The Panorama Route and Blyde River Canyon

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The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga is mostly known for its cultural heritage and dramatic landscapes. Offering a vast array of exciting options for tourists, the Panorama Route hosts some of the best adventure activities in the country as well as some more placid pastimes.

One of the major highlights of the region is the Blyde River Canyon Reserve, with its spectacular wildlife and bird life and some of the best scenic views in South Africa. The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world. Other highlights include the exquisite waterfalls in Graskop and Sabie, the Echo Caves that speak of Africa’s powerful tribes such as Pedi, Mapulane and Swazi, trails left behind by the Voortrekkers in regions such as Lydenberg and Ohrigstad, ancient artistic footprints left by indigenous peoples of Africa and the Gold Rush territory, Pilgrim’s Rest, home to the early gold prospectors.

 

Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga

 

The Blyde River Canyon Reserve extends along the BLYDE RIVER CANYON'S winding path, which at every turn offers endless impressive scenic views over sheer edges dropping 800m into the riverbed.

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve - The mountain scenery and panoramic views over the Klein Drakensberg escarpment are quite breathtaking and give the area its name of 'Panorama Route'. Viewpoints are named for the spectacle they offer, and God's Window and Wonder View hint at the magnitude of the scenery. The 'Pinnacle' is a single quartzite column rising out of the deep wooded canyon and the ‘Three Rondawels' are three huge spirals of dolomite rock rising out of the far wall of the Blyde River canyon. Their domed heads are iced in green and their sides are stained with fiery orange lichen. From the 'Three Rondawels' you can see the Swadini Dam in the far distance, which marks the end of the reserve.

At the meeting point of the Blyde River (river of joy) and the Treur River (river of sorrow) water erosion has created one of the most phenomenal geological phenomenons in South Africa. The ‘Bourke’s Luck Potholes’ have taken thousands of years to form strange cylindrical sculptures carved by swirling water. The smooth red and yellow rocks contrast with the dark pools.

The Blyde River Canyon Reserve extends along the BLYDE RIVER CANYON'S winding path, which at every turn offers more and more impressive views over sheer edges dropping 800m into the riverbed.

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve - The fresh mountain scenery and panoramic views over the Klein Drakensberg escarpment are quite spectacular and give the area its name of 'Panorama Route'. Viewpoints are named for the spectacle they offer, and God's Window and Wonder View hint at the magnitude of the scenery. The 'Pinnacle' is a single quartzite column rising out of the deep wooded canyon and the ‘Three Rondawels' (also called 'Three Sisters’) are three huge spirals of dolomite rock rising out of the far wall of the Blyde River canyon. Their domed heads are iced in green and their sides are stained with fiery orange lichen. From the 'Three Rondawels' you can see the extensive Swadini Dam in the far distance, which marks the end of the reserve.

At the meeting point of the Blyde River (river of joy) and the Treur River (river of sorrow) water erosion has created one of the most phenomenal geological phenomenons in South Africa. The ‘Bourke’s Luck Potholes’ have taken thousands of years to form strange cylindrical sculptures carved by swirling water. The smooth red and yellow rocks contrast with the dark pools

 

'Gods Window'

The geology and climate of this high rainfall plateau results in masses of waterfalls, beautiful to look at and many of which you can visit. Others are hidden deep within some of the largest man-made forestry plantations in the world, with row upon row of pine and eucalyptus trees.

The rich and varied plant life is influenced by extreme climate, a range of altitudes and various soil conditions. This variety of plant life supports an equally rich and varied fauna. Klipspringer and dassies find food and shelter in rocky areas. The grassland supports grey rhebuck and the rare oribi as well as rodents, reptiles, seed-eating birds and plenty of insects. Kudu prefer the cover of wooded bushveld and bushbuck and bush pig move amongst the luxuriant growth on the riverbanks.

All five of South Africa's primates can be seen in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. The somango monkey, nocturnal greater and lesser bush babies, chacma baboons and vervet monkeys are all present. Hippopotamus and crocodile live in and around the rivers and wetlands of Swadini Dam, as do water birds and otters. Almost every type of habitat that attracts birds is found in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and all three South African species of Loerie can be found in the reserve.

 

Bourke's Luck Potholes, Mpumalanga, South Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The problem with travelling Mpumalanga is that after a while the sheer magnitudes of the various natural wonders, of which Bourke's Luck Potholes are just one, begin to lose their significance. Bourke's Luck Potholes are without doubt a major icon, but when thrown in together with the likes of the Three Rondawels, God's Window, the Blyde River Canyon and numerous magnificent waterfalls, one can become immune after a while.

 

If you can, begin your wander around Mpumalanga with Bourke's Luck Potholes, for they are without doubt incredible. Essentially they're the result of decades of swirling eddies of water where the Treur River meets the Blyde River, the tumult of which has caused extensive water erosion over time. The result is a series of cylindrical rock sculptures that look as though they would be more comfortable on the moon.

To see these geological wonders (it is no surprise to learn that they've made it onto Frommer's 500 places to take your kids before they grow up) that are an amazing array of white, yellow and dark brown eddies of colour because of the soil present in the water, you'll need to travel roughly 35 kilometers due north of Graskop on the R532. They are on the Panorama Route and are one of the major tourist attractions in South Africa, so best get there ahead of the bus tours. A series of metal bridges take you right above them, if photographs are a high priority, whilst walkways around the ridges allow you various angles and viewpoints from which to take your snaps.

Their strange name, in case you were wondering, comes from the gold digger, Tom Burke, who staked a nearby claim.

 

Echo Caves, Mpumalanga

 

Situated just outside Ohrigstad are the spectacular Echo Caves. These mysterious caves were discovered in the 1920's by the owner of the farm. After his cattle mysteriously disappeared on the farm he started looking for answers. That is when he discovered the Echo Caves. After exploring the cave, the discoverer realized that this is a gift from nature laid among the gentle undulating hills of the Mpumalanga escarpment.

The Echo Caves are some of the oldest caves in the world and were declared a Historical Monument. The caves are so called because the local people used one of the stalactites as a drum to warn of any approaching Swazi. As these caves extend for some 40 km, the sound travelled for surprisingly long distances and the people could take refuge in the caves. From an archaeological point of view, the caves are truly fascinating as finds here confirm the legend that strangers may years ago in long white robes came to look for gold and to barter with the inhabitants. Some of the finds are exhibited at the Museum of Man. One of the rooms of the cave has a height of 60m! There are guided tours through 2km of tunnels viewing impressive stalagmites and stalactites. New discoveries include the Madonna and the Crystal Palace. The Echo Caves are the least well known of the limestone caves. Therefore, the advantage is that fewer people visit them and you may be lucky enough to enjoy this amazing underworld with just your guide.

For the more adventurous, a special tour can be organized to go deeper into the cave. The end of the cave has not yet been found and it is said that the end of the Echo Caves is somewhere close to the Strijdom tunnel. The caving tour, however, is definitely not recommended for people with claustrophobic problems. For just R30 one can explore some truly mysterious and fascinating wonders in these caves. Be adventurous and come exploring. Who knows, if you brave enough, you may even find the end of these caves and where they truly lead to….

 

Horseshoe Falls, Mpumalanga

 

The exquisite Horseshoe Falls are found along the Sabie River in Mpumalanga. These falls are found 4kms off the Old Lydenburg Road, signposted on the left side. A short walk through the beautiful terrains affords one the opportunity to spot magnificent birdlife and other wildlife. The trail soon leads to the cascade type falls.

The Horseshoe Falls was aptly named so as it is in the shape of a horseshoe and is an exquisite sight. Not surprisingly then, the Horseshoe Falls have a circular appearance, and although the falls are not very high, they are very unusual. The Horseshoe Falls have been declared a national monument and are a must see along the route.

After a delicious picnic, enjoy swimming in the refreshing pools or just admire the tranquil beauty of the area. The Horseshoe Falls is also a popular trout fishing destination. For just a small fee visitors can explore this spectacular area and enjoy its tranquil beauty. The Horseshoe Falls boasts its own unique beauty and grandeur. It is definitely not one to be missed.

 

Three Rondawels, Mpumalanga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along with Bourke's Luck Potholes, the Three Rondawels are one of the major icons of Mpumalanga. Both geological wonders are on the Panorama Route, a highly popular tourist drive to follow when exploring the province, and, depending on which way you choose to drive along the 16 kilometers of the Blyde River Canyon, the Three Rondawels either starts or ends your journey.

 

Exactly as they sound, the Three Rondawels are three round mountain tops with slightly pointed tops, very similar to the traditional round or oval African homesteads made with local materials called rondawels. They are sometimes also called the Three Sisters (although this confuses them with a similar threesome visible from the N1 in the Free State lower down in the country). They were once known as The chief and his three wives – the flat-topped peak represented Mapjaneng, famous for opposing invading Swazis in a memorable battle is on the right, whilst the rondawels are three of his more troublesome wives – Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto.

Blyde River Dam from the View Point at Three Rondawels

The Famous God's Window view point over the Lowveld of Mpumalanga.

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