We did not want to drive at night in South Africa and with a long day of driving ahead we had planned our route from Madikwe and left ourselves lots of extra time just in case. These very carefully made plans were scuppered almost instantly by a pair of rhino standing in the middle of the road on the way out of the park. We hadn’t specifically been told what to do when you encounter rhino on the road but staying a really long way away seemed like a good idea. They took a while to make their minds up but eventually decided to disappear in to the bush and we were able to continue only 20 minutes behind schedule. We retraced our route back to Sun City and then drove east for hours and hours on the motorway. We stopped a couple of times for a leg stretch and to pick up more biltong. We had initially thought that we would in Berlin Falls at about 7pm, 8 hours after we set off, but a traffic jam in Pretoria and a couple of stops had the sat nav telling us we would arrive at 8:15pm. The first 6 hours were fairly dull but as we got closer to the Panorama Route the views turned truly beautiful in the fading light. Our maps.me app then played a fun trick on us and diverted us down a 12km dirt track which was not ideally suited to a 1L Polo. We arrived at Thaba Tsweni Lodge at 8:45, fell out of the car, checked in to our chalet and went straight to bed with a cup of tea.
The following morning we had more time and more light to appreciate our surroundings, and they were truly beautiful. We had gorgeous views out over the hills and a very large and noisy population of weaver birds living outside our chalet.
We had a full day to explore the Panorama Route, but first we filled up on a bizarre breakfast of burger and chips in the local town of Graskop. A day on the Panorama Route mainly consists of driving through beautiful landscapes, making stops at viewpoints along the way. You are charged an entrance fee at most of the stops, often very reasonable but on occasion it did seem a bit steep. We actually thought the best view of the day was at one of the free spots. Our first stop was the Pinnacle, a large tower of rock sat in a valley opening out on to the plains below. It is really impressive with the lowveld opening up below. You can also stand at the top of the waterfall peer over the edge, which is cool.
The next stop is God’s Window, which is definitely best appreciated on a clear day. It was a bit hazy for us so the pictures aren’t great. There are actually a couple of viewpoints here and the best is right up at the top, reached by a short but sharp climb.
It’s one of the more popular viewpoints on the circuit so expect to be sharing with a fair number of people.
If memory serves, Bourke’s Luck Potholes was the most expensive stop on the circuit and whilst it is beautiful and very cool, the price seemed a little steep to us.
It’s also very popular but if you walk to the very edge of the boundary you can get some peace and quiet.
World’s End Lookout is a free viewpoint and we thought that it was probably the most striking of the day, allowing you to truly appreciate the size of the Blyde River Canyon.
The Three Rondavels are perhaps the best known site on the Panorama Route and once you see them, the reason for the name is clear.
The rock formation is pretty cool but perhaps a little pricey. We should point out that at each of these locations the walk to the viewpoints is very short, so it doesn’t take much time and we didn’t find much else to keep us there.
We stopped for lunch at Potluck Boskombuis, a restaurant built in to some rocks on the side of a small stream. The setting was beautiful and the accompaniment of craft beer and steaks made it nearly perfect.
Refuelled we set of to complete our loop, taking in the scenery as we drove. The landscape became a little more agricultural with lots of orange producers until we drew closer to Pilgrims Rest. This is an odd settlement of corrugated iron buildings which have been maintained to form a heritage street of small shops and cafes. We darted in to one to use the bathroom and enjoyed a chat with the particularly nuts lady and her parrot who ran a small café. We avoided the unwanted 80-rand car wash, which seemed to be mostly non-optional, on our way out of town.
Back at our guesthouse we lit the Braai and enjoyed some excellent Boerewors.
The Panorama Route is certainly impressive and a worthwhile stop, particularly if you are recovering from many 4:45am wake up calls. If you were on a budget perhaps only stop at one or two key sites and then just enjoy the drive which is very beautiful in and of itself.