Panorama Route through Mpumalanga | 285km

The Three Rondawels. Panorama Route  Chris Duplessis
The Three Rondawels. Panorama Route Chris Duplessis


Long before the first whites settled here, the area was famous with big-game hunters, adventurers and transport riders. The town's name is derived from the African name Sabielala, meaning the 'Sabie Sleeping Place'. The first farm, named Grootvantijn (Big Fountain) was awarded to CJ Badenhorst in 1846, but it was the discovery of gold - first alluvial and later reef - which attracted large numbers of diamond-miners and fortune-seekers. The gold fields were nowhere near as rich as those of the Witwatersrand, and most diggers eventually drifted away. Today, Sabie is the centre of one of the largest concentrations of commercial forest plantations in the world.

Not to be missed is a visit to the SAFCOL Forestry Museum, with its interesting displays on the forest products industry. St Peter's Anglican Church (1913) was designed by the well-known architect, Sir Herbert Baker. Sabie is also an important tourist centre, and there are several magnificent waterfalls in and around the town. Among these are the 70-m-high Bridal Veil Falls, Lone Creek Falls - which leap 68 m over a sheer cliff - Horseshoe Falls and 46-m-high Sabie Falls.


...were created by building a number of low cement walls in a tributary of the Mac Mac River. The pools are especially popular on hot summer days. Picnic facilities with braai places and toilets are provided.


Shortly before reaching the Escarpment, the spectacular Mac Mac River plunges 56 m into a deep forested gorge. Originally a single-drop waterfall, the crest was split into two during the 1870s by miners searching for gold. The large number of Scots digging for gold in the area prompted President Burghers to name the mining settlement Mac Mac during his visit in 1873. Nearby is a roadside plaque erected along the transport route followed by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his faithful Staffordshire terrier, Jock.


Also known as the Window of Mpumalanga, Graskop developed around a mining settlement which sprung up close to the Escarpment edge in the 1880s. Named after the grassy hillock on which it was laid out, Graskop is an important forestry town and tourism centre. The patches of grassland around the town are an important breeding area for the blue swallow, an endangered species in South Africa.


Situated at the head of the Driekop Gorge, the 30-m-high Pinnacle was created over millions of years when a column of Black Reef Quartzite became detached from the main face of the Escarpment as a result of erosion.


offers one of the most spectacular views in the country. From the viewsites perched on the very edge of the Escarpment, visitors on South African holidays can enjoy awesome views of the sheer drop to the Lowveld, some 700 m below. At the nearby Quartzkop visitors can meander along a boardwalk through a magnificent patch of rain forest with a lush growth of clivias, ferns, mosses and dwarf yellowwoods festooned with old man's beard.


When the forestry plantations were first named, many were given the names of European capitals such as London, Berlin and Lisbon. On its way to the Escarpment edge, the Lisbon River has formed a series of pools before it cascades into three separate falls which plunger dramatically into a deep gorge, 95 m below the lip of the falls.


At the Berlin Falls, the Watervalspruit (waterfall stream) flows through a narrow chute carved through the sheer quartzite cliffs, plunges onto a ledge and then cascades into a deep pool. These beautiful falls are estimated to be approximately 80 m in height.


Covering 27 000 ha of grassveld, sour bushveld, eroded quartzite formations and spectacular natural features, the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve extends from God's Window northwards for 57 km. Within the reserve lie some of South Africa's most scenic attractionsto be enjoyed on South African holidays, including Bourke's Luck Potholes and the Blyde River Canyon.


These magnificent cylindrical potholes were formed by the grinding action of boulders and pebbles caught in the swirling water at the confluence of the Blyde and the Treur rivers. The site was named after a prospector, Tom Bourke, who ironically never had any luck on his claim as the gold-bearing reef lay a short distance to the south of the river. Old pieces of mining equipment strewn about the area serve as reminders of the gold rush era of the 1870s. Not to be missed is the visitors' centre, with its displays on the natural and cultural history of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.


With a depth of up to 700 m and a length of 32 km, the awesome Blyde River Canyon is one of the top tourist attractions in South Africa. Viewsites along the canyon edge provide sweeping views over the landscape below, Blydepoort Dam and the outcrops known as the Three Rondavels - named for their resemblance to traditional African homes.


...consist of several caves in the dolomite hills at the head of the Molopong Valley. The largest chamber is about 40 m high and 100 m long, and in some of the chambers dripstone formations can be seen. The caves were named for the echo produced by some of the stalactites when they are tapped. Excavations have revealed that the caves were inhabited by Middle and Later Stone Age people, San and Early Iron Age people.


...was founded in 1845 by the Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter and was originally named Andries-Ohrigstad, a combination of Potgieter's first name and the surname of a Dutch merchant, Andries Ohrig, who had sent gifts to the Voortrekkers two years earlier. Malaria forced the inhabitants to abandon the settlement in 1849, with some families trekking northwards with Potgieter to the Soutpansberg, and others moving south to establish Lydenburg. It was only in 1923, after malaria was brought under control in the area, that Ohrigstad was re-established southwest of the original site. Today, it is the centre of a productive fruit and maize-growing area. To the northeast of the present-day town, the ruins of the original village and the graves of those who died of malaria are still visible.


...has been preserved as an authentic gold-mining village of the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1873, the discovery of gold in Pilgrim's Creek by a miner named Alec Patterson, and a nearby discovery by William Trafford, caused miners to flock to the new gold fields. Soon the streams, hills and valleys were being worked by over 1 500 miners, and a tent and corrugated-iron town with 21 shops, 18 bars, three bakeries and two banks sprung up.

The town has several museums, including the Diggings Museum, which gives demonstrations of gold-panning; the Miner's House Museum, a re-creation of a typical miner's house between 1910 and 1920; and the Reduction Works, where the gold was extracted from the ore. In sharp contrast to the humble corrugated-iron miners' cottages is Alanglade, located to the east of the town. Designed in the early 1900s by Sir Herbert Baker in Mediterranean style, the double-storey house was built for the General Manager of Transvaal Gold Mining Estates.

Also worth visiting in Pilgrim's Rest are the Royal Hotel and the Cemetery, with its well-known Robber's Grave; as punishment for robbing a tent, the miscreant was shot and buried at right angles to the other graves. Also of interest is the four-arch Joubert Bridge, spanning the Blyde River at the northern end of the town. Built in 1896 with dressed stone, it was named after the Mining Commissioner at the time, JS Joubert.

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