, there’s some nice waterfalls here too, but in all honesty, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. If short on time, we’d give it a miss as the Blyde River Canyon and surrounding waterfalls are far more impressive.
Entrance Fee: R55p/p
Berlin Falls is an 80m waterfall often described as being candle shaped. This is due to the wick-like appearance at the narrow top end of the falls, which widens and falls in a straight line to the pool below. This gives the appearance of a large white candle positioned in front of a reddish-orange cliff surrounding it. European miners searching for gold named each waterfall in the area after their respective home towns, or places in their home countries. Nostalgic Germans named Berlin Falls!
Entrance Fee: R10 per car
You guessed it, these falls were named by sentimental Portuguese miners. Lisbon Falls are the highest in the region at 94 metres and can be easily viewed from the viewing platform or short stretch of the path at the top of the waterfall.
We actually preferred the views from the bottom of the waterfall. There’s a reasonably steep path leading to the base of the falls and judging by the overgrown vegetation covering the path, not too many people venture down there. But it is well worth the 30-minute descent for a different view. If the weather’s nice, bring your swimmers. But be careful on the slippery track and rocks.
Entrance Fee: R10 per car
Tip: If you’re heading to the base of any of the falls, you will most likely get soaked by the spray. So take a waterproof bag to keep your things dry.
After the short circuit for Berlin and Lisbon Falls, rejoin the R532 and head north. After less than a kilometre, turn right onto the R534 for 3 more incredible views:
1. God’s Window
There a few different viewpoints here and it’s worth the shortish walk along the rainforest trail to see them all. If the visibility is in your favour, there’s views over the Lowveld all the way to Mozambique. Keep and eye out for Sunbirds, they love the Red Hot Poker flowers.
Entrance Fee: R10 per car
2. Wonder View
Everyone loves a free quick and easy viewpoint. Similar views to God’s Window, but without needing to walk anywhere or pay a penny.
Entrance Fee: Free
3. The Pinnacle
A free standing monolith that towers 30m over the tree line. There’s a few different viewpoints here and make sure you hike around to see the waterfall too. Unfortunately, the mist had taken over the landscape again during our visit.
Entrance Fee: R10 per car
You’ll likely come across some Vervet Monkeys at one of these three areas. Please don’t feed them. It changes their behaviours and they become a pest. And here in South Africa you’ll see signs saying ‘YOU FEED ‘EM, WE SHOOT ‘EM! So they may look cute, but don’t be tempted by those innocent eyes!
Graskop Gorge Lift
Graskop is a popular base for a Panorama Route road trip. On our last visit, the newly built Graskop Gorge Lift wasn’t open yet, but it is now. From the viewing platform, there’s great views over Graskop Gorge and falls. You can take the 51m lift down to the base of the gorge where there are both wooden walkways & suspension bridges along the 600 metre trail. There’s also a ‘Big Swing’ and Zipline for those seeking an adrenaline rush. Check out the Graskop Gorge Lift Company for all current pricing and information.
For many, their Panorama Route road trip ends (or starts) at Graskop. But there’s still more to see further south, with the main attractions being more waterfalls. This in itself is really another day driving on The Panorama Route, especially if you want head down to the base of any of the falls or explore the nearby hiking trails. But if you’re forever chasing waterfalls, checkout Mac Mac Falls (R20p/p), Lone Creek Falls (R20p/p) and Bridal Veil Falls (R20p/p).
Getting to/from and around
There are several airports surrounding the Panorama Route. But if you’re taking the DIY approach to exploring this region, you will need to hire a car. Many travellers arrive at O.R Tambo International airport in Johannesburg and hire a car from the there. Alternatively, it’s possible to take a domestic flight onto Hoedspruit, Nelspruit or Skukuza (located inside Kruger NP) and hire a car from one of these airports. Adding a domestic flight to your itinerary can be expensive, but will save you driving time:
- Hoedspruit- 1 hour drive from Blyde River Canyon
- Nelspruit – 2.45 hour drive from Blyde River Canyon
- Skukuza – 3 hours drive from Blyde River Canyon
- O.R Tambo J’burg – 6.5 hours from Blyde River Canyon (486 km)
Hire a car
Car hire in South Africa is really cheap and driving the Panorama Route is pretty easy and for the most part, connected by good roads. This option definitely offers the most flexibility and allows you to go wherever you like, for as long as you like. Most travellers combine a road trip along the Panorama Route with a visit to Kruger National Park, which is very close by. This is especially convenient considering you can self drive in Kruger and Skukuza Airport is located close to Skukuza Rest Camp, inside Kruger National Park.
We used AVIS for our last trip to South Africa and Eswatini (Swaziland). Make sure you read all the T&C’s and know what is and isn’t included in your car rental contract, including insurance and kilometres.
Don’t fancy driving, no problem! There several local companies offering day and multi-day trips along the Panorama Route. Again, these are often combined with other nearby attractions.
And if you are keen to visit Kruger and even areas like the Drakensburg Mountains and the Garden Route but don’t want to DIY, take a look at some of the Overland Travel companies offering great packages in the region, such as Intrepid Travel. This is an awesome option if you don’t want to DIY, but want to see a lot more of the surrounding area.
Best time to visit The Panorama Route
The weather along The Panorama Route is very similar to that of Kruger National Park. The best time to visit is during the cooler, drier winter months of June to August. The conditions tend to be clearer with less rain. This also happens to be the busiest time of year as school holidays commence and game viewing conditions in Kruger are optimal. So you’ll need to share these attractions with large crowds. September can still be quite busy, so we recommend booking accommodation in advance during the above months, but try to avoid holidays and weekends.
The wetter summer months of November to February tend to bring misty, rainy days and poor visibility. Though the views can be disappointing, the falls are at their best and the scenery is lush and green. Accommodation is also cheaper and you most certainly won’t have to share the attractions with many tourists. The exception of course is December, which draws many holiday makers to Kruger National Park and The Panorama Route. If you’re visiting during these months, try to avoid driving if it’s wet and misty, as the roads become more difficult to negotiate.
How much time do you need to visit The Panorama Route?
In all honestly, we could spend days exploring this part of South Africa. But ideally you need at least one full day to complete the above itinerary. With 2 to 3 days, you can do see everything a much more leisurely place, including all of the waterfalls. Extra days will also give you a bit of a safety net if the weathers not great.
About the roads
South African’s drive on the left side of the road. Most cars are manual, so if you are after an automatic, be sure to request this with the car rental company when you make a booking.
The roads around the Panorama Route and South Africa are generally good. But you will no doubt encounter some rough patches riddled with large potholes. Don’t drive at night! Many of these potholes fill up with water if it’s been raining, making them virtually impossible to see!
If you are driving from Johannesburg to the Panorama Route, you will go through a couple of toll gates, which only accept cash or credit card. Debit cards are NOT accepted, so make sure you are prepared, or you won’t be able to pass through.
There are E-Tolls on some roads to and from Johannesburg. Your car rental company will debit your credit card for these charges, should you incur any.
Accommodation along The Panorama Route
Graskop is arguably the most popular area to base yourself for a drive along the Panorama Route. There’s a range of accommodation options here and for a budget friendly option, check out Sheri’s Lodge & Backpackers. With great self-catering options and secure rooms, it’s an ideal place to stay. Grasokop has a great Spar supermarket where you can stock up on supplies, along with ATM’s and fuel station.
If you’re wanting to stay nearer the spectacular views of the northern section of the Panorama route, then Blyde Canyon – A Forever Resort is the perfect option. There’s a range of room types, along with caravan and camping options available. Their friendly and knowledgable staff are also able to advise on hiking options in the area.
During our visit, most entrance fees were charged per car. However, we believe many entrance fees are now charged per person. We recommend budgeting p/person, just to be safe. As you will need to pay all entrance fees in cash, it’s best to have small change and notes as trying to pay with big notes can be problematic. Always ask for a ticket.
What and where to eat on a Panorama Route road trip
Your direction and timings of your visits may well dictate this. We love a self catered breakfast and a picnic lunch, as it offers the most flexibility on a busy day of sightseeing. Best of all you can enjoy lunch at one of the amazing sights.
But, if you prefer to stop somewhere en-route, the famous Harrie’s Pancakes get consistently awesome feedback. It’s a travellers favourite place to eat in Graskop and a great option to start and/or finish the day if you’re staying in the area.
The Panorama Route is renown as one of the most beautiful drives in South Africa for a reason. It makes the perfect addition to a visit to Kruger National park and if you are in the area, you should definitely visit!
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