Most people think of a few things when they think of going to South Africa: safari, cage diving with sharks, and wine. I know I was one of those people. What I didn’t know about South Africa is how diverse the landscape of South Africa is. I pictured flat plains and maybe some rock structures here and there. I pictured The Lion King. However, after doing some research on the good old internet, my husband Alex discovered a beautiful and unique part of South Africa called the Panorama Route. One look at a description of the natural beauty featured on the Panorama Route and I was sold. After sitting in a car on safari for a few days, it was so nice to get out, stretch our legs, and explore a bit more of South Africa.
The map below details the sites on the Panorama Route so as you can see, you could drive it either direction. If you are coming from Kruger, I recommend doing what we did. We spent the night in Graskop and drove a short ~20 minute drive to the first stop on the Panorama Route and spent the rest of the day exploring all of the stops. We were finished by mid-afternoon and were able to take a tour of the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center near Hoedspruit (more information later in this post) before driving up to our house in Phalaborwa (I included details about our stop in Phalaborwa in my last post). You could easily spend more than a day exploring the Panorama Route. There are ample opportunities for camping and cute little towns to explore along the way, but as you know, there is only so much time when traveling and decisions have to be made! We opted to see as much as we could in one day.
As I mentioned, we spent the night before our drive in Graskop, which is a small but lively town. We stayed at the Westlodge Bed and Breakfast which was incredibly charming. We loved our stay and it was the perfect place to relax after a few days of safaris. The staff was very friendly and along with the house dog and cats, greeted us immediately upon arrival. We arrived in our room to find two glasses of sherry, which we enjoyed before heading downstairs to dinner. The dinner was easily our favorite of the trip and was a traditional South African meal, including curried butternut squash soup with biltong (South Africa’s beef jerky), minced beef curry bobotie (from Cape Malay), followed by a delicious dessert of apple crumple and cream with a shot of Amarula. The chef even provided the recipe for the main dish and I can’t wait to try to recreate it! The grounds of the B&B are beautiful and we especially enjoyed eating a breakfast of fresh scones and fruit next to the rose garden in the morning. It is also worth noting that the B&B is stocked with books and materials about the area and the staff is very helpful, providing great recommendations.
We got a relatively early start because we weren’t sure how long it would take us to do the Panorama Route and we did not want to feel rushed. In the end, it took us a bit less time than we anticipated because there were not as many trails as we expected to encounter. Many of the features were right off the road, or just a short walk away. Most of the stops had local artisans selling their wares outside, so it is quite convenient to find fair-priced souvenirs. Below, I’ve listed all of the prices for each stop (current as of May 2015). At the time of our trip, $1 USD was equal to about 12 South African Rand so as you can see, each visit is quite inexpensive.
Pinnacle Rock (R10 per car)-There was some construction when we were there, but that just meant that we had the place to ourselves. Pinnacle Rock provides a great view into the Blyde River Canyon just a short walk from the parking lot.
God’s Window/Wonderview (R10 per car)-This stop requires a short hike. It is just a few minutes up to the God’s Window viewpoint, but a bit longer to Wonderview. However, the Wonderview is well worth the extra effort as it provides a much larger and open view of the surrounding area.
Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls (R10 per car at each falls)-Both falls were just off of the road. Unfortunately, there were not hikes down to the falls, but there were short trails to viewpoints of each falls.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes (R20 per car and R30 pp)-This was by far the most popular stop, for good reason. Bourke’s Luck Potholes are unlike anything I have ever seen. Created by thousands of years of swirling water, the potholes are beautiful, circular natural pools connected by sandstone outcrops. You can walk around the Potholes to several viewing points and can even dip your toes into some of the pools.
Lowveld Viewsite (Views of Blyde River Canyon)-Right off the road, the Lowveld Viewsite provides incredible vistas into the canyon. The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world (based on certain measurements) and is quite striking. You can also catch the first glimpse of the Three Rondavels from this viewpoint.
Three Rondavels (view from Forever Resorts)-Based on the recommendation of the Westlodge B&B, we stopped at Forever Resorts to ask to use their viewpoint of the Three Rondavels. Since we were not guests of the resort, we were told we could only take about 15 minutes at the viewpoint, but it was a great “unknown” viewing point. Local legend has it that a Bapedi chief had defeated invading the Swazi tribe in a great battle and he was transformed into a large flat-topped peak with the smaller three peaks (the Three Rondavels) representing his three wives.
I have one general comment about the Panorama Route. You may be tempted to view the sunset at one of the stops along the Route. However, the road quality is quite abysmal in some places (full of large potholes) and we found that driving at night in South Africa was tricky in general. There are hardly any streetlights and people are constantly walking along the road. I would only recommend a sunset viewing if you are staying nearby and don’t have a long drive to your place of lodging.
We were finished with the Panorama Route by early afternoon and made it to the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center near Hoedspruit for their 3pm tour, which cost R130 per person. We learned about the rehab center upon the recommendation of the staff at Westlodge B&B. We were told that we could pet cheetahs and feed vultures, but we got so much more than we expected! The rehab center has many bird and eagle species, vultures, honey badgers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs, to name a few. It is also home of Stoffel, the famous honey badger! A guided tour of Moholoholo is an incredible and educational experience and I highly recommend a visit if you will be in the area. The tour guides were fantastic and passionate and we learned so much about the various species of South Africa, the current state of wildlife and endangered species, the major poaching problems in South Africa, and the battle to protect lands and species.
For example, most people are well aware that rhino poaching is a problem in South Africa. What many don’t know is that vultures are actually highly poached. Apparently their brains are valued by locals who purchase the brains from witch doctors in the hopes that by smoking or ingesting them, the person will be granted intelligence or the ability to see into the future. Some locals believe that vultures have God-like powers because they fly so close to heaven. Because of these beliefs, poachers will bait vultures with poison meat, killing hundreds at a time. Because of the low birth rate of vultures (a vulture cannot give birth for several years and only lays one egg at a time), these deaths have drastically lowered the population, which in turn, negatively affects the entire ecosystem. It is incredibly sad, but very eye-opening. I am so glad we went to the rehab center in addition to going on game drives. It definitely balanced out our experience. We also learned about Moholoholo provides education to local farmers and children to help avoid locals killing the animals if they become a nuisance. By creating awareness about the option for relocation and rehabilitation of the animals, locals have learned that there are other options besides capturing the animals in inhumane traps. Definitely make time to visit this wonderful establishment if you can.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our South Africa trip and that it inspires you to add South Africa to your bucket list, if it is not already on it. Next, I’ll start bringing you recaps and recommendations from our Australia trip. I have a feeling it is going to be quite a fun series! See you next week!
The answer to the question above is an elephant! An elephant’s leg bone is almost as tall as me and VERY heavy.
Stay and Eat
Westlodge Bed and Breakfast, 12 Hugenote St, Graskop, 1270
Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center, R531 near Kampersrus, Hoedspruit