South Africa usually invokes images of sweeping savannah bushveld, the ‘Big 5’, or on a political front, Nelson Mandela. But, South Africa is a country made up of much more than the wild life or violent past of apartheid. It’s a landscape steeped in history that is entwined with the spectacular views. The Panorama Route, nestled in the North East of the country, is a 285 km drive starting from the Western side of Kruger National Park, near the Orpen Gate and ending in the town of Sabie. It’s a drive that showcases dramatic scenery. From colourful mineral rich mountains, to waterfalls plunging from pool to pool, and valleys developed from the shifting fault lines over time, pushing the land higher into the sky.
Taking a tourist drive anywhere in Africa has never been high on my to-do list. African roads are generally appalling, nothing more than oversized sidewalks scattered with crater-like potholes. The South African government, along with the local communities on the route, have injected money into maintaining the roads, as well as facilities and services in a bid to entice local and international travellers to their stunning part of the world.
Standing on the edge of the rock plateau, I look out over the sweeping vista of the Blyde River Canyon and Three Rondavels (named for their resemblance to the traditional South African thatched roof hut). I can’t help but pause and wonder at the beauty before me, hidden so thoroughly from sight on the winding drive up through the range only moments ago.
Following on from the Blyde River Canyon, is the tourist stop of Bourke’s Luck Potholes. And there are a lot of tourists, with an information centre on the history of the area, monkeys running through the Braai (BBQ) and picnic area, and local handicraft stalls. The stallholders are friendly and happy to barter over prices of carved wooden or stone animals, beaded jewellery, fabrics, and prints.
There is one more stop to make, before my growling stomach announces it’s time to head to Graskop for a feed. Another panoramic view from the Wander View free lookout spot, or God’s Window, around the corner, with a tourist fee to enter. Both provide spectacular views across the ranges, perfect for posing in front of the camera for that, “I’m on top of the world” kind of photo.
Graskop is a bustling little town made for tourism. I’m thinking with my stomach though. So it’s straight to Harrie’s Pancakes, an institution in South Africa. In peak season, you have to ring and book a table in advance, due to the residents of Johannesburg escaping the city on a weekend getaway, and all going to Harrie’s to eat.
I’ve ordered the banana and cinnamon filled pancake with ice cream. Next door, is Chocolate, Shautany Chocolatiers, a decadent indulgence for my sweet tooth and an entrée to my pancake main. I test out the Macadamia covered Belgian chocolates, tempted by the nuts grown locally alongside the Panorama Route in the multitude of orchards. My pancake arrives, ice cream oozing onto the plate, and for a moment I can’t decide which is better: The food or the scenery I’ve driven through so far?
The Panorama Route well and truly lived up to its name.