Image Alt

The Panorama Route, South Africa – A Travel Guide

A panoramic view of Blyde canyon and the three rondavels - a group of distinct hills - and a couple stood on a rocky outcrop

The Panorama Route, South Africa – A Travel Guide

In the heart of Mpumalanga – Zulu for “the place where the sun rises” – in the Eastern part of South Africa, lies the captivating Panorama Route. A scenic road, home to a wide variety of natural wonders and outdoor activities. In this travel guide, we reveal the best things to do on the Panorama Route, where to stay, and the key information to make your road trip a success.

A view of a deep canyon with a river running through it with the words "Driving the Panorama Route, South Africa" superimposed

Panorama Route

Set against the majestic backdrop of the Drakensberg Mountains, this striking journey promises a captivating blend of panoramic vistas, cascading waterfalls, and lush greenery at every twist and turn.

Looking for a longer itinerary? Check out our guide to the perfect 3-week South Africa road trip from Cape Town to Jo’burg – and of course includes the unmissable Panorama Route.

Best Things to See and Do on the Panorama Route

The Panorama Route is the perfect detour when heading between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park.

Heading on Safari there? Check out our ultimate guide to Kruger National Park for tips on how best to see the animals.

The route follows the R532 road, and all of the points of interest are either on or near it.

Blyde River Canyon

On the canyon’s western fringe lies ‘Blyde Canyon, A Forever Resort’. This haven boasts sprawling hiking trails and two viewpoints – upper and low – offering panoramic vistas of the serene lake and the distinctive ‘Three Rondavels.’

A couple stood high on a rock overlooking a Blyde Canyon

You can take the shortest hikes and reach the viewpoints relatively quickly, or you could spend a few hours discovering the trails. It really depends on how much time you plan on spending on the Panorama Route.

Three Rondavels Viewpoint

For another encounter with the Three Rondavels, this stop provides an even cheaper alternative at around $1.

These iconic geological formations are some of the most famous things to see on the Panorama route.

If you’re not up for a hike, but want to see the Three Rondavels, this is the best place. We’d recommend doing both if you have the time, but it’s a similar view to Blyde Canyon if you don’t.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes

One of nature’s masterpieces, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, was created by millennia of water’s artistic erosion. The swirling waters have meticulously carved potholes and gorges into the rock, creating a geological spectacle.

There are walkways and bridges to walk around and enjoy the views of the other worldly rock formations.

They’re named after the prospector John Bourke, and although they’re called the Luck Potholes, he never actually found any gold here! Large deposits were later found, but Mr. Bourke walked away empty-handed – although his legacy lives on in the name.

Berlin Falls

Picture the most perfect, slender waterfall gracefully descending a sheer rock face amidst lush surroundings – that’s Berlin Falls.

At 260ft (80m) tall, they’re not quite the highest waterfall in the region. With it mostly being dry here, the water gently spills over the steep drop and plummets to the huge pool below. If you’re lucky to be visiting just after a rainfall, it’s a very different beast – with a wider torrent of water making its way through.

Lisbon Falls

Continuing on the waterfall theme, just a short drive further will take you to Lisbon Falls. Standing at 308ft (94m), this multi-tiered waterfall is the highest in the region. The powerful cascades create a huge spray of mist and offer a mesmerizing display.

There are two options here – enjoy the view from above or hike 30 minutes right down to the pool. If it’s warm enough, you can even take a dip in its pristine waters.

Wonder View

Taking the journey to new heights, Wonder View is a mountainous vantage point that offers a panoramic view of South Africa’s Lowveld and the encircling mountains.

The wonder view of the grass and shrub covered Lowveld on the Panorama Route

From the viewpoint, you can soak in the breathtaking scenery, appreciating the vast expanse of the landscape to the distant horizon.

God’s Window

Not far from Wonder View, God’s Window offers a similar panoramic vista of the Lowveld – literally meaning low field.

Though the view is the same, God’s Window stands out as the better tourist spot as it’s far more developed, and there’s more going on here.

A view from a high vista of the grass and shrub covered lowlands on the Panorama Route

There’s a long set of steps to conquer in order to reach the highest viewpoint. There’s also a small rainforest near the top with wooden boardwalks, providing a bit of variety to the journey. Again, you’ll be treated to incredible views of the diverse landscape of grasses, shrublands, and trees below.

The Pinnacle Rock

The Pinnacle Rock stands as a 100ft freestanding monolith that demands attention. Soaring out of the forested valley below, the rock is reminiscent of the pinnacles from the awe-inspiring flight scenes in Avatar.

The rock is the result of thousands of years of erosion of the softer stone and soil that once surrounded it. The result – this singular pinnacle of harder rock, standing tall and alone in the deep valley.

Graskop Gorge Lift Co

To explore Graskop Gorge, you take the exciting glass elevator ride to the bottom, with panoramic views over the forest.

There are tons of activities to do here including hiking, ziplining, guided tours, suspension bridge walks, and even a bungee jump!

If you’re doing a big trip around South Africa, you might want to save the Bungee jump for the incredible Bloukrans Bridge on the Garden Route.

Mac Mac Falls

Mac Mac Falls captivates with its 213ft (65m) cascading waters surrounded by lush vegetation. Though not the largest of the waterfalls here, it’s arguably the best.

It’s not only a testament to nature’s beauty but an area of historical importance – the falls played a significant role in South Africa’s gold rush during the 19th century.

A single fall for the majority of the year, enough rain will transform it into a double waterfall.

Pilgrims Rest

Stepping into the footsteps of history, Pilgrims Rest pays homage to the region’s gold rush in the late 1800s. Preserving the essence of the bygone era, this stop allows visitors to explore well-preserved buildings such as the post office and shops, allowing a tangible connection to the past.

The historic charm of Pilgrims Rest provides a unique and enriching experience, creating a bridge between the present and the fascinating history that shaped the landscapes and culture along the Panorama Route.

Planning Your Panorama Route Trip

The first thing to do is to make sure you fuel the vehicle before heading out. There are very few gas stations here and they’re at either end of the route – not too helpful if you’re running out halfway.

How Long is the Panorama Route?

The Panorama Route is around 95 miles (155km) long. But, with slight detours for stops and since we’re continuing on to Mac Mac Falls and Pilgrims Rest, it’s more like 130 miles (208 km).

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Panorama Route?

To drive the Panorama Route in one direction would only take around 2.5 hours of driving, but we’d recommend at least a day, if not two, to see the highlights.

Where Does the Panorama Route Start and End?

If you’re heading from Kruger National Park to Johannesburg, the Panorama Route starts at the town of Hoedspruit and ends to the south in the town of Graskop.

Which Direction Should You Drive the Panorama Route?

It really doesn’t matter which direction you drive the Panorama Route.

If you’re heading from Kruger National Park to Johannesburg, then it makes sense to drive south from Hoedspruit to Graskop.

Alternatively, if you’re driving from Joburg to Kruger, then it makes more sense to drive north from Graskop to Hoedspruit.

Getting to the Panorama Route

As we mentioned, the Panorama Route is the ideal detour when travelling between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park. They’re both very popular destinations on South Africa trips with Johannesburg being the largest city and Kruger being the best place for safari.

You really need a car or a hired driver to enjoy the Panorama Route. South Africa is a huge country that is best discovered by driving.

Where to Stay on the Panorama Route

We’d recommend staying at either end of the Panorama Route as there’s more options for accommodation.

An inquisitive mongoose looking straight at the camera amongst dead leaves

Mawusi Bush Lodge in Hoedspruit is located in a private game reserve. It’s so wild, we woke up in the morning to what felt like a small safari. There were mongooses, hornbills, a warthog, a duiker – which is a tiny antelope – and we even saw some bush babies in the night.

On the other side there’s the beautiful Westlodge at Graskop B&B, a Victorian style house with a vibrant garden.

Panorama Route vs. Garden Route

The Panorama Route and Garden Route in South Africa share similarities in their appeal to nature enthusiasts, offering breathtaking landscapes, outdoor activities, and popular tourist attractions. But aside from the similarities, they both offer such different experiences and landscapes.

If you’re heading south at some point, check out our Garden Route road trip itinerary.

The Panorama Route, situated inland, showcases mountainous terrain, deep canyons, and a temperate climate, providing rich cultural experiences in the heart of Mpumalanga.

In contrast, the Garden Route follows the coastal strip, presenting a diverse blend of forests, lagoons, and beaches with a milder, Mediterranean-like climate.

Each route has its distinct flora and fauna, with the Panorama Route known for its highland flora and the Garden Route for its coastal and forest biodiversity.

The Panorama Route is less crowded, but the weather can get too hot and lacks great wildlife experiences.

The Garden Route has a wide variety of experiences but can get overcrowded during busy periods.

For us, the Garden Route is the clear winner – the diversity of attractions and things to do is better, there are many great places to eat and drink, and we love to see wildlife. It’s probably why the Garden Route is widely considered to be the best road trip in South Africa, and one of the most memorable around the world.

Final Thoughts on Panorama Route

In wrapping up our exploration of the Panorama Route, South Africa, you can’t help but marvel at the sheer diversity of natural wonders and historical gems in this tiny area of the country. With its sweeping landscapes set against the towering Drakensberg Mountains, the Panorama Route offers a good variety of experiences.

We hope this guide has provided you with all you need to grab the car keys and hit the road!

Post a Comment